After what must have been an agonising fortnight for Indian pacer Mohammed Shami, the BCCI has given him a clean chit in allegations of match fixing levelled by his wife, Hasin Jahan. The two have been embroiled in a bitter marital dispute. Shami’s career was close to imploding because of his wife’s accusations, which also included adultery, rape and domestic violence, charges he vehemently denies. On a cricket tour to South Africa two months ago, Shami was in top form and collected 15 wickets. Shami’s IPL team, Delhi Daredevils, which was waiting for the BCCI’s review before allowing Shami to play in the league, has also taken him back. “We never had an iota of doubt that Shami is innocent. He is an honest cricketer and would never have done any such thing,” said Hemant Dua, CEO of Delhi Daredevils (The Indian Express, March 23, 2018).
Though the BCCI top brass had indicated they were not going to stand in judgment on Shami’s personal life, clearly they had to conduct an investigation once the dreaded term “match fixing” was wildly thrown around social media by his wife. Slinging mud, secure in the knowledge that some will stick, is a very common tactic during divorce proceedings. It certainly doesn’t help that there’s a very graphic video floating around WhatsApp, purportedly of Shami in the arms of a naked woman. In this environment of hyper vigilance, when women have finally found the courage to speak up against marital crimes, it’s understandable that the BCCI wanted to err on the right side and not have a tainted player on the team, no matter how great a cricketer he might be. However, innocent till proven guilty isn’t just Hollywood lore, it’s an abiding principle of democracy. A marriage, especially, has many hidden layers that are completely invisible from the outside. Even assuming Hasin Jahan was horribly wronged by Shami in their relationship, a mere accusation of something as serious as match fixing, has the power to derail his career completely. Guilty or innocent is inconsequential because, already, there’s a big question mark around Shami in the court of public opinion.
The road to divorce is usually paved with a litany of he-said she-said abuses. The reality is that when you’re in the limelight, who you are personally and who you are professionally cannot be separated. The world remains conflicted about how much a player’s morals and off-the-field conduct should influence a career. Ideas of what deserves (reasonably) to be tolerated, vary. Shami’s has been a familiar cricket career arc. A phenomenal talent from a small Indian village explodes on the scene and changes orbits, reaches a level of fame and fortune that could cause even the most mature among us to flounder. A few blunders ensue, including a marriage falling apart. Doesn’t change the fact that he’s been great for the team, through it all. One can only wonder if it isn’t too idealistic to expect professional athletes to be great players on the field, and great men, off it. Especially since most of us ordinary mortals fail spectacularly, at both.
Being tabloid fodder is especially damaging to a sportsperson. The window of opportunity at the international level is tiny and it isn’t just about talent. Plenty of different aspects of your life have to come together to sustain that greatness: mental and physical self-belief, an ability to slay your demons. Lurking behind every cricketer’s mind is the knowledge that there are plenty of hopefuls out there waiting for an opportunity and that however well you play, there’s always someone better. In the book How Tiger Does It, released before Tiger Woods was outed as a serial philanderer, he famously talked about his ability to restart his life with every shot. He hasn’t won a Major since. When mistakes are made, the effort should be to apply an objective morality since the humble truth is sports heroes can’t entirely shed their humanness either.