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Gary Sobers-Anju Mahendru to Virat-Anushka: Star cricketers and their glamorous affairs

On Anju Mahendra's birthday today (11 January), a low-down on some of the better known liaisons between top international cricketers and Indian film actresses.

Mayur Lookhar

Bowling a maiden over. We are used to this phrase on the cricketing field. In India, cricket and Hindi cinema, popularly known as Bollywood, have tended to go hand in hand. The best example today are Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma. But turn the clock back and you will find quite a few tales of cricketers bowling gorgeous maidens over. Probably the first big affair of this kind was the one between the West Indian legend Sir Garfield Sobers and starlet Anju Mahendru. As the actress turns a year older today, we look at some of the famous cricketer-film star affairs.

Gary Sobers and Anju Mahendru

Gary Sobers and Anju Mahendru

In the 1980s Sharjah became a popular neutral venue for hosting many One-Day International (ODI) matches. Lure of big money attracted many teams, not just India and Pakistan. Apart from cricket aficionados, Sharjah also attracted fine company. The sight of a lady donning cool black shades dressed in a salwar, white and black, was a common sight in those days. The lady was unheralded actress Anju Mahendru. 

She was never counted among the reigning divas, but Anju Mahendru was in the news for her 'friendship' with legendary West Indian cricketer Sir Garfield St Auburn Sobers. This love affair began when the Caribbean giants toured India in 1966. Anju Mahendru was just 17 when she was introduced to Sobers. The duo fell in love. Rumour has it that she even called off her engagement to Rajesh Khanna. Sobers and Mahendru were briefly engaged, but this did not translate into marriage. The distance and career barriers combined to create an insurmountable hurdle and the couple called it quits. Sobers, however, is said to have written a heartfelt letter to Mahendru seeking her permission to marry his Australian girlfriend Pru Kirby.

Viv Richards and Neena Gupta

The West Indies cricketers of the 1970s and 1980s were extremely popular in India, as indeed around the world, and not just for their fearless and dazzling stroke play and fearsome fast bowling. The merry men from the Caribbean were also thorough gentlemen. Neena Gupta was smitten by the legendary Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards. They never married, but the couple had a daughter Masaba. Again, distance and careers prevented the duo from taking the relationship to another level. Richards, though, visits India often to meet Gupta and his daughter, who has grown up to become a fashion designer of repute.

Salim Durrani and Parveen Babi

A swashbuckling cricketer but, more importantly, a man who could make women go weak in the knees, Salim Durrani was described by his teammates as the quintessential ladies’ man. Legend has it that England captain Tony Greig and Durrani were once so smitten by a hotel receptionist that they placed a bet on who would win the race to her heart. The story goes that the young woman was in Durrani’s room in under half an hour. Such was his charisma. Durrani tried his hand at acting in the 1973 flick Charitra, where he was paired opposite the ravishing Parveen Babi. While the film flopped, rumours about the lead pair did the rounds of gossip columns, but the cricketer never returned to films and so died stories of the affair.

Ravi Shastri and Amrita Singh

Ravi Shastri was an all-rounder on and off the field with the tall and lanky Mumbai player known to hobnob with models and Bollywood divas. His friendship with Amrita Singh drew eyeballs, the duo even posing together for a magazine. Their fans had them all but married until Shastri married a non-celebrity in Ritu while Singh exchanged vows with the newcomer Saif Ali Khan, five years her junior. 

Sandeep Patil and Debarshi Roy

A destructive batsman when the mood took him, Sandeep Patil was a feisty character who even risked his career to feature in his maiden Hindi film. His married life was on the rocks as Patil made himself unavailable to shoot for Kabhie Ajnabi The (1984). During the filming, Patil is said to have got close to his co-star Debarshi Roy. The film flopped, Patil never returned to acting, and with that died the rumoured affair.

Mohammad Azharuddin and Sangeeta Bijlani

It is one of the most well-documented and controversial cricketer-actress affairs. Last year, Ekta Kpaoor even produced a rather poor biopic on the life of controversial former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin. Rising from the humble back lanes of Hyderabad, Azharuddin was known in the Indian team in the 1980s and 1990s as one who loved the fine things in life. Though Azharuddin was married and had two sons, Sangeeta Bijlani fell for his charms and the couple exchanged vows in 1996. Their marriage ended in 2010 after Bijlani walked out following persistent rumours about Azharuddin’s ties with badminton star Jwala Gutta.

Zeenat Aman and Imran Khan

Undoubtedly cricket’s most famous rumoured playboy, Imran Khan had women across the world drooling over him. Khan was loved dearly in India too, especially by his female friends from the glamour industry and the corporate sector. In 1979, when Pakistan toured India, Khan befriended Zeenat Aman, who was then at the top of her game. The affair did not progress beyond rumour, however, and Khan eventually married British socialite Jemima Goldsmith.

Reena Roy and Mohsin Khan

In yet another India-Pakistan affair that made the headlines, handsome Pakistani opening batsman Mohsin Khan fell in love with Reena Roy, who gave up her rising career to marry him. Living in Pakistan was not an option, however, so the couple shifted to London. They had a daughter named Sanam. Roy, though, found life difficult in London ,especially with Khan away on cricketing duties. They mutually agreed to divorce and Roy returned with her daughter to India.

Zaheer Khan and Isha Sharvani

A drop-dead gorgeous starlet who failed to live up to her potential, Isha Sharvani found greater fame as the girlfriend of Zaheer Khan, India's premier fast bowler of the Noughties. They dated for long but never went public with their relationship. After the 2011 World Cup, it was rumoured that Khan would finally settle down, but fans were disappointed when it was reported that the duo had put an end to their relationship.

Yuvraj Singh and Deepika Padukone

Deepika Padukone has dated a few men in her life, but we wonder how many recollect her rumoured affair with flamboyant southpaw Yuvraj Singh. The duo were spotted together on a few occasions, and it was even rumoured that Singh, who is based in Punjab and Gurgaon, was willing to shift to Mumbai to settle down with Padukone. He was even believed to have started looking for a house in the city. Singh’s mother, too, reportedly approved of Padukone. It is not clear, however, what went wrong. Padukone has since dated businessman Siddharth Mallya and actor Ranbir Kapoor. She is currently dating actor Ranveer Singh. Meanwhile, Yuvraj Singh got married to model Hazel Keech in December last year.

Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and Sharmila Tagore

He was a nawab while she was related to India's first Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Dashing India cricket captain Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, a legend who played Test cricket with just one good eye and a fantastic cricketing brain and reflexes, and the talented and charming film star Sharmila Tagore made for a gorgeous couple. Despite initial resistance, the two families eventually agreed to the match. Tagore embraced Islam and changed her official name to Ayesha Sultana. This marriage stood the test of time, ending only with Pataudi's death in 2011.