Updated 31 Jul 2020


Malinga and a richshaw with Malinga curls
Malinga and a richshaw with Malinga curls

Years ago, my father was taken aback at the request by his two sons to get them a crew cut. Till then, tussles with him at the barber shop to avoid the dreaded fauji style haircut would be a regular monthly feature, followed inevitably by sullen heartache. Now, we were asking our barber to go for even less, if possible!

It was indeed all thanks to Wasim Akram and his green team, that had decided to do away with their stylish tresses during Pakistan’s tour of the West Indies back in 1993. Their young fans back in Pakistan did the same, to the merriment of their parents who may, otherwise, have found it difficult to convince them to get neat haircuts. Such was the charisma of these players.

How much the actions of these players’ would impact us as children can also be gauged from the fact that street cricket would be dotted with run-ups like that of the two Ws — Wasim and Waqar. Meanwhile, spin bowlers with centre partings would run their fingers through their hair just like Shahid Afridi did. Basically, any unique hairstyle would instantly become a hit with the fan following.

Sportsmen’s (and sportswomen’s) hairstyles have long held a fascination for their zealous followers.

Some of the other cricketers known for their unique hairstyles include Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga, England’s Kevin Pietersen, Irish cricketer Kevin O’Brien, Zimbabwe’s Henry Olonga, West Indies’ Sunil Narine, Australia’s Jason Gillespie and Colin Miller. Malinga’s bleached curls would became his identity, though not more than his express bowling with that unique sling arm action. There were even memes on social media comparing his hair with lamb fleece. 

Kevin Pietersen brought in innovation on the cricketing field when he took to unusual hairstyles and hair colours. And yet he pointed a finger at Ahmed Shehzad, and on his ‘need for a haircut’, after a poor performance in the fifth edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL). In a live session on Instagram, Pietersen started out with Shehzad’s dismal batting performance throughout the incomplete PSL and then, later, while making fun of his hair, told him that he should carry a clipper with him to tame his hair. When Shehzad protested that he did not know how to use a clipper, Pietersen’s tongue-in-cheek remark became an instant hit with his followers. “A man who plucks his eyebrows to look beautiful and uses moisturizers on his face,” he said to Shehzad, “you know exactly how to shave your head!”

Over the years, several personalities from the world of sports have been loved and followed by their fans not just for their noteworthy performances, but also for their hairstyle

Talking about hair colour or dyed hair, Kevin O’Brien, dyed his red hair pink for a cancer charity during Pakistan’s 2011 World Cup match against Ireland. Ireland famously won that match in a thriller while O’Brien scored the fastest century of the ICC World Cup to date, off just 50 balls. He was declared the Player of the Match as well.

Henry Olonga of Zimbabwe also remained in the news for his braided fringe and other funky hairstyles. While his cricket earned him recognition in sports circles, it was his hairstyles that got him a place on the social pages of newspapers and magazines.

Someren and his dangerous spikes
Someren and his dangerous spikes

West Indian spinner Sunil Narine sported a Mohawk-type look, but without completely shaving the sides of the head. Meanwhile, the lengthier locks of Aussie Jason Gillespie were also a sight of their own when he would run in from his bowling mark.

Nicknamed ‘Funky’, Australia’s Colin Miller once dyed his hair blue while playing in a Test match against the West Indies. Later, he dyed it the brightest shade of green at the Oval, followed by many other hair colours, to justify his nickname.

In the beginning of his career, India’s MS Dhoni would carry longer locks that were even appreciated by Pakistan’s then president Pervez Musharraf in a post-match presentation during a series in Pakistan in 2006. Later, he trimmed them down after winning the 2007 World T20 Championship in South Africa. He also shaved his head completely after India’s 2011 World Cup triumph under his captaincy, and made several other changes in his appearance, all of which were noticed.

Few cricketers are seen sporting longer hair or ponytails nowadays. There are also only a few female athletes here with long hair. It is, however, the uniqueness in form of colour, styles, cut or repeated innovations with the hair that brings an athlete into the limelight, sometimes even making him or her a perfect fit for showbiz or the media industry. Suddenly, these players become eligible for advertisements and catwalks. They are seen endorsing fashion bands, cosmetics and toiletries.

Football is a different and more showy kettle of fish altogether. Colombian footballer and attacking midfielder Carlos Valderrama was renowned for his picture-perfect Afro-blonde hair. Known globally for his curly locks and creative soccer moves on the field, Valderrama became an icon in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Another Colombian with a unique hairstyle in the world of football was Rene Higuita. However, more than his hair, Higuita was renowned for his scorpion kick and his dramatic goalkeeping saves.

There is a generation globally that worships the English football star David Beckham, not just for his jaw-droppingly precise free-kicks, but also his persona and stylish looks. Just like Beckham’s hairstyles would be instantly copied a decade ago by his die-hard fans, Cristiano Ronaldo’s fans today readily and immediately adopt his latest hairstyles, keeping their barbers and hairdressers busy.

Serena and Venus, and the beads
Serena and Venus, and the beads

Italy’s striker Mario Balotelli, a controversial figure and notorious for his bad-man image, is another player who has come up with a number of hairstyles and dyed his hair a number of shades throughout the seasons he has played.

When it comes to tennis, both the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, are well-known for their hairstyles and hair accessories. Braided and sometimes beaded hair, curly hair, bobs … both women have, over the years come up with a number of different and unique hairstyles. It was even a norm for Venus Williams in the ’90s to drop a few beads from her hair while on court in different tournaments. It was only during the 1999 Australian Open quarter-final against Lindsay Davenport, that her dropping hair beads during play resulted in the match umpire giving a penalty point against her for “disturbance”, to the dismay of a very livid Venus. So much was the heartburn that Venus refused to shake hands with the umpire at the end of the game, making the court erupt with boos.

Regardless of the Covid-19 pandemic causing a global halt to most sporting activity and closing almost all the salons, Venus is still in the news for her latest hairstyle, which she experimented with while at home. She shared her new look via her Instagram workout video. The chunky highlights meant that she brought back the look of the ’90s. She now sports two-toned hair, blonde with darker hair at the roots.

Before breaking into action, some players are very particular about their entire attire being in the right place. When it came to Maria Sharapova, her serving ritual was irritatingly repetitive. She was aptly copied and imitated by Novak Djokovic many a time, with him tucking back strands of invisible hair behind each ear. Djokovic even stood like her and then served with Sharapova’s signature shriek, to the delight of the audience. Andre Agassi was yet another player who added style to the court with his different hairstyles and appearances, that is, until his hair left him!

The Mohawk is somewhat associated with aggression and guile in terms of sports. Many rugby players are seen sporting different variations of the Mohawk. An interesting incident occurred when rugby player Nathan Van Someren was stopped from playing, after having played two quarters of the game in an Australian league match, because of a “dangerous hairstyle.” The referee who sent him off believed that his spiked Mohawk could lead to eye injuries among opposing team players. The player, who had played for almost three years by then, was understandably more than a little bit shocked at the decision.

The writer tweets @Ali_Shahid82

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 31st, 2020