With MI no longer the dominant force it used to be in the last couple of IPLs and Rohit also not among the runs, plans were hatched after IPL 2023 to bring about some major changes.

No one is bigger than the game! This adage proved apt when one of the greats of white ball cricket Rohit Sharma was unceremoniously removed as captain by his franchise Mumbai Indians on Friday, December 15, 2023.

Even the greats of modern day cricket have not been immune to the pressure of the cash-rich IPL where only results matter.

Even someone like Virat Kohli had to himself give up the captaincy of Royal Challengers Bangalore after failing time and again to win the IPL title even though his performance has always been top notch.

Except India and Chennai Super Kings legend Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who is still untouchable at 42, no other player has survived the pressures of the IPL.

But Rohit’s axing as captain was totally unexpected, — the same man who had led MI to five IPL titles in the last 10 years. His recent swashbuckling batting form in the World Cup proved that he still has a few years at the top in him.

Rohit was one of the standout players of the World Cup with his aggressive knocks up the order for India in the World Cup, smashing 597 runs in 11 matches at a strike rate of 125.

But alas, the IPL is entirely a different beast! It will gobble you up much before you know, no matter how strong you are.

The seeds for Rohit’s sacking as captain were sown much before the official announcement was made by MI on Friday.

There is no place for emotions in a result-oriented tournament like the IPL. There seems to be a game of one-upmanship among the team owners — all of whom are big business tycoons or film stars — who always seem desperate to win at all costs and as such don’t shy from taking tough decisions.

With MI no longer the dominant force it used to be in the last couple of IPLs and Rohit also not among the runs, plans were hatched after IPL 2023 to bring about some major changes.

Rohit smashed 332 runs at an average of 20 last season while managing just 268 runs at an average of 19 in the previous edition.

In the last three IPLs, he struggled to find consistency, hitting three fifties in 43 matches.

There were a couple of in-house candidates like Suryakumar Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah as Rohit’s successor, but MI wanted someone with a proven pedigree.

And that’s when they started looking elsewhere.

And who better than Hardik Pandya, who had started at the franchise in 2013 and enjoyed seven successful seasons, and had proven his captaincy credentials by leading Gujarat Titans to the IPL title in 2022 followed by a runners up finish this year?

Once the decision was taken to bring back Hardik, there was no looking back. They were well aware that he would cost a cool Rs 15 crore (Rs 150 million), but MI were ready to break the bank to bring him back.

And even though Hardik left MI pleasantly surprised by readily agreeing to come back, he made it quite clear that he would only accept their offer if he was handed the captaincy.

Having enjoyed full control at Gujarat Titans, Hardik wasn’t ready to rejoin MI just as a player. He would come back only on one condition he enjoyed the same privileges as he did at Titans — captaincy and full control in running of the team.

MI had a tough call on their hands. Whether to continue with 36-year-old Rohit, who had led them to five IPL titles, or look towards the future by anointing 30-year-old Hardik as their new skipper.

The owners and the coaching staff veered towards the later, clearly believing that the time for transition was ripe.

Rohit was also made aware of the backdoor dealings and once he agreed to play under Hardik, the stage was set for MI’s mega swoop.

After enjoying two successful seasons at Titans, Hardik gave his former team a mighty shock by announcing he wanted to quit. And the helpless Titans had no option but to grant his wish and even though they pocketed Rs 15 crore, it has left a huge gaping hole in their squad.

MI went all out to accommodate Hardik, not only granting to wish to be the new skipper but also trading all-rounder Cameron Green to the Royal Challengers Bangalore, whom they had bought at the auction just a year back for Rs 17.5 crore (Rs 175 million).

Ideally, MI would have preferred Rohit issuing a statement saying he was stepping down as captain to focus on his batting but he made MI make it public the announcement of his removal.

‘It is part of legacy building and staying true to the MI philosophy of being future-ready. Mumbai Indians have always been blessed with exceptional leadership right from Sachin to Harbhajan and Ricky to Rohit, who while contributing to the immediate success have always had an eye on strengthening the team for the future.

‘It is in keeping with this philosophy that Hardik Pandya will assume captaincy of Mumbai Indians for the IPL 2024 season,’ MI global head of performance Mahela Jayawardene said in a statement on Friday.

‘We express our gratitude to Rohit Sharma for his exceptional leadership; his tenure as the captain of the Mumbai Indians since 2013 has been nothing short of extraordinary.

‘His leadership has not only brought unparalleled success to the team but has also solidified his place as one of the finest captains in the history of the IPL.

‘Under his guidance, MI became one of the most successful and loved teams ever. We will look forward to his guidance and experience on and off the field to further strengthen MI.’

No wonder MI fans are up in arms at the disrespect of their beloved Rohit.

Whether freeing him from captaincy will make Rohit more effective with the bat or will it make him consider his future remains to be seen.

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