IPL 2024 – R Ashwin defends Hardik Pandya – ‘Fan wars should never take an ugly turn’

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R Ashwin has come out in strong support of Mumbai Indians captain Hardik Pandya, blaming India’s “fan wars” and “cinema culture” for the vehement booing Hardik has been subjected to at various grounds this IPL season.
Hardik, who took over the Mumbai captaincy from Rohit Sharma this season, was given a hostile reception by the fans in Ahmedabad last week when he faced his former team Gujarat Titans, whom he had led to successive IPL finals including the title in 2022. The booing continued when Hardik faced Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, as Mumbai began their campaign with back-to-back defeats.

Answering a question from a viewer on his YouTube channel on whether Mumbai should issue a statement to diffuse the situation, Ashwin said that the onus lay with the fans, not the team, to “get our act together” and put an end to such “ugly” scenes.

“People should remember which country these players represent. It’s our country, ” Ashwin said. “Fan wars should never take such an ugly route. I’ve said it many times, this is cinema culture, that happens only here.

“I know there are many things like marketing, branding, and positioning. I don’t deny it, but have you seen these fights happen in any other country? Have you seen, for instance, Joe Root and Zak Crawley fans have a fight? Or Joe Root and Jos Buttler fans fight? It’s crazy. Do you see Steven Smith fans fighting with Pat Cummins fans in Australia?”

Ashwin brought up examples from the past, when several Indian greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid all played under each other’s captaincies, with minimal fuss or backlash from the fans.

“I don’t understand. If you don’t like a player and boo him, why should the club come out and issue a clarification? We act like this has not happened before.

“Sourav Ganguly played under Sachin Tendulkar and vice versa. These two have both played under Rahul Dravid. These three have played under Anil Kumble and all of them have played under MS Dhoni. When they were under Dhoni, these players were cricket jambhavans (giants). Dhoni too played under Virat Kohli.”

Ashwin said he believes that all fans have a collective responsibility to “correct ourselves” before blaming others, explaining that cinema can’t be compared directly to sports.

“You know what the issue is? We all happily sit inside our houses and look at the trash outside. We expect someone else to pick it up instead of doing it ourselves.

“This is real-time sport. Sport has real players with real emotions, nothing is scripted. Hero and hero worshiping is great, but sport should never be compared to cinema. How we go beyond that, counter it and find balance to play cricket is what this is all about.

“You are free to enjoy what you like about your favourite players or team, but not at the cost of putting another player down. This is one thing I’d love to see disappear from the face of the earth in our country.”

Mumbai will play their first home game of the season against Ashwin’s Rajasthan Royals at the Wankhede on Monday.

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