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21 February 2020

Afridi praising Indian fans draws backlash in Pakistan


Allrounder's suggestion that Pakistan national team feels more love in India sparks controversy

Veteran allrounder Shahid Afridi has caused uproar among his countrymen by suggesting that the Pakistan cricket team has been "loved by Indian crowds more than crowds back home in Pakistan".

Pakistan touched down in India amid high security on Saturday after getting permission from their government to play in the tournament in their neighbouring country, with whom they share a tense relationship.

The Pakistan versus India group match has been relocated to Kolkata after security concerns in Dharamshala, the original venue, however Afridi's controversial comments have added another layer of drama to Pakistan's tournament before it has even begun.

Attempting to play down the significance of the Pakistan team's arrival in India, Afridi said: "We are cricketers and not politicians.

"We have always enjoyed playing in India and have been loved by Indian crowds more than crowds back home in Pakistan," he added, with fellow veteran Shoaib Malik reportedly echoing the sentiment.

"Cricket has always brought people together and I think politics should be kept away from cricket."

The comments predictably drew serious backlash from Pakistan, most notably from legendary former batsman Javed Miandad, who recently questioned why Afridi was still in the national side.

Miandad is not alone in that school of thought, given the 36-year-old has reached double figures just four times in his past 15 T20 innings for Pakistan, and is coming off two ducks – the most recent in a warm-up match with Sri Lanka on Monday.

With the ball, he remains an economical if not match-winning contributor; since the start of 2014, he's taken just one three-wicket haul in 23 T20 internationals, but has never conceded 40 runs in a spell.

"These cricketers should be ashamed of themselves for saying such a thing. Shame on you," Miandad said on the Aaj TV network. 

"What have the Indians given us? Speak the truth even while in India.

"For the last five years what have they given us or done with Pakistan cricket?

"Having served Pakistan cricket for so many years I am shocked and hurt to hear such comments from our players."

India and Pakistan square off in Kolkata this Saturday, March 19.