Gautam Gambhir has fought with his coach, fought with his captain, and very publicly fought twice with fellow Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi on the field. Yet, as Gambhir goes down the path of retirement via IPL, no one has asked the 36-year-old yet to “grow up”. That’s not to say he will.
On April 3, the cricketer who wears his patriotism very vocally on his Twitter timeline went after Afridi for a Kashmir remark. Granted a reference to the Valley is red rag to the bull on both sides of the Line of Control, still Gambhir’s words were a new low, including that in Afridi’s “retarded dictionary”, “@UN” could only mean “Under Nineteen (all capital letters) his age bracket (no comma)”. Afridi had waded into an area better left alone by sportspersons, asking why the UN was not taking note of the “bloodshed” in “Indian Occupied Kashmir”.
Gambhir was the usual suspect, but other Indian cricketers too shed their usual reticence, on Matter Kashmir. Mohammad Kaif put it down to “paisa” and the fact that Pakistanis were not allowed in IPL, also noting “why”; while Suresh Raina invoked his “forefathers” from Kashmir. Even Sachin Tendulkar, never known for the spoken word, fumed “no outsider needs to tell us what we need to do”. Afridi himself, hardly one to be shaken by a controversy, or two, replied with a photo of him next to a fan with the Indian flag.
It’s likely the man they called “Boom Boom” will survive the Twitter’s 280-character outrages. The Subcontinent values, above all, blazing sixes, quickfire centuries and a true all-rounder, all Afridi trademarks — and who lets a few fudged age certificates come in the way? Even when Afridi was mincing the Indian side in the real world, he remained a crowd favourite here. When Afridi retired last year, the Indian team sent over a Virat Kohli T-shirt signed with their autographs as a farewell gift to “Shahid Bhai”. Yes, Kohli isn’t an easy man to impress. No, Gambhir wasn’t among those who signed.