Babar Azam Virat Kohli
Pakistan skipper Babar Azam and former India captain Virat Kohli have a chat at the ICC Academy in Dubai on August 24, 2022, ahead of the DP World Asia Cup. Image Credit: BCCI

India and Pakistan are archrivals in cricket. The rivalry is more intense than in the Ashes, where England and Australia square off in Tests. The games between the subcontinent teams are always tightly-contested, nervy affairs. That’s on the field. Beyond the boundary ropes, the cricketers have developed friendships and back each other.

Much of that camaraderie was evident ahead of the practice sessions for the DP World Asia Cup 2022 in the UAE. The teams crossed paths as they turned up for the nets at the International Cricket Conference Academy.

Former Indian Virat Kohli seems popular with the Pakistan team. Kohli and Pakistan captain Babar Azam struck up a conversation near the pickets as the Indians strolled in for a practice session. There was genuine warmth in their exchange on Thursday. Azam later sought out Indian captain Rohit Sharma for a long chat beside the ground, watched by Pakistan’s bowling coach Shaun Tait of Australia.

Kolhi was also quick to greet Shaheen Shah Afridi, who is recovering from a knee injury. The injured left-arm pace bowler, who is travelling with the team, had set up Pakistan’s first win over India in a major tournament with an incisive burst in the 2021 T20 World Cup game in Dubai.

That was 11 months ago, and it doesn’t seem to rankle the Indian cricketers. As they entered the ICC ground on Thursday, Indian leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal spotted Afridi, rushed to him, and hugged the Pakistani pacer. The two chatted for a long time before Chahal opted for some fielding practice.

Kohli too engaged in a brief conversation with Afridi before departing with a firm handshake and padded up for some batting practice. Wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant walked up to Afridi, embraced him, and talked and laughed with him like a lost friend. Vice-captain KL Rahul followed Pant before stopping to have a word with Afridi.

The 22-year-old Pakistan pacer’s name also cropped up in Rahul’s press conference on Thursday. The Indian vice-captain said he would have liked to face Afridi in Sunday’s game. “Shaheen [Afridi] is a world-class and quality bowler. Left-arm seamers in world cricket are the most dangerous ones in world cricket right now. Unfortunately, he [Afridi] is injured.”

While the injured Afridi has been garnering much attention from Indians, the Pakistan camp has been hugely supportive of Kohli, who has been going through a run-drought. Skipper Azam was one of the first Pakistan players to offer support to Kolhi, tweeting that he expects the former India captain to strike form soon.

Vice-captain Shadab Khan went a step further, saying that he wanted Kohli to score a century in the Asia Cup, but he didn’t want it against Pakistan. Addressing a press conference at the ICC Academy on Friday, the Pakistan leg-spinner said: He (Kohli) is a legend of the game. He has performed quite a lot. We don’t want him to play a long innings against us.

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“I pray that he returns to how he was. He is performing good even now, but the standards that he has set … they make it feel as if he is out of form. I personally wish that he scores a century; not against us, but against some other team in this tournament,” Khan added.

All these show that the vitriol on social media is totally misplaced. I hope the Twitter trolls and other social media warriors rise above their biases and applaud these gifted cricketers. They have set a wonderful example for the rest to follow.