Daggers drawn or arms on shoulders? The India-Pakistan frenemy always makes news | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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Daggers drawn or arms on shoulders? The India-Pakistan frenemy that always makes headlines

Oct 13, 2023 10:59 AM IST

Just because political ties between India and Pakistan are always fraught with tension and mistrust doesn’t mean the players should be daggers drawn.

How much is too much? It’s an age-old question that can apply to just about anything. Such as the bonhomie between Indian and Pakistani cricketers, which might appear a recent phenomenon but is most certainly not.

India captain Rohit Sharma and Pakistan captain Babar Azam
India captain Rohit Sharma and Pakistan captain Babar Azam

Sport, more than anything else, is replete with instances of fierce competitors not just co-existing peacefully but actually enjoying each other’s success. Nothing exemplifies this better than the relationship between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two of tennis’ all-time greats. Despite being involved in several titanic battles for ultimate honours in the sport, the Swiss statesman and the respectful Spanish tyro have tremendous affection for each other.

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It might appear incongruous to parallel this with India-Pakistan because there is no political touch to the Federer-Nadal friendship. But just because political ties between the two neighbours are always fraught with tension and mistrust doesn’t mean the players should be daggers drawn. And just because they joke with each other and share cordial links doesn’t mean their competitive fire doesn’t burn bright, that the intensity of battle is any less.

Such is the nature of social media that anything that is newsworthy, and some things that aren’t too, go viral in the blink of an eye. That’s why videos of Virat Kohli enquiring after Shaheen Shah Afridi’s injury or presenting a bat to Mohammad Amir are widely circulated and commented upon. Earlier this year, Kohli presented a signed t-shirt to Afghan Rashid Khan after an IPL match in Bengaluru at the latter’s insistence because he wanted to frame and hang it in his new Dubai residence. Perhaps the reason it didn’t make news is because Rashid is not Pakistani?

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Historically, no matter what hues the political equations between the teams have assumed, players from India and Pakistan have got along famously. The much-touted shared culture, shared language and shared eating habits brought them closer, particularly when they played in the county or league circuit in England. On India’s tour of Pakistan in 1989, when Mohammad Azharuddin was struggling for runs and confidence, Pakistani great Zaheer Abbas suggested a slight change in grip which resurrected the Indian’s career. More than a decade and a half later, Azhar returned the compliment with a phone call to Younis Khan in 2016; the Pakistani middle-order batter was in the middle of a horrendous run but turned things around after Azhar’s words of wisdom, uncorking a double hundred at The Oval and profusely thanking the former India captain publicly for his unsolicited inputs.

Wasim Raja was a particular favourite with the Indian players of a different vintage, while Javed Miandad, the master of gamesmanship, was another hit despite his foul-mouthed tirades standing at silly-point. Pakistanis loved Virender Sehwag for his nonchalance and witticism, not to mention the songs he belted out with abandon while waiting for the ball to be delivered. In Multan in 2004, on his way to becoming India’s first Test triple-centurion, Sehwag had the Pakistani close-in cordon in stitches with a famous one-liner to Shoaib Akhtar. The fiery quick bowled a series of bouncers that Sehwag assiduously ignored. After each ball, Akhtar would ask Sehwag to play the pull shot. Sehwag reacted to Akhtar’s persistence with, ‘Bowling daal raha hai ya bheek maang raha hai?’ Suffice to say that it took a long, long time for the next ball to be bowled.

This is not an apocryphal story, nor is the one where Miandad kept asking the prim and proper Indian left-arm spinner, Dilip Doshi, for his hotel room number during the Bengaluru Test in 1983. When Doshi finally lost his cool and asked him why, Miandad replied, ‘Ball udhar maarna chahta hoon’. India’s fielders had to try their utmost to stifle their guffaws for fear of inviting Doshi’s wrath.

There have been flashpoints galore too, like there will be in the heat of battle, India-Pakistan or not. Aamer Sohail’s doomed showdown with Venkatesh Prasad in the 1996 World Cup quarterfinal and the ugly exchange of expletives between Gautam Gambhir and Shahid Afridi spring to mind, but they were showdowns between competitors which had nothing to do with the countries of their origin.

A little bit of needle and aggro on the field make for good ratings and can spice up an already edgy contest, but should Indian and Pakistani players be snarling and growling and snapping at each other simply because that is what others expect of them? Among others, Tendulkar has shown that it is possible to separate the personal from the professional; if it’s good enough for him, then…

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