IPL 2024 – Mumbai Indians – Steven Smith to Hardik Pandya on crowd abuse – ‘Block it out, it’s all irrelevant’

Steven Smith’s suggestion to Hardik Pandya is to simply “block out” the boos and the abuse he has been copping from fans at the IPL so far.

Smith, target of constant heckling across the globe a few years ago for his role in the 2018 Newlands ball-tampering scandal, said that Hardik needed support from his team-mates at Mumbai Indians, including from Rohit Sharma, who Hardik replaced as captain ahead of IPL 2024 after a 11-year stint.

“I’d try and just say, to block it out, it’s all irrelevant,” Smith said on ESPNcricinfo’s TimeOut show. “No one outside knows what you are going through. No one [from outside] is in that change room.”

Smith was handed a year-long ban by Cricket Australia after admitting to “leadership failure” in the Newlands Test, and was also forced to “step down” as Rajasthan Royals captain in IPL 2018. He said he had treated the heckling he had experienced – including at the 2019 ODI World Cup in England where fans chanted “cheat” – as “white noise”.

But can the abuse from fans, coupled with criticism of his captaincy in Mumbai Indians’ back-to-back losses in IPL 2024 by pundits, impact Hardik adversely?

Smith suggested that Hardik might have been surprised at the reception because it is not often India’s top players are booed by fans. It is not unprecedented, though, with Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Ravi Shastri being at the receiving end at various points in their careers.

“Personally, for me, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t care. I don’t pay any attention,” Smith said. “You know it’s all white noise, but certainly players do hear things and everyone’s entitled to their own emotions and how they respond to those.

“So is it affecting him [Hardik]? Maybe. It’s possible. He probably hasn’t experienced that before in, in any walk of life. So it’s natural, I suppose, and particularly being in India and a star Indian player, to be in that position where some fans are booing you, it’s certainly something he wouldn’t have experienced.”

Hardik was picked by Titans and appointed captain immediately after Mumbai Indians released him ahead of the 2022 mega IPL auction. Titans won the IPL in their maiden season and reached the final in 2023, establishing Hardik as a successful leader. Last November, though, Mumbai Indians pulled off a coup of sorts by bringing Hardik back into their fold via a monetary trade, details of which have remained a source of intrigue. Immediately after that, Hardik was appointed captain.

In his first media briefing, responding to a query on whether he had spoken with his predecessor Rohit, Hardik was vague, triggering a critical response including vitriolic trolling on social media.

In 2017, Smith was installed as captain at Rising Pune Supergiant replacing MS Dhoni, who had then recently retired as India’s white-ball captain. It was a challenging moment for Smith, but he said that Dhoni had supported him all the way.

“It was an enjoyable season and we had some success that year [2017], I suppose, which helped as well,” he said. “But MS was great with everything that he did. He was supportive, he helped me in any way that he could. He was great behind the stumps, obviously. He’s got a great view of what’s going on in the game and the angles that sort of take place on the field, and was able to sort those out and get people in the right areas.

“Hardik is in the middle of a challenging time, losing the first two games their IPL season. It’s a big one for him. He’s filling big shoes with Rohit Sharma, who’s been the most successful captain [with Dhoni] in IPL history, lifting five titles, and it hasn’t started well for him.

“So he’s under a little bit of pressure at the moment and it’ll be interesting to see what the reception’s like in their first home game at Wankhede in a couple of days’ time. We have heard a few boos going around at the grounds, which… that’s been disappointing from my aspect. But I’m intrigued to see what the reception’s like in Mumbai. We know how big a star Rohit is and how much he is loved inside that stadium.”

‘Hardik’s made a few tactical errors’

Outside of the noise, Smith said that Hardik had erred tactically against Titans as well as against SRH.

“I feel like he’s under a little bit of pressure. I think he’s made a few tactical errors in the first couple of games: batting himself a little bit low, probably in the first one, is my assessment. And then, in particular in the second one, [Jasprit] Bumrah only bowling one over in the first 13 overs was in my mind just a little bit mindblowing,” Smith said. “He [Bumrah] is the best bowler in the world and to have only bowled one over when the team’s got 173 on the board in the 12th over, I was in disbelief, to be honest.

“I’m sure he is going to learn from that. As a captain, you have to have plans in place for the start of the game. And clearly the plan was to bowl Bumrah straight up to Heinrich Klassen. But you’ve got to shift your plans when things aren’t going well. And it didn’t look like they shifted. They sort of just kept doing the same thing. It was a bit of a blunder in his first outings.”

Now then, can Rohit do for Hardik what Virat Kohli did for Smith in 2019?

Five years ago, during the World Cup match against Australia at The Oval, Kohli put an arm around Smith during the game and asked Indian fans, who had been heckling Smith, to stop booing.

“It was lovely, wasn’t it? I remember that game and Virat – I walked past him and sort of gave a little fist bump, I think, from memory. It’s nice when someone does something to… you are in the middle of a game, you are playing against an opponent. I thought it was really nice gesture.

“Maybe someone can do something [similar for Hardik]. Maybe it’s Rohit Sharma. Maybe he stands up and says, ‘guys, what’s going on, let’s support this guy’. I don’t know. That could happen, I suppose. Well, we’ll wait and see.”

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo

Leave a Comment