Game, set, match, Sania

By T S Sudhir

IPL franchisees kept the Pakistanis out by not bidding for them in Season 3. Yet making headline news during the IPL is ironically a Pakistani cricket player. And he looks all set to walk away with what most would see as a `Karbonn Kamaal’ catch.

No bouquets for guessing who we are talking about. It is Shoaib Malik, who did show some daredevilry for the Delhi Daredevils in IPL season one. This time round he has discovered there is more to Hyderabad than just the Charminar and biryani. So in a couple of weeks, Hyderabad will be witness to jugalbandi of various sorts. Cricket and Tennis. India and Pakistan. And in keeping with the trend of Dubai having been a neutral cricketing venue for the two countries, the land of the Sheikhs will be home to this high-profile couple post-April. The Hyderabadi hurricane will now blow from Dubai.

Only this January, Sania was in the news because she and her fiancé Sohrab Mirza called off their six-month-old engagement citing “mutual incompatibility’’. Both families chose not to wash dirty linen in public. But that did not stop closed-door whispers in the city’s Banjara Hills area about what went wrong. Especially since the childhood friends got engaged in an extremely high-profile ceremony at the Taj. Less than a year on, Sohrab Mirza, whose family owns the famous Universal Bakery, will now see a different SM say `Qubool hai’.

This second serve by Sania has admittedly taken many by surprise. Comments posted on Facebook rudely suggest this could even be a double fault. People ask, when Sania has everything going for her, why should she settle for someone who has been slapped with a one-year ban on representing his country. Malik was among seven senior Pakistani cricketers who were meted out harsh treatment by the Pakistan cricket board after the dismal Australia tour in December, with allegations of match-fixing doing the rounds.

For many Hyderabadis, it is tragically ironic that Hyderabad’s most well-known son-of-the-soil sportsperson was banned for life from playing cricket for the country and now its most treasured daughter looks set to bring home a son-in-law who has not exactly covered himself in honourable glory either.

But then, it is Sania’s life and the 23-year-old, who is known to reveal her state of mind through the messages on her T-shirt, has every right to choose who she wants as her mixed doubles partner in the game of life. It is certainly not Shiv Sena’s business to demand (as it has done in its party mouthpiece `Saamna’) that Sania should marry only an Indian. Sania in her inimitable style has usually given it back to whoever has dared to cross the line between the public and personal, opinion and prejudice.

I first met Sania when she was 11 years old, at a tennis court in Secunderabad one winter afternoon, where dad Imran had brought his two little girls for tennis practice. Those were days when the parents and Sania were putting in those hours of practice that brought her this far. Sania’s mom Nasima would not tire of calling up, to update on Sania’s progress in the various ITF tournaments she would play in different countries. Nasima would request that her daughter’s achievement in every round be highlighted on the sports news on the channel.

I am among those who had occasion to watch Sania’s progress at close quarters. Over the last 12 years, I and a couple of senior sports journalists in Hyderabad have chronicled Sania emergence as a champion, with a forehand to fear, on the international circuit. To her goes the credit of putting Indian women tennis on the world map and encouraged many a young girl to dream of being another Sania.

Sania’s victory at the Hyderabad Open in 2005 was a turning point in more ways than one. She became the new pin-up girl. What she said, what she wore, her clothes, accessories, body language and more than everything else, her attitude, became the talk of the town. That she was also moving up in the rankings, climbing to her best of 27 in 2007, of course helped. Sania was on a roll.

Unfortunately though, something else, somewhere else changed. People who had been her well-wishers for several years, spoke of being disappointed with how stardom had changed the girl they knew. May be it happens when a youngster suddenly becomes such a big phenomenon. I don’t know if it is fair to fault the girl or the people around her. But there has been real hurt about unnecessary snubs that could perhaps have been better handled, with a more balanced, sensitive and professional approach.

Despite all that, there is genuine concern among those who have always wished Sania well. Afterall, this is not the first time Hyderabad is hearing of Shoaib’s dalliance with a girl from the city of the Nizams. The former Pakistan captain has been accused by a Hyderabad girl, Ayesha Siddiqui of marrying her, only to back out later. Ayesha now wants a divorce before the Shoaib-Sania innings gets underway.

Shoaib will hope his bride brings him good luck. He is taking on his cricket board to reverse the ban imposed on him. And the clamour for Sania has already begun. The Pakistan Tennis Federation has asked Sania to represent that country, in the hope that it will be Advantage Pakistan, if her presence encourages a thousand Sanias to bloom in Lahore, Karachi and Multan. But that will remain just a dream, with Sania declaring `I am Sania Mirza and I play for India’.

Sensible decision. Just imagine, if she went by the PTF’s diktat and turned up for Pakistan in an Indo-Pak tennis match. It wouldn’t be just the Shiv Sena that will then go ballistic.


About t s sudhir & uma sudhir

Uma Sudhir and T S Sudhir are senior journalists, based in Hyderabad. Both work for NDTV. Uma is a Tamilian, who was educated in
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2 Responses to Game, set, match, Sania

  1. Sonali says:

    Excellently written. Conveying all the emotions!

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