India vs Pakistan: Cricketers bonhomie ease the edge
Indian and Pakistani cricket players, so different from the edgy political connection between these two South Asian neighbours.
PALLEKELE: Virat Kohli walked up to Haris Rauf and they hugged each other and exchanged a few words and laughter. Perhaps, they were having a bit of a joke about those two sixes on a starry Melbourne night last year.
It wasn't a mere put on. There was a touching genuineness to it. But that moment at the Pallekele Stadium has more significance to it than its temporary value.
It was emblematic of the evolving relation between Indian and Pakistani cricket players, so different from the edgy political connection between these two South Asian neighbours.
Later, Kohli also met Pakistan vice-captain Shadab Khan and shared a few campfire moments. Alongside, Mohammed Siraj held a mini pace bowlers' conclave with Rauf, discussing the Pallekele pitch. The pictures and videos went viral in social media and were celebrated.
It would have been an astonishing sight for a fan from the 80s or 90s. Back then, the cricketers seldom engaged in such public display of camaraderie, and it was even looked down upon.
Behind the stage, they remained friends. Imran Khan and Wasim Akram used to drop in to New Delhi or Mumbai on private invitations or the players sat around a table in a posh Dubai hotel to share some stories. But not so much in daylight.
Perhaps, this generation of players have learned to treat cricket just as a sport, or they are bold enough to take a call on these matters for themselves.
When Kohli was going through a modest phase with the bat, Pakistan captain Babar Azam posted a supportive message through his X (formerly Twitter) account.
It wasn't an effort to win a few thousands quick social media followers, rather it was a well-meaning line from another international cricketer who understands the demands of the sport at the highest level.
But the fans from both the sides of the border, at times, cross the limits.
The troll gangs enter the social media battlefield armed with contrived stats and memes, trying to establish the superiority of either Kohli or Babar. It can take an ugly turn in seconds.
But both Babar and Kohli remain immune to this online frenzy. In fact, Kohli recently termed the Pakistan skipper as the best all-format player in today's game.
A Babar Azam press conference these days hardly finishes without a question about his imaginary rivalry with Kohli.
The pre-match presser on Friday ahead of Pakistan's Asia Cup match against India was no exception.
''When I met him in 2019, he was at his peak. He's still at his peak. I wanted to take something from his game. I learnt a lot from him. He gave a detailed explanation to all my questions,'' Babar had said.
''That helped me and there is always good respect between us. I don't know what people from outside are talking about and leave those talks to them.'' Despite all the expanding bonhomie, a good number of fans will treat an Indo-Pak match as a matter of life and death.
Remember, former Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi was once dragged to Lahore High Court for saying he was loved more in India.
Such fanatic acts will still be there. Perhaps, a few TV sets will be thrown down from the balcony or photos of cricketers will be garlanded with sandals after their team's defeat.
But the cricketers have shown that they are not carrying the baggage of unsorted relations in their minds.