May 25, 2020
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Fatal Distraction?

Sangeeta Bijlani is being blamed for the team's low morale

Fatal Distraction?

AS Azhar already married Sangeeta Bijlani? Has she changed her name to Sakina? Does she inspire his expensive tastes? Does she sit with him in the front seat of the team coach and in the dressing room? Do they live together in Hyderabad? Are they moving to Bangalore? Has Azhar offered Rs 75 lakh as settlement to wife Naureen?

Who cares? So long as Azhar's dalliance didn't bring down his scores, cricket prudes and puritans were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But the Indian team's poor show and low morale before the Lord's Test has changed all that. Sangeeta, all agreed, was the cause of Azhar's disappointing performance.

"We should let cricketers speak for them-selves," says cricket writer Arvind Lavakare. "Though no direct cause and effect can be established, it seems that Azhar's personal life has affected his game."

Azhar and the Nirma girl have been together for two years. But it was on the eve of the World Cup that he went public. When a photographer shot the couple strolling down the streets of Bangalore, Azhar roughed up the lensman; and things have never been the same. When Azhar got out quickly, it was said he was eager to get back to her. Says journalist K.N. Prabhu: "Azhar knows this is his last tour, so he has decided to enjoy himself."

The Sidhu episode precipitated the issue. Kapil Dev said wives and girlfriends never entered dressing rooms and team coaches in his time. Others picked up the cue. Manoj Prabhakar said Azhar skipped World Cup practices, saying he was training elsewhere. "I don't know what exercise he was doing and with whom," he said. Azhar reportedly obtained the board's permission to take Sangeeta on tour. But even the board had had enough. Says former BCCI chief Madhavrao Scindia: "The example set by the cap0tain is disappointing."

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