Redemption complete: Villain during IPL, Pandya returns to Mumbai as World Cup hero

There is a school of thought that maintains that IPL fans are different from those in international cricket, but Pandya had to bear the worst brunt.
 Hardik Pandya (C) holds the Hardik Pandya holds the World Cup trophy as he greets fans during an open bus roadshow in Mumbai
Hardik Pandya (C) holds the Hardik Pandya holds the World Cup trophy as he greets fans during an open bus roadshow in Mumbai AFP

MUMBAI: In the annals of comeback stories, his deserves to stand among the greatest, for rarely has Indian cricket seen a player going through the lowest of lows and ascend the summit in a matter of a few months like Hardik Pandya has.

Pandya's comeback journey following an ankle injury which he suffered in the ODI World Cup was one that is replete with elements of disappointment and dejection but also with utmost resilience and determination shown against adversity.

Once a mainstay of the dominating Mumbai Indians' side, he had gone to Gujarat Titans for a couple of years only to comeback but in a way that many did not accept.

Pandya's return to Mumbai Indians replacing 'Mumbaicha Raja, Rohit Sharma' was something that angered the fans.

There is a school of thought which maintains that IPL fans are different from those in international cricket, but Pandya had to bear the worst brunt.

Amid all that, there were unconfirmed reports of separation with wife Natasa Stankovic.

Boos, heckles and all sorts of negativity were hurled at Pandya when he first led the Mumbai Indians side at Ahmedabad in their season opener.

While it was not anticipated for he was now the MI captain and 'one of their own' Pandya received the harshest of fans' response when he walked out for the toss for his first home match here at the Wankhede Stadium.

Just a few matches later, at the toss against Rajasthan Royals, commentator and former India and Mumbai cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar even asked the crowd here at the Wankhede to 'behave' when they got booing Pandya again.

 Hardik Pandya (C) holds the Hardik Pandya holds the World Cup trophy as he greets fans during an open bus roadshow in Mumbai
Mumbai bleeds blue as sea of people throng Marine Drive for India's T20 World Cup victory parade

After his dismissal in the last league match here, Rohit Sharma got a standing ovation with the crowd believing that this could be his last match.

As Rohit was leaving amid the ovation and cheer, all that quickly turned into loud boos as Pandya walked in to bat.

But all that were matters of past when Pandya landed amid defeaning cheers with a vast sea of fans filling up the Wankhede Stadium as well as the Marine Drive to the brim.

"See you soon, Wankhede," wrote the World Cup champion as he posted his selfie with the trophy before the parade here.

Inside the stadium, chants of 'Hardik! Hardik!' began to reverberate.

He was among the first to walk out with the trophy aloft his shoulder at the airport here earlier and at his 'homeground', Pandya was the first to show the coveted trophy to the thousands of fans who waited for hours.

Chaos, stampede-like situation was widely anticipated and feared but everyone was in the mood to cheer for India's heroes including Pandya, who took part in the open bus ride for a couple of hours before heading to the Wankhede Stadium.

And when Virat Kohli in his speech underlined Suryakumar Yadav's catch in the final over off Pandya, cheers were thunderous as Wankhede in unison cheered 'Hardik! Hardik!'.

"The biggest turnaround happened in terms of (when) he was included. We could bat deep and we had an extra bowling option. In last ODI World Cup final we missed him," said a fan.

"The biggest testament is Hardik's mental strength, he was booed in the (first game) here against CSK. But still he did not hit back, kept his head down and kept working.

"All the hate he got was unwarranted. The owners took him in, he had nothing to do with it. There was no point booing him, he was our captain but we did not. Obviously, we did not qualify (for the playoffs) but we are just here to celebrate him and smile all day," he added.

"The problem with us MI fans is that we have very short memories. Now we are going to cheer 'Mumbaicha Raja Hardik Hardik'. We will accept him as MI captain now," he said.

Hyderabad-based Srinivas Reddy, a Bank of America employee, logged out at 3:30 am and took an early flight to reach Mumbai only to celebrate India and Hardik's feat.

"IPL is different from international cricket, it is purely entertainment cricket. I am happy for him, he scored runs and took wickets that too at the crucial times. We needed that (Heinrich) Klaasen wicket (in the final)," Reddy said.

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