Cricket

IPL 2024: Why Is Hardik Pandya Being Booed, Abused? Fan Controversy Explained

Mumbai Indians' new captain Hardik Pandya has had to endure vitriol on the field and off it, in Indian Premier League 2024. Why did he face hate in Ahmedabad and Hyderabad, and will this continue in MI's home game against Rajasthan Royals at the Wankhede Stadium? Read our explainer to know all about it

AP
Hardik Pandya in action during Mumbai Indians' away game against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Indian Premier League 2024. Photo: AP
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Perhaps unprecedented in contemporary cricket, Indian spectators are booing an Indian player in action at Indian stadiums. First it was Ahmedabad, then Hyderabad. Hardik Pandya has faced fans' wrath at both venues, while captaining Mumbai Indians in their first two Indian Premier League 2024 fixtures. And as the 30-year-old readies to take the field at the Wankhede Stadium - MI's home ground - on Monday (April 1) evening, the abuse is tipped to worsen. (Full IPL 2024 Coverage | More Cricket News)

Why is this happening? What is the context behind this undesirable development? And how are things expected to pan out in the near future? Let us unravel the Hardik Pandya-fan controversy.

Why Is Pandya Being Booed?

Pandya was traded to Mumbai Indians from Gujarat Titans in a sensational pre-season swoop, and announced as the MI captain soon after. He replaced incumbent skipper Rohit Sharma for the leadership role, and that did not go down well with the India Test captain's fans.

Many of them believe that given his success in the past, Sharma should have been entrusted the team reins again. Sharma took over charge from Ricky Ponting in 2013, and had led MI to five IPL titles in 10 years (2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2020), in addition to securing play-offs berths twice.

Consequently, the fan rage manifested itself first in the form of vicious trolling on social media platforms, and in-stadia booing later. MI first took the field in IPL 2024 against Pandya's former franchise Gujarat Titans at the latter's home venue in Ahmedabad. And the partisan crowd gave Pandya a mouthful, voicing their disapproval of him leaving the team for Mumbai.

So much so that it led former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen to exclaim on air, "I have never seen any Indian player getting booed like they are booing Hardik Pandya here in Ahmedabad. This is a rare happening."

GT have had a smashing run since their debut in the cash-rich league a couple of editions ago, and Pandya was at the helm for that. The Gujarat outfit won IPL 2022 and finished runners-up in IPL 2023 under Pandya's leadership, but with him choosing to return to his prior franchise MI, Shubman Gill is now the GT skipper.

While the vitriol in Ahmedabad could still be explained by the home spectators' disappointment with Pandya leaving, what happened in Hyderabad surprised many. Pandya was greeted with boos at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, where his team took on the Sunrisers Hyderabad - unconnected with the Pandya-Sharma controversy.

The negative reaction indicates the degree to which 'fan wars' have permeated the Indian cricket landscape. Aside from supporters of national teams and franchises, there is a wide ilk of fans obsessively loyal to specific players, and anything unfavourable or to the supposed detriment of that player enrages these fans.

What makes things uglier is these fans' propensity to malign 'rival' players, in a bid to assert the supremacy of their chosen one. And so we have Sharma's fans at the heart of the hate campaign being orchestrated against Pandya.

The situation is unique to India, as per ace off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. “Have you seen this happen in any other country? Have you seen Joe Root and Zak Crawley fans fight? Or have you seen Joe Root and Jos Buttler fans fight? It’s crazy. Have you seen Steve Smith and Pat Cummins fans fight in Australia?" Ashwin asked rhetorically during a live stream on his YouTube channel with cricket analyst Prasanna Agoram.

"I’ve said this many times. This is cricket. This is a cinema culture. I know there are things like marketing, positioning and branding. I don’t deny it. I don’t believe in all this on my side but it’s not wrong to indulge either. Fan wars should never go in this ugly a route. One should remember which country these players represent - our country. So then what warrants a cricketer getting booed?” Ashwin implored.

What Has Happened Since

The backlash for Pandya has prompted many to speculate whether the Mumbai Cricket Association will enforce special security measures to curb fans' possible unruly behaviour. But the MCA has since issued an official statement, denying any additional security arrangements for MI's game against Rajasthan Royals at home.

Will Pandya Be Abused More At Wankhede Stadium?

Even though the Wankhede Stadium is MI's abode, Pandya is unlikely to feel welcome there, at least in his team's first few games there. A substantial chunk of the side's loyalists are unhappy with the captaincy switch. Add to that the expected jeering from Sharma's fans, and we have an extremely unpleasant situation on our hands.

Retired Bengal and ex-India batter Manoj Tiwary believes the boos are bound to get louder in Mumbai. "...you have to see how he gets welcomed here in Mumbai because I think he is going to get booed a bit louder here...Because as a fan, Mumbai fan or a Rohit Sharma fan, nobody expected that captaincy will be given to Hardik," Tiwary told PTI in an interview.

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He added, "And despite Rohit giving five trophies to Mumbai Indians, he has to lose the captaincy. I don't know what are the reasons but I think it has not gone down well with the fans. And that is the reaction which you see on the field."

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