x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

At last, Shoaib bowls his maiden over

The Indian tennis player and former Pakistani cricket captain complete their love match away from the glare of the media spotlight.

A garlanded Shoaib Malik holds hands with Imran Mirza, his bride's father, during the wedding ceremony in Hyderabad yesterday.
A garlanded Shoaib Malik holds hands with Imran Mirza, his bride's father, during the wedding ceremony in Hyderabad yesterday.

DUBAI // After days of speculation and controversy, the wedding of the celebrity sports couple, Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik, finally went ahead in India yesterday, away from the media glare that has surrounded the pair.

The marriage of the Indian tennis star and the Pakistani cricketer is seen as a step forward for relations between countries divided by a history of bitter rivalry and distrust. The nikaah, a traditional wedding ceremony, was held in Sania's hometown of Hyderabad at the Taj Krishna Hotel in the presence of about 70 guests including family and close friends. Television crews, media representatives and fans were barred from the ceremony.

Immediately after the ceremony, Sania's spokeswoman, Rucha Naik, confirmed the nuptials to reporters gathered outside the hotel. "The [wedding] has just been completed. Please pray for the couple," she said. The news was broadcast live on Indian television. Earlier in the day, Sania was seen leaving her home in Jubilee Hills wearing a traditional red bridal sari and several items of gold jewellery. The Indian tennis player appeared coy and nervous as she got into the car, ignoring fans and TV crews who has gathered to catch a glimpse of her.

She was accompanied by her parents, Imran and Naseema Mirza, and her sister, Anam Mirza. Photographers and cameramen chased the car all the way to the wedding, the venue of which had been kept a secret until the last minute. Saia's red sari was the one her mother wore for her wedding 25 years ago. The groom wore a black sherwani, designed by the Indian designers Shantanu and Nikhil. The former captain of the Pakistan cricket team appeared relaxed, flanked by his mother and other relatives.

The sudden announcement yesterday that the couple had wed came as a surprise. The families had said that the wedding would happen on Thursday. However, the big day was brought forward after Indian clerics issued a fatwa against the couple for living together out of wedlock at Sania's home; Shoaib had been staying there for the past few days. The wedding celebrations are far from over: rituals and functions will continue for the next few days. Ms Naik, Sania's spokeswoman, said the mehndi, a traditional Indian ceremony in which henna is painted on the hands of the bride, would be held today followed by sangeet, a celebration involving singing, tomorrow.

A grand reception to be attended by sports stars, politicians, celebrities and diplomats from India, Pakistan and the UAE is expected to be held on Thursday. Family, friends and well-wishers of the couple in the UAE watched intently yesterday as reports of the wedding emerged. Shoaib and Sania have announced plans to settle in Dubai. Shoaib's relatives in Abu Dhabi said yesterday they were delighted with the news.

"Definitely, we are very happy to hear this and it is a joyous occasion," said his uncle, Ashiq Hussain. He declined to comment further because the family want to keep the wedding out of the public eye as much as possible. Indian and Pakistani community members in Dubai said yesterday they would like to organise an event to welcome the couple to the city. "It was great to see that the marriage finally came through. I am happy that a young Indian and a young Pakistani have crossed the borders and finally did what many of us want to do," said Rahim Ali, from Pakistan, an avid fan of cricket and of Shoaib. Similar responses came from the Indian community.

The couple had a troubled engagement following claims by another Hyderabad woman, Ayesha Siddique, that Shoaib had married her by telephone a few years ago. Shoaib finally agreed to divorce after falling under intense media scrutiny and pressure from the community. @Email:pmenon@thenational.ae