It isn’t often that one sees two athletes take their rivalry well into their retirement. In sports, usually, players have run-ins in the heat of the moment, sometimes even more than once, but that animosity is rarely carried forward, at least in the public domain, once they end their careers. That, however, has not been the case with Gautam Gambhir and Shahid Afridi.
It all started during a One-Day International between India and Pakistan in Kanpur in 2007. Gambhir, who is now an MP of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was running down the pitch to complete a run when he collided with Afridi and the two got into a heated argument. Whether Afridi deliberately got in Gambhir’s way or the latter intentionally ran into him is anybody’s guess. But that moment didn’t go unnoticed since it wasn’t common to see Indian and Pakistani players have a go at each other in such an aggressive manner.
While that was the end of it in terms of their on-field clashes, partly due to the fact that India stopped playing bilateral cricket with Pakistan, the two began throwing punches at each other on social media and other public platforms once they bid adieu to the game.
In his autobiography Game Changer, Afridi shared his views on the clash he had with Gambhir in 2007. “I remember the run-in with Gambhir during the 2007 Asia Cup [incorrect information] when he completed his single while running straight into me. The umpires had to finish it off or I would have. Clearly, we had a frank bilateral discussion about each other’s female relative,” he wrote.
Afridi then goes on to take personal digs at Gambhir, writing that the former India opener has an “attitude problem”.
“Some rivalries were personal, some professional. First the curious case of Gambhir. Oh, poor Gautam. He and his attitude problem. He who has no personality. He who is barely a character in the great scheme of cricket. He who has no great records just a lot of attitude,” wrote Afridi.
“Gambhir behaves like he’s a cross between Don Bradman and James Bond. In Karachi, we call guys like him saryal [burnt up]. It’s simple, I like happy, positive people. Doesn’t matter if they are aggressive or competitive, but you have to be positive and Gambhir wasn’t.”
Reacting to this, Gambhir took to Twitter and suggested that Afridi needs psychiatric treatment.
Afridi then had another go at Gambhir, this time at the launch event of his book last year. “I think Gautam Gambhir may have some problems. I am working with hospitals and I can get him very good treatment here,” he said. “The Indian government doesn’t normally give visas to our people, but I will welcome everyone from India to Pakistan. Our people and our government have always welcomed Indians and as for Gautam, I will get a visa arranged so that his treatment can be done here.”
Soon after, in an interview with The Indian Express, Gambhir reflected on his issue with Afridi.
“Some fights do get personal, and there is nothing wrong with that,” he said. “It has been like that for a very long time. Sometimes it is nice to get personal with someone. I have had decent relationships with Pakistani players, off the field, but not with Shahid Afridi. So that is the reason we got personal. Now obviously he doesn’t play, but you never know, he might just make a comeback. He will never retire… There is a bit of history to that [the relationship with Afridi], I am fine with that.”
In another interview last year, Gambhir said that Afridi hasn’t grown “mentally”.
“I am sure he will sell his book better. Some people grow in age, not mentally. Shahid Afridi maybe 36, 37 years old, but he is 16 mentally,” he told India Today. “My records are in the open. Becoming ICC Test player of the year, winning Test series and World Cups. People will decide what I have done for the country. Some people are really mentally ill and so need psychiatrist treatment.”
Their war of words over the controversial passage in Afridi’s book isn’t the only chapter in their feud. The duo has been involved in a number of other spats on social media as well.
In August last year, Afridi shared his views on Kashmir. Gambhir, of course, did not agree.
A few weeks after this, Afridi again put out a Kashmir-related tweet. And before anyone knew it, he and Gambhir were taking potshots at each other yet again.
Now, after a few quiet months, Gambhir posted another tweet on Saturday, seemingly a reaction to Afridi questioning his record as a cricketer in his autobiography.
Over the years, Gambhir and Afridi’s feud seems to have gotten deeply personal. Only time will tell if the two former cricketers, who are well regarded in their respective countries and elsewhere around the world for their sporting achievements, can bury the hatchet and move on... or at least maintain a respectable silence publicly.