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Marriage works wonders for Indian cricketers!
In October 2008, at Australia's training camp in Jaipur prior to the Test series, a night of revelry was rudely interrupted when a flamboyant, guitar-playing member of the squad suddenly gave in to his inner demons.
Brett Lee, coping with bad form, a bad marriage and merciless media scrutiny, was strumming the saccharine fave Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You when tears welled up in his eyes. He stopped and flung the guitar away.
It was rare, this momentary, public disintegration of a modern cricket star. But it wasn't the first of its kind.
Sport and marriage have made uneasy bedfellows at the best of times. Cricket has more social connotations than some other games, but it is no exception. Sportsmen are known to stray, and long absence often takes its toll on close relationships. Graham Thorpe struggled to cope with a nervous breakdown and ruined his career.
Michael Slater was on anti-depressants and nearly became an alcoholic wreck after his marriage broke down. The inimitable CB Fry used to receive electric shock treatments for bouts of mental instability, apparently brought on by a dominatrix 10 years his senior who openly flaunted her relationship with another man.
Fry's case wasn't the norm. In an exploration of career-dominated sports marriages, Steven M Ortiz of the Oregon State University argues that "athlete husbands socially construct their masculinity and use power and control in their marriages as a result of their occupation" . John Terry and Tiger Woods spring immediately to mind.
Sportsmen dumping wives for girlfriends are as common as day, and Jonty Rhodes' latest escapade, in which he broke a 15-year marriage to be with a new girl in January, hardly even made news.
This ‘spoiled athlete' syndrome, though it exists, is not as highlighted in India. Here, flings are more a mutual exchange of glamour, while marriages are traditional, serious and long-lasting affairs, often having a positive effect on their game. This dichotomy has helped stabilise generations of Indian cricketers postmarriage and the newly-wed MS Dhoni is likely to reap the benefits as well.
Says social theorist Ashis Nandy: "There are no broad-based parameters, though the Indian cricket scene isn't like the English Premier League. It depends on the psychiatric profile of the individual if marriage will help calm him down. For some who get overawed by the newfound fame, it definitely helps. But would a driven athlete like Sachin Tendulkar be any less focused if he hadn't married early?"
Likelier than not, though, an Indian cricketer, no matter what his background, feels he finds stability, inner peace and contentment in a conventional marriage (see boxes). No wonder he is so fiercely guarded about his wife. Kapil Dev, asked to comment on whether marriage had helped stabilise his career, refused to say anything beyond: "Main Romi-ji ke baare kuch nahi bolunga (I will not say anything about wife Romi). I never talk about her."
Kapil's is a happy, high-profile marriage. Our elite cricketers seem adept at making it work, never mind past dalliances with social equals. There are exceptions, like a Vinod Kambli or a Maninder Singh or an Azharuddin, who divorced first wife Naureen for a Bollywood star in Sangeeta Bijlani. But even in the case of a power couple like a Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi-Sharmila Tagore alliance, break-ups are rare.
"If Christopher Columbus' wife was alive when he sailed, he would never have discovered America," feels former skipper Bishan Singh Bedi, "In sports, it's a knife edge as you have to balance and adjust every time. Early marriages in elite sport are career-dominated affairs.
They don't work in the West. They do here. Marriage is a social commitment, cricket is an international commitment. It's a highly subjective curve. Here it mostly works because it complements our cricket in most cases, bringing stability and broadening our perspective."
Dhoni's fiercely-guarded engagement and wedding ceremony means he could be headed for a period of stability, which might even reflect in India's World Cup performance! Here's to more cricketing matrimonies, TOI-Crest picks out the chosen ones...
DILIP AND MANALI VENGSARKAR
Did marriage benefit him and change him as a person? The former India skipper says, "A hundred per cent it did. Manali's contribution to my career has been immense.
Marriage made me a better human being." Vengsarkar says Manali was not interested in cricket and still isn't . "That helped, for no one wants cricket to infiltrate the home. At home, we could discuss other things. It helped me unwind better."
Did marriage make him a more mature person with a broader outlook? "It did. Life is a matter of ups and downs. With a wife like Manali, I had a stabilising influence at home. Of course, our parents are there from a young age, but a wife's influence at a later stage is crucial.
She was also responsible for bringing up my kids single-handedly because I was touring constantly. I am happy that Nakul became an architect and Pallavi an aspiring actress and both have good character, all thanks to the wife's inputs."
Did his lifestyle change after marriage? Vengsarkar doesn't believe so. "Both of us came from middle-class families. So we didn't have to make many adjustments. Our lifestyle was moderate and we didn't have to do much different post-marriage ."
VINOD KAMBLI AND ANDREA HEWITT
For a flamboyant maverick like Vinod Kambli, staying happy and married at the peak of his cricketing career wasn't easy. However, having remarried some years ago, Kambli is a changed man now. His smiling face, as he holds his one-month son, Jesus Cristiano Kambli, says it all.
Congratulating MS Dhoni on his wedding, the 38-yearold Kambli says, "It's a very important step in everyone's life. It makes you complete and there's that added responsibility."
The southpaw bat who hasn't retired from first-class cricket as yet, feels the presence of a partner helps a player in focusing on his game better. "For a cricketer, having a wife is a great feeling as it helps you get into the right frame of mind ahead of a gruelling tour.
Even when you have friends and teammates, the presence of the better half provides you huge support," he says. "My wife has been like a rock. She has played a huge part in my life and has been an advisor on all fronts. For me, everything has changed since I got married. I'm more mature now and a completely changed person. I'm more responsible now."
Someone who once threatened to quit midway unless his wife was allowed to be with him on an overseas tour, Kambli still feels it's a plus having your wife on important tours. "Some cricketers have been lucky, some have not been so lucky. I wasn't allowed to tour with my wife, but today the players are allowed to. It's a big advantage as they can stay relaxed and share their feelings," he says, adding, "You become more efficient and more dedicated."
Kambli welcomed the presence of happily-married players in the present-day Indian team saying, "Earlier we had Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar as shining examples of the role marriage plays in a successful career. Now there are so many, including the Indian captain Dhoni."
SANDEEP AND DEEPA PATIL
Marriage makes a huge difference to your life. It brings responsibility. It's like cricket which needs adjustments to different conditions, kinds of pitches. It makes life challenging and demanding. But while a cricketing career may be 10-15 years, marriage goes on."
Sandeep Patil says marriage changed him completely and 200 per cent of the credit should go to his wife Deepa. "Deepa is not part of the brigade of nagging wives. She has handled the crucial aspects of my life extremely well — the gossip, the controversies, the pressure of staying alone when I was touring; the demands of life when the husband is not available, tolerating the flood of well-wishers who barge into your home. She has played a major role."
About his lifestyle change after marriage, Patil said: "Today in Bangalore, I sleep practically every day around 8.30 pm. It is such a soothing thing, you are so calm. I realise what wrong we did during our playing days. I wish I had a partner like Deepa during my playing days.
To get things done without nagging or pressurising is something that's typical of her make-up . The stability it has brought to my life is amazing." Patil salutes the sacrifices his wife had to make after he shifted base nine months ago from Mumbai to Bangalore where he is the chief coach at the National Cricket Academy. "She spends a fortnight in Bangalore and maybe another in Mumbai," he says.
Mumbai brings with it responsibility of looking after two grown-up boys. The elder one, Chirag, has become an actor. He is awaiting his debut film as hero in Dev Anand's ‘Chargesheet' . Sandeep's other son Pratik is studying BMS. "Chirag did hotel management and has landed up in films. They are doing what we did not," says a happy dad Patil.
SOURAV AND DONA GANGULY
The best thing about Sourav Ganguly is that he always knew what he wanted. Very few individuals would have done what Sourav did after making a majestic comeback to the Indian team and scoring a century on his Test debut at Lord's in 1996: Getting married.
Ask him about it and he says, "I realised that I couldn't stay away from her any more and I didn't care what the elders felt," referring to his 'secret' marriage to Dona, his next-door neighbour after relations between the two families had soured because of their relationship.
The marriage didn't change equations between the young couple, but it did cause a change of heart among the members of the two feuding families, who soon accepted them gracefully. Nor did it change Sourav. Recalls Dona: "I like him for what he is.
Even after we got married, to me he was the same fun-loving boy-next-door . I don't think marriage changed him in any way. He still loves to have biriyani and phuchkas (paani puri)."
Unlike the current generation of players who like to live life in the fast lane, Sourav has never been a party animal. He doesn't drink and unless you are a Shah Rukh Khan, you can't drag him on to a dance floor and get him to swing his hips even briefly.
When he was the unquestioned leader of the team, he would go out with the boys to discos to celebrate, but would always park himself near the bar and sip orange juice.
"No matter which part of the world he would be, he would call at least once every day. After Sana was born, he would call more frequently. If anything, he has become more responsible," Dona recalls about the man, who has been both impulsive as well as passionate on the field.
Now that Sourav has retired, he seems to be busier than in his playing days, meeting lawyers, chartered accountants, marketing hot-shots to discuss various projects, while Dona runs her own dance school. Yet, Kolkata's 'first couple' does find time to put in a joint appearance at the odd function or two, still causing heads to turn, almost 14 years after they tied the knot.
ABBAS ALI BAIG AND VINU MIRCHANDANI
Iguess there comes a time in everyone's life when you realise that you've had your flings and want to settle down," says Abbas Ali Baig. "Vinu is a Bombay girl who still isn't into cricket at all. I met her at a party and much like Dhoni, dated her for three years before getting married on August 25, 1968.
It gave me mental peace and stability. The home support was better than when I was a bachelor. It had a balancing effect because she was not worried about my cricketing achievements or problems, so I didn't bring stress home.
She totally disliked cricket and the sight of Wesley Hall or Charlie Griffith would send shivers down her spine. I remember she would always say, ‘I don't care how many runs you score. Just don't get killed!' Even now, after so many years, she still doesn't know the laws or the nuances, but she watches cricket sometimes.
I believe a stable marriage does help your career in most cases. Overall, I see many young cricketers in India who are living the fast life and not always adeptly balancing career and fun. For them, a stable marriage can help rise above the distractions."
Inputs: Pradeep Vijayakar, Vinay Nayudu, Partha Bhaduri and Sumit Mukherjee
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