When a sportsman bowls a maiden over, her troubles have just begun
Two very different sporting wives have been sitting by their men on the hard benches of the Royal Courts of Justice this week. On the judge's left, wearing a long, floaty, pale blue dress from the supermodels' favourite designer, Ghost, was Jemima Khan, 22, glossy of hair, peachy of skin, elegantly pregnant, and palpably in love. Snuggled up against her new husband, the cricketing sex god Imran Khan, she batted her eyelashes, twirled her hair, and smiled dreamily ecstatic smiles. She looked as if she could have been on honeymoon, rather than fighting a bitter libel action brought by Ian Botham and Allan Lamb.

On the judge's right, in a sober black suit and polka-dot shirt, was Kathy Botham, 41, married for 20 years to the Mad Max of English cricket. Chic, gamine, carefully made-up, she could not disguise the lines on her thin face, the tense, beady stare, the tight little smile. Nobody in court tittered when she declared: "I wouldn't call myself a cricket fan. Not as such."

Here, alongside the compelling psychodrama of the British class system, another story was being enacted: the tale of the sporting wife. For the sporting wife is not a type - the bimbo football bird, the glamorous tennis groupie, the long-suffering cricket widow - but a time traveller, who starts as Jemima, romance-dazed newlywed fastbowled-over by the talent and glamour of the thinking woman's cricket crumpet, and ends, if she's lucky, as Kathy, weary survivor of her husband's bad backs, ballooning weight and dud seasons, stuck at home while hubby lives it up in the Caribbean.

In fact, the sporting wife begins her journey pre-Jemima, as the girlfriend, as beautiful carefree Brooke Shields (Andre Agassi's current belle) or Dani Behr (linked with Ryan Giggs). What lucky girls! Take new Wimbledon babe Daphne Deckers, filmed almost as much on centre court as her boyfriend, Richard Krajicek. And what a catch! He has all the attractions of the professional sportsman: youth (he's 24), physical prowess (6'5") and talent (Wimbledon champion '96). With no kids and a career of her own as presenter of a Dutch TV show, who cares about his relentless schedule (they once met for a date in Montreal airport)? And when love is young (he still gives her roses), a girl can forgive even the crassest sporting machismo: "Ninety per cent of women players," Krajicek said recently, "are fat lazy pigs."

After the warm-up, the ball is kicked into touch for the chosen (or foolish) few, as a fairytale bride. This month, Gazza married Shazza - aka Sheryl Failes, his on-again off-again girlfriend and mother of his four-month- old son. In an interview, part of a book-length feature in Hello!, the problems of sporting wifedom are already chiming discordantly with the wedding march. Most notable is the premature midlife crisis which faces every professional sportsman: "When I broke my leg and had my kneecap injuries," says Gazza, already in post-career denial, "people went around saying I was finished." Still, the perks are great: who but a millionaire footballer could afford the dress - 200 metres of pink tulle, 30,000 pearl and glass beads?

The third age of trouble and strife, alas, comes to them all. Here is Kathy Botham, interviewed [in the Daily Mirror] in 1992, on living with an obsessive: "I just got totally fed up that our whole lives revolved around Ian and cricket. His clothes, medical, training sessions, every phone call, every word spoken seemed to be about cricket ... until you can't stand it any more and tempers flare. No matter what people say, to the true professional, cricket comes first and the family are secondary. And that is hard to swallow." And in the words of Dr Chris Shambrook, lecturer in sports psychology at the University of Brighton: "The spouse is often a great psychological support but doesn't get any of the limelight."

Then there is the relentless laddishness - Dr Shambrook calls it "team bonding". No one knows this better than Frances Edmonds, married for 20 years to the former England cricketer Phil Edmonds and author of a bestselling account of the 1986 West Indies test series, Another Bloody Tour. "As a hangover from either the sheer meanness of the TCCB or the old days when everyone had been to public school, they share rooms," she said earlier this year. "Two large men in a hotel room, cricket gear all over the place, dirty jockstraps, one wanting to go to bed early, the other coming back at three in the morning - it must be obnoxious. They start giving each other nicknames - Beefy, Lamby, Fender - it's fairly puerile."

And men behaving badly on tour can be worse than jockstraps: the Imran Khan libel trial has rehashed old allegations about Beefy Botham's sex- and-coke romp with the former Miss Barbados. (The subtitle of his autobiography is "Don't Tell Kath".) And sports groupies are everywhere: the ex-footballer Lee Chapman, married to the actress Leslie Ash, was linked last year to a bird in Ibiza.

No wonder that sportsmen can't cope with the mundane, post-game reality of married life and are sent off with red cards: Brenda Gooch, Julia Carling, Gill Faldo, all ended as sporting divorcees. Mandy Smith, 26, lasted two years with the footballer Pat Van Den Hauwe, aka Psycho. "When you first meet," she says, "they're on a high. Even if they've lost - it's adrenalin. You see the brilliant side. The downside is the day after. They've got aches and pains, they're grumpy. If they're not having a great season or they've got an injury, it's a nightmare. Stress can bring a dodgy side out."

Or how about Penny Moore, whose honeymoon with the rugby player Brian "Pitbull" Moore was one of only two holidays during their three-year married life? "Rugby does place a heavy burden on wives," he said last year, following the couple's separation. "They get the back end of everything - of players who are tired after working and training, irritable and edgy around big games. They are away for substantial periods of time and can't have holidays because rugby has eaten into their holiday time. The wives exist in a world which is very male-dominated and where they can only possibly have an indirect input because they don't play rugby. They take on that combination of things without any reward at all."

Somehow, a few miraculous women make it as long-term sporting wives. Why? Well, options for the self-sacrificing wife who has given up her career to keep the family together are few. "I think I've been honest enough to say that if it weren't for the children," said Kathy Botham earlier this summer, "I might have packed my bags and gone, because at times it did get too much. But then you've got to ask yourself, if I do that, what am I going to do? I'd given up my college career and I was one of those people who'd got O-levels and A-levels but had no idea what she wanted to do with her life."

But, hey, it's not all bad - even for Kathy. "He's very thoughtful. Little things, like he goes off to the Far East quite a lot and I always get my Singapore orchids back. He remembers perfume and he's only ever once forgotten my birthday," she says, "which isn't bad really for a man."


"These guys have got one CSE in woodwork. What have I got to say to them?" (Frances Edmonds on England cricketers.)

"You get tired of clubbing and chasing girls, but if you want to, motor racing's a great place to start." (Racing driver Damon Hill.)

"People don't appreciate what it is like being married to a footballer. I was very happy living in Manchester and then all of a sudden I was off." (Claire Ince, whose husband Paul was bought by Inter Milan last year.)