The nucleus of the Rohit-Hardik captaincy swap

Rohit Sharma has led Mumbai Indians to five IPL titles.
Rohit Sharma has led Mumbai Indians to five IPL titles. ©BCCI/IPL

On the day Mumbai Indians replaced Rohit Sharma as their captain, the star batter attended the annual function at Dhirubhai Ambani School at the Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai. He postponed his journey to South Africa to participate in the event organised by the school managed by the owners of his IPL franchise. If nothing else, it may be a sign that Rohit is not exactly sulking.

This is not to say he is supremely happy that the reins of the team, that he held for 10 years and won them five Indian Premier League (IPL) titles, have been handed over to Hardik Pandya. However, it is understood that Rohit has been explained the reasons and the need for a change in leadership. He was made to understand that a change of guard is in order.

The MI management, known to be very passionate about their IPL side, wanted to ensure a smooth transition, and there is no better time to hand over the leadership role to a new player when Rohit, currently 36, is still around. The planning had started last June after IPL 2023, in which the five-time champions finished fourth, having made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. In 2022, the team had finished at the bottom, not a position that matches with the talent at the franchise's disposal.

It was clear that Rohit was not at his best in the last two years as captain, and his bat was not exactly blazing away. MI were clear they wanted to look ahead for the next five years and were planning to find out who the best bet was for the immediate future. The problem was when the franchise started discussions about changes, a trade for Pandya was still not in the pipeline. In fact, those in the know say whether Gujarat Titans would agree to a trade was not guaranteed at that stage.

Once things started moving, efforts were made to convince Rohit about the need to handover captaincy. Serious negotiations started after the World Cup final on November 19, and Rohit, even though he was overseas, was being regularly spoken to. There was serious speculation that the Titans wanted Rohit in the trade for Pandya, but MI was never going to let Rohit go.

It is obvious that Pandya agreed to the trade with hopes of being named captain, particularly after he led the Titans to two finals and a title in his two years in charge. Also, the fact that he was being touted as a future white-ball skipper for India, having already been in charge of the T20 side, Pandya may have been justified in his expectations to return as MI skipper. There are also suggestions that he will be anointed skipper for the T20 World Cup in June too.

So what's next for Rohit in T20 cricket? It is evident that the fate of his career in T20Is depends on the national selection committee headed by Ajit Agarkar, with a strong say from coach Rahul Dravid. Given the way he batted in the World Cup, a powerplay tempo befitting even the T20 format, there have been calls that he should be recalled for the global event and even handed the captaincy. For that, a lot will depend on how he bats in the initial phase of the IPL in March-April. If he bats the way he is known and expected to, then there may be no stopping him.

Therefore, what does the future hold for him in the Mumbai Indians? A lot will depend on the retention rules for the next year. Before the last mega auction, the BCCI had permitted a retention of a maximum of three Indians and a maximum of two overseas players with no more than four overall. If the same were to be applied next year, it is obvious that MI cannot release the No. 1 T20I batter [Suryakumar Yadav], one of the world's best bowlers [Jasprit Bumrah], or their newly appointed captain [Pandya]. But they have about 10 months to plan, and one also never knows what the rules will be before the IPL 2025 auction. It could be Rohit's last year at MI, or it may also not be.

In the aftermath of these changes, is there a sense of unease in the MI dressing room? Bumrah recently shared a somewhat cryptic post, stating that 'silence sometimes is the best answer.' A day after the captaincy swap, Suryakumar posted a heartbreak emoji. They may even be coincidences but is understood that there is genuine empathy for the outgoing captain, a sentiment shared by both the players and the management alike. However, it is learned that all senior players and coaches were consulted and kept in the loop before the official announcement was made.



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