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Gautam Gambhir's Anger Over India-Pakistan Players' Friendly Chat is Misplaced

In the past too, Gautam Gambhir has had strong feelings about playing cricket with Pakistan.

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Gautam Gambhir is a patriot. Gautam Gambhir believes that an angry scowl is the only ‘game face’ there is. Gautam Gambhir is not happy to see Indian players fraternising with Pakistani players during cricket matches.

And, Gautam Gambhir is entitled to his view. But we could respectfully disagree with him.

During India’s recent Asia Cup match against Pakistan, rain interrupted play repeatedly, until it finally forced the match to be abandoned. On the sidelines, Indian and Pakistani players – Virat Kohli, Pakistan captain Babar Azam, his deputy Shadab Khan, and others – were seen standing together, sharing some light moments.

It didn’t go down well with Gambhir, and he said as much on air, in his role as a cricket expert on TV. He even blamed franchise cricket for cricketers not showing enough aggression on the field these days.

Early Incident of Gambhir's Objection

In the past too, Gambhir has had strong feelings about playing cricket with Pakistan.

Soon after the Pulwama terror strike, in which India lost 44 soldiers, Gambhir was in favour of Team India forfeiting its game against Pakistan in the 2019 World Cup.

He said, “Country is far more important than Bollywood, sports, art or culture… if India decides to forfeit, then the entire country should back the team. If India was to play Pakistan in the World Cup final, even if you have to let go of that final, they should be ready for it.”

While Gambhir’s sentiment was understandable, the Indian government and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) did prefer to keep sport and politics separate, and went ahead with the match. For the record, India won handsomely, with Rohit Sharma hammering a brilliant 140, and even Kohli scoring an aggressive 77, keeping its undefeated record against Pakistan in ODI World Cup matches intact.
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Gambhir and Kohli: Similar Yet Different

Is Virat Kohli every bit as competitive as Gautam Gambhir? Of course. Is he aggressive on the field? Yes, we’ve seen that fire in every match, against every opponent.

And like a lot of iconic Indian batters, Kohli has saved some of his aggressive best for Pakistan. His highest individual ODI score of 183 was against Pakistan, in fact during an Asia Cup match in 2012.

His batting average against Pakistan in ODIs is a kickass 45.00. For the record, Gambhir’s average in ODIs versus Pakistan is 28.89. But that, even Gambhir would accept, is simply because Kohli is an all-time great.  

For more evidence of how Kohli is ultra-motivated against Pakistan, simply rewind to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, October 2022, during the T20 World Cup, when India needed an impossible 28 runs off eight balls against Pakistan. Kohli’s back-to-back sixes against a stunned Haris Rauf turned the game around completely. Would anyone question and grudge the same Virat Kohli a few laughs shared with Pakistani players on the sidelines of a match? Not me.

Another bloke who knows both Pakistan and Gautam Gambhir well is Virender Sehwag. They were a formidable opening pair for India, but we’ve not heard Sehwag echo Gambhir’s sentiments on the rapport between Indian and Pakistani players.

Sehwag, too, let his bat do the talking and hurt Pakistani pride in the only way that a cricketer can, by destroying them on the field.

No one will ever forget his incredible 309 against Pakistan in Multan in 2004. The first triple hundred by an Indian, scored in just 375 balls, and that too, in Pakistan. He was so destructive that he even reached his 300 with a six off Saqlain Mushtaq! Sehwag’s batting average in Test matches against Pakistan, is a staggering 91.14!

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Gambhir had a memorable on-field run-in with Pakistan wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal in the 2010 Asia Cup, a game in which Gambhir made a crucial 83, contributing to a close India win of the second last ball.

But Gambhir has himself conceded that he is also a friend of Kamran Akmal’s, they even exchanged cricket bats, and he played a whole season with a bat Kamran had given him.

It just demonstrates that there is no one prescribed way in which Indian and Pakistani cricketers must relate to each other.

Just a month after Pulwama, Gambhir’s anger was valid, even if we disagree on whether it should spill into sports. But as time moves on, the intensity of the animosity between any two countries, even India and Pakistan, does ebb and flow, and it does affect and influence the intensity of diplomatic relations, of trade, and even the nature of military engagement. It is not, it can’t be unchanging, and cut in stone.

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Incidents of Indians Fraternising with Pakistanis 

Even Indian jawans have occasionally been comfortable about fraternising with Pakistani soldiers. Take a look at this August 2018 video of Indian and Pakistani soldiers dancing to Indian bhangra music and Bhojpuri songs during a joint international military exercise in Russia.

More recently, in August 2022, this video went viral of Indian jawans in their bunkers on the LOC, dancing to a Sidhu Moosewala hit song being played on loudspeaker by Pakistani soldiers.

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In March 2022, in New Zealand, during the Women’s World Cup, we saw the Indian women's team gushing over Pakistan captain Bismah Maroof's eight-month-old daughter Fatima.

There are also innumerable videos of Indian and Pakistani fans fraternising during Indo-Pak matches fans from both countries dancing to Sukhbir songs outside MCG ahead of the October 2022 Indo-Pak T20 clash.

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India-Pakistan Positive Relation 

As we speak, BCCI chief Roger Binny is visiting Lahore during the Asia Cup, as a guest of the Pakistan Cricket Board. Should he have recalled Pulwama and refused? Of course not.

In 2014, Pakistan was as committed a supporter of terror in Jammu and Kashmir, as ever. But that did not stop Narendra Modi from inviting Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as a special, and surprise, guest for his swearing-in as India’s Prime Minister.

Gautam Gambhir may not have approved of this sudden spike in bonhomie, but it was excellent out-of-the-box diplomacy back then.

India also enjoys substantial trade and commerce relations with Pakistan. Bilateral trade between India and Pakistan was around $1.35 billion during April-December 2022.

A 100% jump over the figure of $516.36 million for all of 2021-22 – figures shared by Minister of State for Commerce and Industry in the Lok Sabha in February 2023. During the same period India’s trade with China was $87 billion. 

In fact, in 2022, just 2 years after 20 Indian soldiers were killed by the Chinese army at Galwan in Ladakh, trade with China reached a record $135.98 billion, driven mainly by Indian imports from China. Our trade deficit with China is a massive $100 billion, but that is not discussed as much as Kohli sharing a laugh with Babar Azam. 

Beyond banning Tik-Tok, and a lot of hollow chest-thumping, where is the daily self-righteous ‘gussa’ against all things China?

Frankly, two cricketers from India and Pakistan shaking hands or exchanging a few pleasantries, present a soft target. And Virat Kohli, currently not Gambhir’s favourite person, chatting with Babar Azam may have presented a soft target for Gambhir?

His statements may appeal to a few of the East Delhi BJP MP’s hyper-nationalistic constituents. But in my view, nursing such anger is not healthy. Not for Gambhir, nor for India-Pakistan relations.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  India   Pakistan    Cricket 

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