By Mahlia Lone
Two sporting mega stars on either side of the border defied all odds and got hitched. However, with super hectic careers touring the globe for their match commitments plus spending time with their respective families in their hometowns, making a long distance relationship (LDR) work is not all smooth sailing
Born in Sialkot on 1st February 1982, Shoaib Malik grew up like so many Pakistani boys playing cricket in the streets with a taped up ball. In 1993, he was selected due to his superior batting skill to attend Imran Khanâ€™s coaching clinic in his hometown. There his bowling technique improved as well. His family was not impressed as they wanted him to focus on his education, but he persevered and was selected for the Under 15 World Cup team. Then, in 1999 at only 17 years of age, Shoaib made hisÂ One-Day InternationalÂ (ODI) debut playing for the national team against theÂ West Indies,Â and hisÂ TestÂ debut in 2001 playing againstÂ Bangladesh. Since then he has taken over 100 ODI wickets, and has a batting average in the mid 30s in both Test and ODI cricket.
Going from strength to strength in his career, followingÂ Inzamam-ul-Haqâ€™s resignation as Pakistan captain after theÂ 2007 World Cup, Malik became captain of the team at only 25, Pakistan cricket teamâ€™s fourth youngest captain. Pakistanâ€™s coach,Â Bob Woolmer said Malik was â€œthe sharpest tactical tack among his groupÂ … a real presence on the field.â€ But the captaincy lasted only two years. In a report the new coach Intikhab Alam wrote in a report that Malik was â€œa loner, aloof and involved in his own little world, which is OK but not when the team required a fully committed captainÂ We do not see any meaningful communication between players and captain other than his five-minute talk during the team meeting.â€Â Malik was replaced by Younis Khan as captain on 27th January 2009. On top of that, in March 2010, Malik was banned from playing International cricket for the national team by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) as a disciplinary action for infighting. He was one of seven cricketers taken off the team after a dismal tour of Australia. By end May, however, his ban was overturned, his fine was reduced by half to Rs. 1 million and he was again chosen to represent the country at the Asia Cup that year.
In Doubles Tennis, sania is currently ranked worldâ€™s No. 1 and earns more than $5 million annually
Sania Mirza was born in Mumbai on 15th November 1986. Her father Imran Mirza worked as a builder, and her mother Naseema worked in a printing business. The Mirzas relocated to HyderabadÂ shortly after Saniaâ€™s birth. She also has a younger sister, Anam and both sisters attended Nasr School in Hyerabad. Sania went on to graduate from St. Maryâ€™s College also in Hyderabad and additionally received an honorary degree ofÂ Doctor of Letters from the MGR Educational and Research Institute University inÂ ChennaiÂ in 2008.
At the age of six, Sania started playing tennis with her father coaching her. She won 10 Singles and 13 Doubles titles as a junior player. Debuting at the senior circuit at only 15, in April 2001, she turned professional in 2003 and won theÂ 2003 Wimbledon ChampionshipsÂ Girls Doubles title, partneringÂ with Alisa Kleybanova. Sania is the highest ranked Indian female tennis player ever, peaking at world No. 27 inÂ Singles, 2007. Due to a wrist injury, she was injury forced her to give up playing Singles tennis. In Doubles, she is currently ranked worldâ€™s No. 1 and earns more than $5 million annually. From 2003 until her retirement from Singles in 2013, she was ranked by theÂ Womenâ€™s Tennis AssociationÂ as Indiaâ€™s No. 1 player, both in Singles and Doubles. Sania has won sixÂ majorÂ titles (three each in Womenâ€™s Doubles and inÂ Mixed Doubles), as well winning as theÂ World Tennis Association (WTA) FinalsÂ inÂ 2014Â partnering withÂ Cara Black, and defending the title with Martina Hingis the following year. Moreover, Sania has also won a total of 14 medals, including 6 Gold, at theÂ Asian Games, theÂ Commonwealth GamesÂ and theÂ Afro-Asian Games. Of her game, Sania said, â€œThereâ€™s no doubt that my forehand and backhand can match anyone, itâ€™s about the place that theyâ€™re put in. I can hit the ball as hard as anyone can, but Iâ€™m not that fast on my feet.â€ Sania, a keen swimmer, improves her stamina and fitness with swimming as well.
With ex fiance and childhood sweetheart Sohrab Mirza at their engagement
Wimbledon Doubles champions 2015, Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza
It was during Pakistanâ€™s disastrous tour of Australia from December 2009 to February 2010 that Malik hit it off with Sania Mirza, the Indian tennis sensation…. Sania said she found â€œthe all rounder, Shoaib Malik very simple and attractiveâ€
In 2009, Sania Mirza became engaged to childhood sweetheart Sohrab Mirza, a millionaire businessman, in a lavish ceremony in Hyderabad. Sania and Shoaib had briefly met in Australia in 2004 when they were both playing there, but they had both played badly and were too busy licking their wounds to pay too much thought to each other. She recalls that they met just for two minutes at a restaurant in Hobart.
Then in January 2010, while Shoaib was in Australia touring with his team, he went the day after the Pakistan match with teammate Waqar Younis to watch Sania play at the Australian Open. Though she crashed out of the competition, she hit it off immediately with Shoaib.
Not only is Sania fond of watching cricket like most South Asians but interestingly she is distantly related to formerÂ cricketÂ captainsÂ Ghulam AhmedÂ of India, andÂ Asif IqbalÂ of Pakistan. She said she found â€œthe all rounder, Shoaib Malik very simple and attractive.â€ Suffice it to say, Malik must have made quite an impression on her. Finding herself drawn to another man so soon after her engagement, Sania went back to India and promptly broke off her engagement citing incompatibility. According to Sania, Shoaib didnâ€™t propose to her. Instead â€œit was decided from both sides,â€ she said.
Cricketing hero Shoaib Malik
Hyederabad nikah ceremony
The big sensational story that broke when Shoaib arrived in Hyderabad to stay at Saniaâ€™s family home for their upcoming nuptials was that Ayesha Siddiqui, also a Hyderabad resident, accused Malik of already being married to her since 2002.Â
Ironically, this was when India-Pakistan diplomatic ties were at their coldest due to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. While Pakistanis rejoiced at the wedding and called Sania the nationâ€™s bhabi (sister in law), many Indians were less than amused.
Kamila Shamsie at that time wrote in a hilarious article for the UK newspaper The Guardian: â€œBring on the puns about love games, fine legs and bowling a maiden over. Pakistanâ€™s former cricket captain, Shoaib Malik, is to marry Indiaâ€™s top-ranked female tennis player, Sania Mirza. In India, the rightwing Hindu nationalist political party, the BJP, has asked Mirza to â€˜reconsiderâ€™ her decision to marry a Pakistani, while more centrist parties have remained silent. In Pakistan, the Islamic rightwing political parties â€“ who would usually have a lot to say about women who wear tennis skirts â€“ have remained silent, while more centrist parties have voiced their congratulations. The contrasting attitudes each side of the border actually reveal the same assumption: a wife belongs to her husbandâ€™s â€˜household,â€™ so an Indian woman marrying a Pakistani man is unpatriotic, whereas a Pakistani man marrying an Indian woman is carrying home the spoils of victory. Or, as the painfully sexist/ jingoistic joke doing the rounds in Pakistan goes: â€˜Finally, we get to seeÂ PakistanÂ screwing India.â€™â€
On 12th April 2010, the couple got married. They had a mehndi, followed by a sangeet for which the couple even rehearsed a dance performance, and the nikah was performed at 1p.m. at the Taj Krishna Hotel inÂ Hyderabad. The hakh mahrÂ (marriage settlement) was kept at Indian Rs.Â 6.1Â million (US$137,500). â€œSania wore a red sari that her mother had worn 25 years ago for her own nikah. Shoaib wore a black sherwani made by Shantanu and Nikhil,â€ announced Saniaâ€™s spokesperson, Rucha Nayak. TheirÂ valimaÂ ceremony was held inÂ Lahore, Pakistan.
Dancing on an Indian TV show
The couple owns a home on the Palm Island in Jumeirah, Dubai
The big sensational story that broke when Shoaib arrived in Hyderabad to stay at Saniaâ€™s family home to make preparations for the wedding was that Ayesha Siddiqui, also a Hyderabad resident, accused Malik of already being married to her since 2002 when a nikah was performed over the phone. His side was that they were never married; she was overweight and deceived him by sending him her more attractive relative Mahaâ€™s picture, since thereâ€™s was mostly a cyber relationship (after meeting once together in Jeddah). Her rebuttal was that why would he consent to marry her without meeting her and that he visited her in a hotel room after the nikah. Sania and Malik held a joint press conference and denied his alleged first wedding, Long story short, Malik got a quickie divorce from Ayesha with community leaders mediating and the latter sank back into obscurity. Malik then issued a press release to do damage control asking everyone to think of him as a younger brother and forgive him.
The cross border wedding between the two huge sporting stars generated a lot of press. Sania Mirza became the most searched woman tennis player and Indian sportsperson in 2010, according to Google Trends.
Nick Hoult interviewed the couple in Dubai for British paper, The Telegraph:
â€œâ€˜When I was out of the team I used to travel with her (Sania) to tennis events because I had lot of free time and she used to say the same thing, keep working hard and when you get the opportunity take it. She encouraged me to keep playing and to believe that I had plenty of cricket left in me. That is what I did. When you look at her and how well she is doing you get inspired and you want to do, well, as well as her,â€™ said Shoaib Malik
The couple owns a home on the Palm Island in Jumeirah, Dubai, home to the many celebrities who have apartments here. When their marriage was announced five years ago right wing parties in India urged Mirza to reconsider and Dubai makes a convenient refuge for an Indo-Pak couple and also a useful base for two athletes with schedules that take them around the world.
â€˜We have three places we call home,â€™ said Malik, â€˜Pakistan, India and Dubai. Obviously Dubai is the main base for us. She plays almost throughout the year so it is tough to get an opportunity to stay together in one place but whenever one of us is free we travel wherever the other is playing. Sadly I did not see her win Wimbledon because I was in the Caribbean playing in their Twenty20 premier league.â€™
Â â€˜Before we started dating she used to love cricket. Even today she loves cricket. That is the game she watches. Obviously being Indian cricket is your first passion whether you are male or female. She watches cricket all the time.â€™
Responding to a question, she made it clear she would continue supporting her homeland in future Indo-Pak encounters on the cricket field, but was quick to add that she would want her hubby to hit a century.
Sania at younger sister Anamâ€™s wedding last year to which Shoaib was reportedly not invited
While Sania did much of the talking, Shoaib reluctantly responded to some questions.
Replying to a question, Shoaib clarified that Sania would play only for India and she would have the good wishes of Pakistan.â€
Â â€œOne of the heavy prices that the celebrities have to pay is that their personal lives are constantly subjected to public scrutiny,â€ Sania Mirza said on one occasion calling her husband, Shoaib Malik, her â€œJames Bond.â€
Shoaib has said on record that he is not very good at tennis despite trying. (Perhaps his ego canâ€™t take a beating by his wife.)
Malik retired from test cricket in November last year but will continue with limited overs cricket. He is also captain of theÂ Sialkot Stallions and has led his team to a record eight domestic T20 titles, most recently on 18th May 2015. He is also a part of the Karachi Kings team in the Pakistan Super League (PSL), but stepped down as captain as it was affecting his performance.
Or are they?
Mirza has been recognized for her achievements. She was named one of the 50 Heroes of Asia byÂ Time magazine in October 2005. In March 2010,Â The Economic Times (of India) named her in the list of 33 Women who made India proud. She was appointed the UN Womenâ€™s Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia to mark the International Day to End Violence against Women in 2013, becoming the first South Asian woman appointed as Goodwill Ambassador in the organizationâ€™s history. Additionally, she has been awarded the Arjuna AwardÂ (2004), WTA (World Tennis Association) Newcomer of the YearÂ (2005), Padma ShriÂ (2006), and Padma BhushanÂ (2016). In 2014, the Chief Minister of TelanganaÂ K. Chandrashekar Rao appointed Sania Mirza as the brand ambassador of her home state. Sania hasÂ established a tennis academy inÂ Hyderabad, which has been visited by former world No. 1sÂ Cara Black and Martina Navratilova.
However, the Shoaib-Sania marriage is not doing so well reportedly due to conflicting schedules. Even when they are not travelling for work, they prefer to spend time with their own families in their own hometowns and are spending less and less time with each other.
Reports in the Pakistani media have stated that Malik has been seen spending time with actress Humaima Malik. He has responded by saying she is just a good friend. Humaima herself posted their photos on social media, which could have been a publicity ploy on her part considering her recently launched Bollywood career.
Upon her triumph at Wimbledon last year, Sania was tweeted congratulations by PM Narendra Modi and husband Malik, who wrote â€œSo pleased with win. The high amount of drive, discipline, focus, & large visions that sportsmen r made of.â€ She thanked the PM and retweeted his message, but ignored her husband.Â Then, at her sister Anamâ€™s wedding, Malik was conspicuously absent.
During Eid last year, Shoaib and Sania celebrated separately with their own respective families. Upon this occasion she tweeted, â€œThis journey wld not hav bn possible without my family, my team, my partner and u guys. I thank Allah for blessing me with so much in my life.â€ AgainÂ ignoring Malik.
Denying reports that his marriage is on the rocks, Malik said in an interview, â€œI and Sania have a strong relationship and we knew before we got married that it wouldnâ€™t be easy, but sometimes it gets frustrating reading baseless storieses about our marriage.â€
Letâ€™s see what life has in store for this couple. We wish them luck whatever they decide!