ISLAMABAD Former Pakistan cricket captain Shoaib Malik is set to marry Indian tennis star Sania Mirza, a union of two of South Asia's most well known sports personalities.
The marriage is sure to attract attention because neighbouring Pakistan and India are longtime rivals, and have fought three wars since 1947.
“The news of me marrying to Sania is true,” Malik posted on Twitter on Tuesday. “Inshallah (God willing) will get married in April.”
The Pakistan Cricket Board has fined and banned Malik for one year for unspecified disciplinary reasons following heavy defeats in both test and limited-overs series against Australia earlier this year.
The 23-year-old Mirza ended a previous engagement to childhood friend Sohrab Mirza in January, citing incompatibility.
She issued a statement Tuesday confirming the marriage plan, but asking for privacy.
“My wedding Inshallah is going to be the biggest day of my life,” she said. “I have been in the media glare for too long and would appreciate a little privacy at this very personal moment in my life.”
Her father, Imran Mirza, said both Sania and Malik will be based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, but continue to represent their countries in their respective sports.
“This is a unique case where husband and wife will represent their respective countries in sport,” he said in a statement issued in Hyderabad, India, where the family lives.
A local television reported that Mirza, her parents and sister, had applied for a visa at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi on Tuesday and were expected to be issued with a visa of three weeks in duration and valid for 60 days.
Mirza, a two-time Grand Slam mixed doubles champion, became the first Indian woman to crack the top 40 in the international tennis rankings, reaching a career high of No. 27 in August 2007. At one time, the Muslim player was assailed by conservative elements of the Indian community for competing in short skirts and sleeveless shirts. She has not advanced beyond the first round in her last four tournaments and withdrew from tournaments in Malaysia and the United States in recent weeks due to a wrist injury. She is currently No. 92 in the rankings.
Malik, 28, was at the centre of marriage controversy five years ago when he was reportedly broke an engagement with Ayesha Siddiqui, who was from Mirza's hometown in India.
The two had reportedly developed friendship on the internet and Siddiqui's father had even threatened to take Malik to court.
Malik has denied any serious relationship with Siddique.
The dashing cricketer was also linked with Indian actress Siali Bhagat, and there were reports of the two meeting confidentially in 2008.
News of the Malik-Mirza engagement spread quickly on Tuesday.
It's not the first time that a Pakistani cricketer will be married to a high-profile Indian woman.
Former test batsman Mohsin Khan, now the national chief selector, married Indian actress Reena Roy in the 1980s. The marriage later broke down.
Newspapers reported that Malik first met Mirza at Hobart, Australia in January, when the Pakistan squad was on tour and Mirza was in the city for a tennis tournament.
“It was after this meeting that Mirza's engagement with his childhood friend broke,” a local Urdu daily reported.
Diplomatic relations between Pakistan and India grew more tense after a terrorist attack in the Indian film and financial hub of Mumbai in November, 2008. As a result, the Indian cricket team postponed its scheduled test tour to Pakistan due to security concerns.
The Pakistan government refused permission for its players to join the second edition of the Indian Premier League last year before the lucrative Indian domestic league was moved to South Africa.
Sporting relations deteriorated further when no Pakistani cricketers were picked up by Indian clubs in this year's auction for the IPL.
Malik played for Delhi Daredevils in the inaugural edition of IPL in 2008.
He played 29 test matches for Pakistan and scored 1,517 runs at an average of 36.11. In 190 one-day internationals he has scored 5,141 runs at an average of 34.50 and also took 132 wickets with his off-spin bowling.
Malik lost the captaincy of the national team after Pakistan lost a limited-overs series to Sri Lanka at home last year. —AP