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Ball, Bat & Brotherhood

Shahid Afridi and Ahmad Shahzad. Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawerdene. Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan. Shane Warne and Kevin Pieterson. Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee. Viv Richards and Ian Botham. Imran Khan and Kapil Dev.

From Barbados to Brisbane, there are numerous examples of brotherly camaraderie both on and off the cricketing field.

In this day and age of verbal altercations, graceless gestures, bat stomping and blatant disregard for the umpire’s presence, a lifelong, respectful friendship between teammates or rivals should be cherished rather than chastised.

During the Pakistan-Sri Lanka tour of the UAE in 2013, post-net practice at Sharjah stadium was refreshing as the younger Sri Lankan players made physiotherapist Steve Mount bat. They then took it in turns to commentate, pretend to be Hawk-Eye and just rib him good-humouredly. The fact that he withstood the onslaught with a few contagious laughs, made all the difference to the ambience in the team.

Personal dynamics change the way sportsmen play on the field too. On the rare occasion when two friends off the field are batting together – the most recent example being that of current top-scoring Sri Lankans Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jaywardene – one senses there is a feeling of trust that allows one batsman to hit freely, knowing he has a safety net at the non-striker’s end. It is common knowledge that these two batsmen have invested in the same seafood restaurant, showing a level of faith in one another that will extend far beyond the twilight of their cricketing careers.Untitled-1tet

In 2014, Imran Khan hosted a Dubai fund-raiser for his Shaukat Khanum Hospital. His electrifying presence coupled with then-interim chairman of BCCI, Sunil Gavaskar, resulted in both Indians and Pakistanis coming together to contribute to a noteworthy cause.

Within the current Cricket World Cup squad, Pakistan’s magnetic bowling all-rounder Shahid Afridi has nurtured many a younger player such as Ahmad Shahzad, Umar Akmal and Sohaib Maqsood professionally and has even gone so far as to enourage them to sign with his own agent, knowing their careers needed an initial push to direct them towards the correct trajectory.

When controversial England batsmen Kevin Pieterson was released from the England team for his allegedly unruly behavior, former Australian spin great Shane Warne defended him. He did this, knowing it might be at the detriment of the goodwill he had fostered whilst playing for English counties.

Why then are these friendships dissected by social media critics? Perhaps only a fellow player can understand the cut-throat ranking rivalries, merciless media pressure, former cricketers’ ruthless criticisms, monumental fan expectations and other daunting complexities of professional sport. A player facing these many obstacles on tour, would understandably turn towards a friendship that has no twists and turns, no manipulation but just old-fashioned, brotherly bonding away from the comforts of home.

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Of course, sometimes the initially good rapport is eroded by a sheen of antagonism, with some common-knowledge examples being Dale Steyn and Michael Clarke, Virat Kohli and Steve Smith, as well as Harbhajan Singh and Sreesanth. These arguments have not really threatened the notion of cricket being a gentleman’s game, largely because loyal fans are aware that solid friendships do exist within the larger cricketing fraternity.

Despite the business class flights, 5-star hotels, enthusiastic fans, glitzy after-parties, board-directed family visits and the harsh glare of the photographers’ flashbulbs, many a sportsman refers to his hotel room as his prison. No wonder then, that a friendship that provides a sense of anchor away from home, can play many a stabilizing role when on tour and otherwise.

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