10 off-field friendships between on-field rivals

Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne

Sport is all about bringing people together. Over the years, some of the fiercest rivals from the cricket field have come to become the best of friends off it. It's hard to imagine such bitter competitors forging beautiful human bonds away from the playing arena, and therefore always an interesting story for the fans.With the advent of the IPL, nowadays we are seeing lots of perennial competitors across the international scene become hang-out buddies, and conversely – teammates become rivals.Following is a look at a few poignant cricketing friendships:

#1 Sachin Tendulkar - Shane Warne

Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne

More than a decade of rivalry on the cricket pitch. Whenever the two came up against each other, the backdrop of India-vs Australia faded into soft-focus and people had eyes mainly for the famed duel. From Test series home and away, to World Cups, to tournaments like Sharjah 1997, charity events and even the IPL, the two legends have faced off against each other in all varieties of circumstances. However off the field they’ve remained friends for just as long and beyond.

Personality-wise the two probably couldn’t have been more different. The Little Master with quiet, modest, Indian middle-class values, a family man and known for avoiding controversies. The Aussie maverick a dashing blonde rebel, with a flamboyant personality off the field and an amazing panache for attracting scandal.

Yet the two have remained the best of friends and have gone on record many times about their mutual respect and admiration.

“A lot of people have said, quite flatteringly, that we are the best batter and bowler of our generation. It is nice to be in that company but it is even more special that away from it all we have got to know each other and his friendship is important to me and something I respect.

I have had some great times at his house with his family and some quite interesting dinners together. He is a fascinating man to talk to with wide interests. We would sit at his house with earphones on listening to Mark Knopfler playing the guitar and we would also share information about opposition teams and players. We would talk tactics about the game.

We had a lot of battles on the field and generally he won. I got him out three times in 12 Tests and most of the time it felt like his testimonial whenever he played against Australia because he would just make another hundred.“ – Warne.

" It was always a challenge to play him. Even if he was not having a good day and bowling the last over, you knew Warnie was up to something... Warnie just won't let you bat peacefully." – Sachin.

#2 Kevin Pietersen - Yuvraj Singh

Kevin Pietersen and Yuvraj Singh

The camaraderie that started with the famous “pie-chucker” comments have gone on to become quite a strong one off the field between two of the most talented players in world cricket. Two similar types of men, who express themselves flamboyantly on and off the field and have won innumerable matches for their respective countries.

It was not always a happy bond however. There was actually a point of time when Pietersen was getting dismissed by the occasional left-arm spin of Yuvraj so many times that MS Dhoni was bringing on his part-timer every time KP came to bat. In England’s tour of India in 2008 these tactics frustrated the English star enough to brand Yuvraj as “pie-chucker” and his bowling as “filth”.

However, ever since, the two have gone on very well off the field, regardless of how intense their battles have been on it.

“He tried to get under my skin in the last game and it brought the best out in me. I tried the same and I think it brought out the best in him, so there is good competition on the field.. It's a mixed bag of feelings inside, but it's all in the middle. Me and KP are good friends off the field but on it I'm not there to make friends. We're playing for our countries so there's a battle going on.” – Yuvraj (after the Chennai Test between England and India)

“He’s a strong bloke. In the past he’s fought back into the Test team after being dropped. He was the hero of the 2011 World Cup. The man’s a fighter; and he’s one of the most talented cricketers that India has produced. I look forward to renewing my friendship on the field with him in the not-too-distant future. I’m in touch with him regularly. He’ll be okay.”

”Great to hook up with the pie chucker.” – Pietersen (when Yuvraj was recuperating from cancer treatment)

#3 Ian Botham - Vivian Richards

Ian Botham and Vivian Richards

Both have been knighted. Both flamboyant, swashbuckling personalities on and off the field. Right from the time the two were starting their careers playing county cricket for Somerset while sharing a house – Beefy (Botham) and Smokes (Richards) have retained a robust friendship.

Recently pictures of the two in Antigua on the occasion of sir Viv's 60th birthday have gone viral across the media. Friendship, they say, is timeless.

In fact, Sir Botham says that their friendship is more than a mere bonhomie, and instead that the big Carribbean legend is more like a brother to him.

“He was the best friend I could have wished for growing up in the game and since we both finished playing he's still been at my side for all the important times in life and vice versa.”

“It is hard to believe how far two young lads in a dingy set of digs in Taunton had come. To have both played the game we love and represented our respective country with distinction and then to both be knighted was the stuff of dreams.”

“There has always been that healthy competitiveness between us especially when we faced off against each other on a cricket field. We would try and outdo each other in a bid to help our team win and with the team he played in, his side usually came out on top.” – Botham

#4 Shane Warne - Kevin Pietersen

Kevin Pietersen and Shane Warne

Another well-charted friendship off the cricket pitch. Two legends belonging to two nations between which is played out probably the fiercest rivalry in all of sports history.

When the young, shockingly blue-hiared prodigy called Kevin Pietersen was coming up the ranks to seize his first Test spot for England in the Ashes of 2005, Warne had pubclicy voiced his support for his Hampshire teammate. After his rather eye-catching performances in the preceeding One-Day series, Warne had claimed that failure to include Pietersen would be “England’s loss”.

Though never devoid of banter and committed competition on the field playing for their respective teams, off-field the rocking friendship consolidated.

Pietersen thinks his friend to be “the greatest bowler that walked this planet“, and the South Africa-born batsman’s recent sacking by the ECB drew strong dispproval from the spin-wizard, who didn’t mince words to let the world now how immaturelly he believed the English mandarins had acted.

#5 Brett Lee - Andrew Flintoff

Brett Lee and Andrew Flintoff

Another friendship that started from mutual admiration. Andrew Flintoff and Brett Lee, two of the most stoically tough, resillient cricketers you can think of. Off the field both seem to have varied interests, with “Freddie” Flintoff having already tried his hand at boxing and contemplated a comeback to cricket after an early retirement, and “Binga” Lee with his well-charted interests for music and acting.

The starts to the two cricketers’ careers were very different. Flintoff was regarded as a mercurial talent with a careless load of extra baby-fat, whereas Lee shot to stardom right from his debut series against India where he picked 14 wickets and bowled with searing pace.

The two crossed each other’s path in a major way for the first time in the fabled Ashes of 2005. Pictures of Flintoff consoling Lee, after the latter narrowly missed out on handing Australia a miracle victory, have been engraved onto cricketing almanacs. The two kept pushing hard for their teams throughout the series, with Flintoff contributing with match-winning spells with both bat and ball, time and again.

Lee was not one to back away, orchestrating many a rearguard assault with the willow and showing distinctly patent gumption, corking out the man-of-the-moment’s stumps with a cannon into the off-stump on one occasion even where the series was already pretty much lost by his side, at the 5th Test at The Oval.

Off the field, the fierce competition helped foster a friendship where respect was the most obvious byword:

“'He always gave his heart and soul, the moments we have had on the field and also the moments off the field are what make Andrew Flintoff the wonderful person he is.” – Lee

#6 Brian Lara - Shane Warne - Sachin Tendulkar

Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne with Piers Morgan

Of all the friendhips to have existed in the cricketing world, none have been more famous than the this trio - possibly the three best players to've come out of the 90s and 2000s. Arguably the three greatest proponents of their art, world champions in their own right, the three have shared a great bonhomie off the battlefield. They've showered each other with mutual respect and tried to outdo each other in the matter of paying compliments to each other.

One was a batting perfectionist shouldering the expectations of a billion people over two decades, another was a willow wizard whose form came in patches and was the lone warrior in a crumbling team, and the last one was a genius tweaker of the cricket ball who completed an already fantastic bowling attack.

"I really enjoy Brian's friendship, and we have become good mates! We had some great battles on the field. and looking back I'll admit the things got quite intense, but we struck up a good friendship that I am sure will last... He likes to come to Australia, and he has been generous with his time in helping my charity, the Shane Warne Foundation. In fact, in 2007 I had the pleasure of playing with him in the All Stars team at the Hong Kong Sixes. We had a pile of fun, and i was a relief to see him from a different angle, not with the ball in my hand staring down from 22 yards.” – Warne (on Lara)

And so far as Lara and Tendulkar go, the two have many times acknowledged their personal bond and have tried to be present for each other's personal milestones as well. For his own son, Lara wished that he could bat like Tendulkar one day.

"The only batsman I would love to see by paying for the tickets and sitting in the stand just to watch him is none other than Sachin Tendulkar." – Lara (on Tendulkar)

#7 Adam Gilchrist - Anil Kumble

Anil Kumble and Adam Gilchrist

Once again two great match-winners for their respective teams but two fairly quiet personalities off it. Fathers, loving husbands, respected and honoured individuals in society, apart from being stalwarts in respective cricketing skills, this relationship is another case of two similar personalities finding each other out.

For after all, who would understand the pains of giving their absolute 100 percent effort for their nations and remaining nice gentlemen off-field, other than a fellow warrior who has been there and done exactly that.

The explosive Aussie keeper-batsman “Gilly” is known for being a genuine and caring friend, and in the Bangalorean Kumble he found a warm and reciprocating friend.

“Gilchrist was a nice man, humble, straightforward, quite down to earth. He also came across as someone who cared and made that extra effort to show it. I remember getting a surprise call from Gilly when I crossed 500 Test wickets. We weren’t playing after that and I was home when I got this call and the voice announced, ‘this is Adam Gilchrist’. Australia were touring Bangladesh at the time and he told me that he had been trying to get in touch with me for the last 10 days and that it had been really tough getting through from there. It was really nice of him, but he is that kind of guy.“ – Kumble

#8 Steve Waugh - Rahul Dravid

Rahul Dravid and Steve Waugh

Talking of friendships between similar personalities, there could be none exemplifying it better than the one between Rahul Dravid and Steve Waugh. When you think of the two players, the qualities that come to your mind immidietely – grit, mental-strength, integrity and the ability to remain unflustered under pressure.

Rahul Dravid had made it very clear that the Aussie captain was the player he modelled his own career after. According to Dravid, he would imagine himself to be Waugh in pressure situations in order to get into the ideal frame of mind.

“He gave grit a good name”

“He is someone who valued his wicket... Steve appeared to relish the big occasion, seemed to thrive in such situations.” – Dravid

Come a crisis situation, and these two were the men their teams would invariably turn to; and both would deliver almost every single time. It’s unsurprising then that off the field too the two have remained good friends. So much so that Steve Waugh had asked Dravid to pen the forward to his autobiography, “ Out of My Comfort Zone.”

According to Waugh, it was in Bangalore during a ODI tournament in 1998 that the two started bonding for the first time and found “that connection” and have remained good friends ever since.

A man who never enters the gutter, Steve had gone beyond the boundary ropes to retrieve the ball Dravid had hit for the winning runs in Adelaide in 2003, to give to his friend later.

“Rahul wanted the extra edge that would elevate his game to the next level,and at the Adelaide Oval he completed the journey.” – Waugh

#9 Brett Lee - VVS Laxman

VVS Laxman and Brett Lee

One more friendship between two very different types of individuals. But as they say, who knows on what basis relationships are formed? VVS Laxman and Brett Lee have come across each other for their national teams on many a different stage. But what is not as well known is that they have known each other from their under-19 days when Lee had come to India for the first time for a tour; the two have remained good friends ever since.

“I think that there is one quote that sums up the kind of batsman Laxman was, especially when he played against the Aussies. This is something Steve Waugh once told me and I totally agree with it. "If you get Dravid, great. If you get Sachin, brilliant. But if you get Laxman, it's a miracle.”

“Laxman and I have shared a very good friendship away from the game as well. It is always good to see him when he comes to Australia and vice versa when I come to India. As I said earlier, he is a very nice guy off the field as well, apart from being a world class cricketer.“

“I missed the (Eden Test match) tour because of a broken elbow, but from what I watched on television and what I heard from the guys who played against him, it was impossible to get him out that day. I think that innings highlighted Laxman’s determination to succeed.“ – Lee

“I first met Lee when he came to India as part of the Australian youth team and I represented the India under-19 team. He was by far the quickest bowler at that age and we became good friends by the time the third Test was over. We had not played anyone as quick as Lee till then. Pace apart, Lee was a very aggressive and competitive bowler. But after the game he'd be the first one in our dressing room for a good laugh.”

“We were amazed by his knowledge of Hindi songs on his first trip to India. Apparently he had an Indian friend in Australia and he learnt those songs from him. It was hilarious to hear him sing then, but it was clear he was very fond of India and all things Indian. His love for India is genuine.” – Laxman

#10 Virat Kohli - Dale Steyn

Dale Steyn, Virat Kohli and the South Africa team

Finally, the friendship which has been much discussed around the cricket world in recent days – Virat Kohli and Dale Steyn. When India were winning their under-19 World Cup in Malaysia under Kohli, Wayne Parnell and Virat Kohli were captains of the respective Indian and South African sides. Ever since then and because of the IPL, many of the South African players from that era have retained the close camaraderie with Kohli and co. off the field.

“I played with him in RCB for three years, and we became such good friends that we've carried on our friendship after that, as well, and whenever I meet him he gives me the biggest hug, and it's been consistent throughout.”

“Even if we have to play a game before that we are always really friendly. We know on the field come game time, I'll be looking to dominate him and he'll be looking to dominate me, which is a mutual respect kind of a thing, I guess. Whatever is said and done at that point of time, it's taken into good sportsman's spirit because we know after the game we'll obviously be best buddies.”

“He's a completely different person on the field, which is absolutely fine. He's very aggressive. He's obviously very passionate about playing for South Africa.There's a good reason why he's the best bowler in the world for a while now, and he's so consistent because he has that mentality, and off the field he's a complete different person, you know, jokes around, he laughs all the time, and you wouldn't know unless you know him.”

“I think it's pretty similar with me and him, how we are on the field and off the field. That's why I think we get along really well together.” – Kohli

Edited by Staff Editor


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