Afridi’s remarks create ripples off cricket pitch
Maverick Pakistan cricket captain Shahid Afridi is best known for his “boom boom” batting and for scoring the fastest hundred in the 50-over version of the game.
However, he is now creating ripples off the cricket pitch for his remarks against India, at a time when the two countries, who have been to war three times since independence, attempt to resume dialogue at the highest level.
Speaking to Pakistan-based Samaa TV, Afridi, the joint highest wicket-taker in the recently concluded cricket World Cup, said on Tuesday it was difficult to maintain good long-term relations with India.
The remarks come a week after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his Pakistani counterpart to watch the arch-rivals battle it out in the semi-final of the showpiece event at Mohali.
“If I have to tell the truth, Indians cannot have the kind of hearts that Pakistani Muslims have,” Afridi said a week after Pakistan were knocked out by India. “They cannot have the big and clean hearts that Allah has given to Pakistanis,” Afridi told the TV channel amid raucous applause from the studio audience.
His comments sparked outrage in the Indian media, and headline writers had a field day. The Indian Express called it “Afridi’s wrong ‘un,” while the Times of India called it a “bewildering, undiplomatic rant against Indian culture, its people, cricket team and the media.”
To his credit, Afridi quickly went into damage-control mood and said on Wednesday he was quoted out of context. “The media makes a big deal of small issues. It is shameful. I have always done my bit to improve Indo-Pak ties but sometimes you say something and it is interpreted the other way,” Afridi told NDTV.
Afridi said he merely meant he expected Indians to reciprocate the big-hearted reception they got when they visited Pakistan during their historic tour in 2004.
That was not enough to stop the jokes flying.
Sample one of them on Twitter – “Afridi says Indians don’t have large hearts but India definitely has cardiologists who repair faulty hearts as many Pakistanis would testify,” a dig at the numerous Pakistanis who visit India for medical facilities.
To be fair, however, this is not the first time a Pakistan cricket captain has come under fire for comments made after losing to India in a tournament.
Shoaib Malik was severely criticised for his apology “to all Muslims,” after his team was beaten by India in the final of inaugural World Twenty20 tournament in 2007. India, with its 1.2 billion strong population, has more Muslims than Pakistan.
Of course, Afridi had more to say.
To bring in a more complicated political angle to the whole issue, Afridi declared, “We don’t want to fight with each other but a third country — everyone knows which one it is — is trying to spoil our relations. (This country) is taking advantage of Pakistan and wants to take advantage of India.”
Which country was he referring to? Your guess is as good as mine. But it surely adds to the drama.