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Enjoy good relations with Indians; Gambhir an exception, says Shahid Afridi

Shahid Afridi retiresDubai: Recalling fond memories of his friendship with several Indian cricketers, former Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi asserted on Thursday that Gautam Gambhir is an exception as the veteran opener still nurses a grudge following an on-field altercation a few years ago.

In an exclusive column on the official website of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in the lead up to the marquee clash between India and Pakistan in the Champions Trophy on June 4, Afridi fondly recalled his experiences of playing against the arch-rivals.

The flamboyant all-rounder asserted that unlike popular perception, players from both nations get along very well off the field.

"Contrary to popular belief, India and Pakistan players get along very well. Of course, there are exceptions like Gautam Gambhir, who dare I say isn't the friendliest," Afridi wrote.

"We are unlikely to be found together at a coffee shop anytime soon. We had a heated exchange on the field some years ago and it made headlines all over the world. While I have moved on in life as I feel these things are part and parcel of the game, Gautam for some reason can't get over it. Good luck to him!"

Gambhir and Afridi had a heated on-field exchange during a India-Pakistan clash after which the relation between the two became sour, and have continued to be.

Gambhir had collided with Afridi on the pitch while attempting a run off the latter's bowling following which the duo exchanged abuses and the umpires had to step in to control the situation.

The 37-year-old former Pakistan captain however, said he cherishes the time he spent with the likes of Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan.

"The three are my good mates and we have some wonderful memories together from the times when both the sides used to play and tour each other on a regular basis.

"In the early days of our careers, we used to hang out together quite a lot and also spend time at each other's homes. Now, all of us are married and, as such, responsibilities and the priority lists have changed," he recollected.

"But whenever we catch-up, we meet with warmth and love, and remember our good times together."

Amongst the current crop of Indian cricketers, Afridi is a big fan of captain Virat Kohli.

"Another player I admire and respect from the present lot is Virat Kohli. He has a fantastic cricket bat in hand and an even a better heart in his supremely fit body," he said.

"I will always remember him for the gesture he showed when he gave me an India cricket team's signed shirt following our match in Kolkata in the World T20.

"This shirt sits prominently in my collection and will always remind me of not only my matches and visits to India, but my excellent relationships with most, if not all India cricketers," he added.

Afridi is sad about the two teams not playing each other often anymore. Their last bilateral Test series took place way back in 2007.

"I recall during one of India's tours to Pakistan, I invited the entire India team to my Karachi house. We prepared special Pathan-style rich food, full of lamb and mutton dishes.

"When the food was served, there was a complete silence in the room and my Indian friends were looking at each other. At that point, I realised that my honourable and respectable guests don't eat that type of food," he wrote.

"Quite a few of them were vegetarians, and so, we had to urgently replace the food with Daal (lentils) and vegetables dishes. It was quite embarrassing for me to not know about the dietary requirements of the guests since our similarity of culture made me take many things for granted. That was a funny memory of my 'hospitality' for the Indian team.

"Unfortunately, we don't meet each other that often now due to the prevailing relations between the two countries. But I miss the good times with my Indian cricket friends and I am sure they feel likewise," he added.

"Hopefully, the situation will improve soon so that the old friends can reunite to relive old memories."

Defending champions India will open their Champions Trophy campaign against Pakistan on June 4 in Edgbaston.

The Sub-continent rivals are in Group B along with Sri Lanka and South Africa.

India are yet to lose to Pakistan in either the World Cup or the World T20 but their record against their cross border rivals is not as impressive in the Champions Trophy.

India have lost twice to their arch-rivals in the Champions Trophy with Pakistan coming out victorious during the 2004 edition in Edgbaston and in Centurion, South Africa in 2009.