The Rivalry, Which, As You Know, The Friendships That You Don't > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - The rivalry you know, the friendships you don't
While India-Pakistan cricket encounters might ride high on tension, life outside the field has been quite different for the players. Former cricketers from the two sides, who played each other often in the last decade, relive their memorable moments - on and off the field.
There have been a lot of interesting India-Pakistan matches that I've been a part of, whether it's the 2003 world cup game in Centurion when Sachin Tendulkar batted superbly, or the 2011 world cup semis. But outside of the world cups, the 2004 series was very special. India were touring Pakistan after a really long time. It was a brilliant series, can never forget that. I will put it at par with the world cups. Whether it was Lahore or Rawalpindi, you could see Indian flags everywhere. The Pakistanis had taken very good care of the Indian fans who had travelled to watch the matches there.
Off the field, the Pakistani players liked to joke a lot, and had a lot of pranksters in the team. We used to play pranks on Naved ul Hasan. He didn't have hair earlier, so we used to keep pulling his leg when he got them back. "Rana ji, kaha se baal lagwa ke aaye ho?"
There are a lot of hilarious moments that I can't share. Shoaib Akhtar, in specific, was very mischievous. I have spent a lot of time with him and enjoyed my time. When we toured Pakistan, he had invited us home for a meal in Rawalpindi and even taken us around the city.
Mohammad Yousuf was another player with whom I spent a lot of time and shared jokes, whenever we have played against them. Our bonding also improved when we had gone to South Africa to play Asia XI vs Africa XI, where Inzamam ul Haq was our captain.
I got along well with everyone but there were certain players in their side that I bonded really well with - Arshad Khan, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik. Since I can also speak a bit of Punjabi, I have had a lot of good time with them. Harbhajan used to bond really well with these guys. By being around them, I also picked up a bit of Punjabi.
My most memorable match against India was the 2007 T20 WC final. Though we lost that match, it had all the ingredients of being a perfect final. The match was swinging like pendulum till the last ball. End of the day we lost it, but it was a good game of cricket and people enjoyed it. And, that's what matters the most. Cricket is a sport, which is for enjoyment. Of course, people on both sides of the border want their team to win. But, only one side can win. That match entertained both supporters.
I've never really had a skirmish with any Indian cricketer on the field. Such instances do happen generally on the field but players from both sides leave it there. I remember when we toured India in 2007, we used to have dinners together. There was even an event for both the teams hosted by Shahrukh Khan. The mood used to be very jolly whenever we were together and even when some players indulged in an on-field exchange, it never reflected in our off-field interactions.
In fact, we were always joking around with each other. Especially, with the Punjabi players like Yuvraj and Harbhajan - as everyone took witty jibes at each other in Punjabi.
We used to accommodate and take care of each other. Whenever we toured India and needed any information or any sort of help, the Indians players used to be there to help us out. Same was the case with us. I believe we used to take care of them more as I witnessed during the Asia Cup in 2008. Our seniors like Shoaib [Malik] bhai used to tell us about both teams helping each other on tours.
During the IPL as well, I enjoyed my time with players like Ravindra Jadeja, Yusuf Pathan and Munaf Patel. Jadeja, in particular, was very playful while Munaf was a bit reserved. I had a great time with all three. We used to go out together and have gleeful conversations. Mohammad Kaif was also there and he was very jolly and helpful throughout the tournament. I have always enjoyed my tours to India.
One of my fondest memories was in 2007 when Pakistan had come to India for a tour in November. In the first ODI at Guwahati, I had walked out to bat with 22 runs remaining. The sun sets quite early there, so it was getting very dark. To top it, Shoaib Akhtar was bowling very fast and getting the ball to reverse. One of his yorkers in fact clocked 154kmph. I don't know how I managed to spot it, but with two runs needed, I walked a few steps outside the crease and managed to get a thick edge to the third man boundary.
We won that match but when we reached Gwalior, for the 4th ODI, we were sitting in one of the player's rooms. Shoaib bhai was also there. While having a casual conversation, he told me, "Robin, tu woh jo chalke maara tha na, don't repeat that." I was like "Why Shoaib bhai?". He said, "If you walk like that, I don't know what will I do the next time. I don't know, maybe the ball might come at your face also. So be careful the next time." It was a very gentle warning but I knew that I had rubbed him the wrong way by doing that and that was the last time I walked out to Shoaib Akhtar.
The bonding with the Pakistan players was always very cordial. They were like mates. For me, being from south India, it was like having a mate from north India. That's how it felt. It was not like the whole 'India-Pakistan' kind of a thing. Because off the field, the camaraderie was very good.
The most memorable match for me against India was the Peshawar ODI in 2004 when I scored 98 and won that match for Pakistan in my hometown. That was really special for me. I never thought of indulging in on-field altercations. But on the last day of the Bangalore Test in 2005, the Pakistan and Indian cricketers exchanged some words with each other. Especially, Lala, he did not allow any Indian player to settle on the crease.
On the field, Shahid Afridi and I used to speak in Pashto when we were batting together so that none of the Indian players could understand us. It used to be simple Pashto, nothing fancy. Because no non-Pashto speaking can understand it.
But the off-field relations between the players were really good. We used to chat with each other and there were always positive vibes coming from both sides when we met. I got more close to Sehwag and Yuvraj after the 2004 series. They used to refer to me as "Don" and I also referred them back with the same.
Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, and Mohammad Yousuf used to tease Harbhajan Singh. They used to enjoy the company of Ashish Nehra, Yuvraj Singh, and Harbhajan and often used to sit together during our commutes from one city to another on tours. They were always laughing and joking with each other, especially Afridi and Razzaq who would tease Harbhajan.
There was also Sreesanth. He was a character. We once went to an old Mughal Castle in Rajasthan. He amused us with his funny little acts. The way he was posing for the pictures were hilarious.
The 2003 world cup match was the first time I was playing against Pakistan, so it was the first time I was up against the pressure of playing them, the whole atmosphere and how things go around the match. It was very special. I felt the pressure, no doubt about that, and enjoyed it as well because we won that match.
Off the field as well, there were these moments that we enjoyed a lot. Me, Ashish Nehra and all of us would hang out quite often with the Pakistani players. Since you have a similar kind of culture there as well, there is always a lot to talk about. The food there is also fantastic. So we have always enjoyed going to Pakistan. The hospitality that we got there was something to really talk about. They would always make the extra effort. Even when they would come here, the Indian players would make sure that they are very comfortable in our country.
The pressure and cricket that is played on the field is one thing but when you met them at functions, get-togethers and casual meetings, the bond was very friendly. Players from both teams respected each other's spaces and when they were playing on the field, they were giving their hearts out and making sure their team won.
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