‘We want Rohit…’: MI coach Boucher on appointing Hardik Pandya as captain

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MUMBAI: Mumbai Indians (MI) head coach Mark Boucher opened up on removing Rohit Sharma as captain, saying the franchise wants the star batter to add more value to the team as a batter and enjoy his game.

Mumbai Indians (MI), the five-time Indian Premier League (IPL) champions, announced in December that talismanic all-rounder Hardik Pandya, who returned to the Mumbai franchise after guiding the Gujarat Titans to the IPL title in its debut season and the final in the subsequent edition, will be leading the team in the 2024 edition of the league. This meant removing Rohit as the skipper, who had led the franchise to five titles since starting his reign in 2013.

In November last year, Pandya moved back from Gujarat Titans (GT) to his former franchise as part of a trade between both franchises. The star all-rounder spent two momentous years with GT, spearheading their campaign in the cash-rich league with aplomb. In GT’s debut season in 2022, Hardik got them off to a fairytale start, with the team lifting the coveted trophy.

They finished runners-up in their second season after a last-ball defeat to Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in a thrilling final earlier this year. Boucher said since the last couple of seasons, Rohit has not had a great time as a batter while faring decently as the skipper.

With the India skipper still struggling to rediscover his best batting form in the IPL, his franchise clarified that it still wants him to be around and add value to the team as a player and enjoy his batting without the burden of captaincy.

“He will also get to spend more time with his family”, coach Boucher added. “Rohit has not had the best couple of seasons of late with the bat, but he has done well as a captain”, Boucher was quoted as saying by ESPNCricinfo on the ‘Banter With The Boys’ podcast.

“One thing I picked up with Ro, as well, who is a fantastic guy — he has been captaining for ages and he has done really well for Mumbai Indians, and India as well — is that he walks into a place and there are just cameras, and he is so busy. Speaking with the Mumbai Indians group, we thought that this is an opportunity to step in for his last year or so”, the former Protea international said.

“We still want him as a player because we believe he still has a great value to add, and just go out and enjoy it, without the hype of being a captain. He is still going to captain India, that hype is going to be there. But when he steps into the IPL maybe just taking that extra bit of pressure off him as a captain, maybe we get the best out of Rohit Sharma”, he added.

“We see him playing with a nice smile on his face, spending a bit of time with the beautiful family he has got. There is no easy way to do it”, he added.

Since the last two IPL seasons, Rohit has scored 600 runs in 30 matches at an average of 20.00 and a strike rate of just over 126.84. He has just two half-centuries in 30 innings. MI won their fifth title in 2020 but failed to make it to the playoffs in 2021 and 2022. They were later knocked out in the second qualifier in the last season.

Boucher added that Hardik is a “Mumbai Indians boy” with some great leadership skills. He said though people in India do tend to get emotional about their favourite players, it was purely a ‘cricketing decision’ to bring Pandya back to the franchise as captain.

“We saw a window period to get Hardik back as a player. He is a Mumbai Indians boy as well. He has gone over to another franchise, he won his first year as captain, and came runner-up in his second year. There are obviously some very good leadership skills as well”, Boucher said.

“In India, people get quite emotional, but you take the emotion out of it, it is just more of a cricketing decision that was made. I do think it is going to bring the best out of Rohit — as a person, as a player — and let him go out there and enjoy and score runs”, he added.

Boucher said he was looking forward to working with the franchise’s star pacer Jasprit Bumrah, who missed the last season due to a back injury. Boucher said that Bumrah’s return will strengthen the franchise.

“Bumrah coming back strengthens us big way. He is someone that I have looked at and I have gone, ‘this guy knows what he is doing’. He is very smart, apparently, a good team man as well. That is one relationship I am looking forward to,” he added. (ANI)

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