Samir Chopra September 23, 2009

Cricketing friendships and nationalist rivalries

The stories that surrounded the Botham-Richards friendship were numerous and of varying quality and veracity

Ian Botham and Viv Richards - one of the greatest cricketing friendships © PA Photos

I read the late and great David Halberstam's little gem, The Teammates, this past weekend and like many of its other readers, was struck by the simple story of the multi-decade friendship of four sportsmen (in this case, Boston Red Sox luminaries Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dominic Di Maggio and John Pesky).

Halberstam's tale concerns friendships amongst members of the same team, and of those, I've heard, a few when it comes to cricket. But one cricketing friendship featured two giants of the game who played for opposing teams in international cricket (albeit the same team in a domestic cricket competition): Ian Botham and Viv Richards.

The reasons the Botham-Richards friendship struck me as so distinctive (in clearly idealized ways) were numerous: they were both cricketers I admired for the way they played their cricket; there was something undeniably romantic in the notion that men used to fierce competition against each other in one context, could then put shoulder-to-shoulder in another; a camaraderie amongst sportsmen in a sport centered largely on international bilateral contests was uncommon; the political overtones of a proud black cricketer finding comradeship with a Somerset lad; and so on.

While tales of friendship amongst team-mates were common in cricket (in the Indian context, the friendship between Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath was well-known), this kind of trans-border mateship was rare (though admittedly, in English county cricket, these had become increasingly common), and thus, there were more contrasts to be seized on, many more differences to point to as having been bridged, and many more commonalities to note amongst the two.

The stories that surrounded the Botham-Richards friendship were numerous and of varying quality and veracity: that Richards was responsible for ensuring that Botham never signed for the rebel South African tours because Botham could not have faced Richards' disapproval thereafter; that Botham was resolutely on Richards' side in any dispute including the famous ones with Peter Roebuck; that Richards haughtily waved off a congratulations and a handshake from Botham in a Test, because "this isn't a county game"; and of course, my favorite, that Richards introduced Botham to the pleasures of an occasional toke of cannabis (is that why Sir Ian gained so much weight in the 1980s?)

But I suspect the real reason the Botham-Richards friendship appealed so much to me (especially when I was a teenager) was because the idea of a cricketing friendship spanning the divisions of national sides was a romantic one that brought relief from the tensions engendered by Test cricket. One theme common to many positive reactions to the IPL's first two editions was the sight of erstwhile opponents celebrating together when brought together for an IPL outfit.

I suspect that while we celebrate nationalist rivalry on the ground, some of us like to be reminded that it is a bit of play-acting, that the same men who snarl at each other on the ground, and gladly knock each others' heads off, would in other contexts, put that nastiness aside. That is, despite the quasi-xenophobic bluster, most notably displayed in the comments sections of cricket blogs, we're softies at heart, and such friendships reassure us that all is well, that these men acting like brash warriors are really just folks like us in many ways. Maintaining and sustaining an edgy sporting rivalry can be exhausting, for players and fans alike. The friendships that international cricketers strike up in the course of their careers aren't just valuable for them; they bring us much pleasure too by humanizing the players, and bringing them down to earth.

And as the story of Richards waving off Botham in a Test reminds us, we know that when they step back onto an international arena, they'll go right back to being flag-waving ogres.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on October 26, 2009, 22:48 GMT

    Nice story.Ian Chappell & Gary Sobers had a good friendship.Ironically Chappelli encouraged socialising after play even if he had clashed with his opposition during the day.I don't believe this happens enough now.This would lead to more friendships.

    Samir, if you're looking for crickters in New York my son is there & he has a mate only an hour& half away.They were both good junior cricketers

  • testli5504537 on September 27, 2009, 12:18 GMT

    Rchards-Botham friendship had national/racial/political overtones - therefore it is certainly a beacon. Diego Maradona's friendship with Brazilian forward Careca is another one that comes to the mind. Both were together at Italian Serie A side Napoli. The Brazilian media lashed out at Careca after Maradona's Argentinean side defeated Brazil in the 1990 FIFA World Cup first kock-out round - the Brazilian media had said that Careca and some of the other Brazlian players were soft on Maradona. One must recall that, in the game, which was totally dominated by Brazil, archrival Argentina won 1-0 because of a master pass by Maradona, who picked out striker Canniggia after hoodwinking two or three Brazilian players.

  • testli5504537 on September 24, 2009, 18:14 GMT

    Wat abt the lesser known friendship of our Mumbai Mastero SACHIN had with the Victoria's Warrior Warne. I remember reading an article regarding SACHIN visiting Warne's home during his rehabs in 1998. Theirs were more of mutual admiration.

  • testli5504537 on September 24, 2009, 17:25 GMT

    well shushant....there is always the friendship between harbhajan and symonds, yuvraj and kevin peterson and of course the chemisttry between harbhajan and hayden brings tears to my eyes. by the way, brilliant article...maybe it those realtions that give cricket its greatest moments.

  • testli5504537 on September 24, 2009, 17:05 GMT

    That tale of Viv waving Botham away is an echo of the time in 1976 when Brian Close was felled by a West Indian bouncer. Viv, then still a young man, asked something like "Are you OK, skip?" - Close being his county captain - and received a reply roughly similar to the one you recount Viv giving. I imagine the lesson was not lost on Richards.

  • testli5504537 on September 24, 2009, 17:03 GMT


    Ajay Jadeja was very close with many of the pakistan players.

  • testli5504537 on September 24, 2009, 16:21 GMT

    @robbo do you call it friendship or match fixing?

  • testli5504537 on September 24, 2009, 15:04 GMT

    I read somewhere that Yuvraj Singh and Shoaib Akhtar were very close friends. Shoaib has even described Yuvraj as his 'younger brother'.

  • testli5504537 on September 24, 2009, 14:04 GMT

    The Botham-Richards relationship is interesting also because Botham is a Tory from the Thatcher era - not a set known for its eclectic socializing habits. Across-national-lines friendships in cricket (or at any rate, their romanticized coverage in the media) usually follow a predictable racial pattern: English, Australian and occasionally white South African players bonding off the field, Larwood finding acceptance in Australia, and so on. Even in the IPL, apparently, there were distinct social/racial camps.

    Ironically, one of the most celebrated cricketing friendships - that of Ranjitsinhji and C.B. Fry - crossed more than a few lines (although not team lines), but the cosmopolitanism culture of empire provided a space for such "odd couple" relationships. One might expect Indian and Pakistani players to bond easily, but given the highly politicized fishbowl environment they live in, the logistics are probably daunting.

  • testli5504537 on September 24, 2009, 12:03 GMT

    There is Bedi and Mushtaq. Bedi has spoken often and in depth about what that friendship meant to him.

  • No featured comments at the moment.