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Smokers’ Corner: Faith in cricket

Published Jul 14, 2013 09:54am


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Much has been written about the spectacle of religiosity in the Pakistan cricket team. Most scribes who still write about it suggest that acts of religious exhibitionism by Pakistani cricketers began to wither away once the team’s captain, Inzamamul Haq, retired from the game in 2007.

However, while researching the phenomenon, I noticed that a number of writers who have written about the issue treated it as a sudden, overnight happening that crept into the team when Inzamam was made captain in 2004.

Perhaps the most complete and authentic account in this context recently arrived in the shape of a book: The Cricket Cauldron by diplomat and former chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Shaharyar Khan.

Khan was made the Chairman of the PCB by General Parvez Musharraf, after the Pakistan team was eliminated in the first round of the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.

Rameez Raja was made the CEO of the board. Khan came in when the Pakistan team had lost the services of a number of renowned players. The team had to be rebuilt almost from scratch.

Wicketkeeper Rashid Latif had replaced Waqar Younis as captain after the 2003 World Cup, but he didn’t last long. He was soon replaced by the classy stroke-maker, Inzamamul Haq.

Khan writes that contrary to popular belief, Inzamam was not the sole architect of the so-called Islamisation of the Pakistan cricket team.

Though between the 1970s and late 1990s, Pakistan cricket teams were famous (and at times notorious) for their flamboyant and colourful lifestyles and cricketing skills, Khan informs that it was actually during captain Waqar Younis’ tenure that the Islamic evangelical outfit, the Tableeghi Jamaat (TJ), made its initial moves to ‘Islamise Pakistan cricket’.

TJ’s first bona fide cricketing member, the dashing opener, Saeed Anwar (who had joined the outfit in 2001), was given the task by Waqar to use faith as a motivational tool. Anwar was also allowed to openly recruit other players for the TJ.

Khan, who was the manager of the team during the 2003 World Cup, first noticed this during a bus ride. The bus was taking the team to the ground where it was to play its first game of the tournament.

According to Khan, Anwar, who had begun to sport a long beard, walked up to the front of the bus and announced that ‘angels will descend and help Pakistan win the Cup.’ Everybody applauded.

A few weeks later when the Pakistan team had lost most of its games and was eventually eliminated from the tournament, Khan jokingly asked Anwar what had happened to the angels that he said would descend and help Pakistan win.

Without smiling back, Anwar sombrely replied that the angels hadn’t appeared because they (the players) were not good Muslims (!)

Khan then explains in detail why and how Inzamam, (despite the angels failing to stoop down), retained the tactic of using religion as a strategic tool to instill unity in the squad when he was made captain.

After joining the TJ, the new captain at once began to draft a number of players into the organisation’s fold and asked them to start holding joint prayers (in public view) and attend lectures delivered by various TJ preachers.

In an interesting confession, Khan claims that both Rameez and he initially encouraged the trend believing it to be a good way of fortifying discipline and unity in the squad.

However, Khan writes that in 2006 he became perturbed by the religiosity aspect when it grew two-fold and began to be used as a way for Inzamam to gauge a player’s loyalty to him.

Khan explains how many players began to grow beards and openly exhibit their religiosity just to be in Inzamam’s good books, whereas those players who refused to do so were ostracised.

The ostracised members did not only include wild, ‘party-animals’ like Shoaib Akhtar, but Younis Khan as well who preferred to keep his faith a private matter.

Khan also writes that Inzamam was weary of his vice-captain, Younis Khan, because the press thought that Younis would make a more positive and attacking captain than Inzamam.

Then there were those who were completely kept out of the squad by Inzamam. Players like Hassan Raza and current Pakistan captain, Misbahul Haq, were kept out because (according to Khan) as they had more education and exposure than most players and would not have readily fallen into the kind of religious conformism that Inzamam had instilled into the team.

Khan also relates how all-rounder, Rana Naveedul Hassan, and medium-pacer, Rao Iftikhar, suddenly grew beards to keep their place in the squad that travelled to the West Indies for the 2007 World Cup.

Pakistan was ousted in the first round of the tournament and Inzamam had to retire. Shaheryar claims that though Inzamam had left behind a number of TJ enthusiasts in the squad, only Shahid Afridi (who was recruited by TJ in 2005), Salman Butt (who didn’t join TJ but was a staunch supporter), and Mohammad Yousuf stuck to the Jamaat’s social and moral dictates.

Most other players almost immediately shed off their religious pretences with Rana even going to the extent of getting a stylish hair transplant and sticking a diamond stud in one of his ears!

Nevertheless, though refusing to use religion the way Inzamam did, players such as Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez have retained the practice of praising God during post-match TV interviews (albeit only when the team wins or they bag a man of the match award), This practice was first suggested by the TJ to Waqar Younis and then made mandatory by Inzamam.

Khan concludes by informing that today the team culture has become far more relaxed, especially under Misbah, who is an extremely private man and keeps his religious beliefs to himself.

The religious-minded players in the squad are free to practise their faith privately and nobody is forced to exhibit religion or mix it with cricket.


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Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and He is also the author of two books on the social history of Pakistan, End of the Past and The Pakistan Anti-Hero.

He tweets @NadeemfParacha

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (50) Closed

Nony Jul 14, 2013 10:38am

Astagfirullah, how could NFP or anyone suggest "The religious-minded players in the squad are free to practise their faith privately and nobody is forced to exhibit religion or mix it with cricket.". We in Pakistan cannot breathe without bringing in religion into everything. A nation which thinks their God would be happier if they praise him publically, sounds much like a fame loving developing nation

W G Anwar Jul 14, 2013 10:57am

Splendid article.

Like the rest of our failings, its a case of which comes first: the chicken or the egg - the angels or being good Muslim first. Since clearly, for the past many centuries, our record of being good Muslims has been abysmal so the angels have decided to remain at bay.

Well-Wisher Jul 14, 2013 11:08am

I wonder how people manipulate others by saying, if angle did not come it means your are not good muslims, if comes then you are.!!!

Most important point is, we can all see there are millions non muslims people in world who are successful (means angles are coming to help) and they are not muslims, leave alone good muslims....

ghani Jul 14, 2013 11:12am

ex DG ISI General (R) Javed Nasir was pivotal in bringing Tableeghi Jamat's influence in Pak cricket team.

Mariz Jul 14, 2013 11:13am

@Nony: Aameen. As Zaid Hamid saab would say, Ahmadulliah, bahut khoob.

yousuf panawala Jul 14, 2013 11:56am

Religion is a private and personal matter as I see. I have experienced that those who exhibit that they are a good muslim and wear beard. I had this experience with such a wheat flour chakki wala in Dhraji colony. I was very impressed by his looks/shop decoration but the aata he supplied carried traces of "BHUSI CHAPPAD'

anon Jul 14, 2013 12:29pm

"Without smiling back, Anwar sombrely replied that the angels hadn

Akhtar Javed Jul 14, 2013 12:40pm

Well written NFP. How someone can say that angels didn't come to help you because you were not good Muslims.

taranveer singh Jul 14, 2013 01:06pm

hard work makes us successful. not the Angels

taranveer singh Jul 14, 2013 01:06pm

hard work makes us successful. not the Angels

Ali S Jul 14, 2013 01:24pm

I quote from the article: "...though Inzamam had left behind a number of TJ enthusiasts in the squad, only Shahid Afridi (who was recruited by TJ in 2005), SALMAN BUTT (who didn

G.A. Jul 14, 2013 01:25pm

@taranveer singh: No sir. Hard work makes you successful. For us its the angels - when they decide to show up that is. After all, we are the citadel of peace and tranquility and lots of milk and lots of honey.

G.A. Jul 14, 2013 01:27pm

They say that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. I say, so is overt religiosity.

Rajiv Kaushal Jul 14, 2013 01:58pm

I wonder, angels helping Dhoni with anything he does... looks like today he is the greatest muslim in cricket...

Naveed A. Jami Jul 14, 2013 02:02pm

I never had an interest in Cricket and still have none. I cannot make it out if this peace of writing is a satire or an informative one.

In my view a piece of writing loses its credibility when the same writer has different ways of addressing to some issues.

I was expecting something to laugh and amuse but it is a fact carrying article ( I hope so)

Naveed A. Jami Jul 14, 2013 02:03pm

I never had an interest in Cricket and still have none. I cannot make it out if this peace of writing is a satire or an informative one.

In my view a piece of writing loses its credibility when the same writer has different ways of addressing to some issues.

I was expecting something to laugh and amuse but it is a fact carrying article ( I hope so)

Capt C M Khan Jul 14, 2013 02:11pm

"Thanks be to Allah, boys played well today we lost by 5 wickets whereas in Durban we lost by 7 wickets"...Inzamam's famous post match comments during SA tour. I am as religous as anyone else but it will be EXTREMLY SELFISH of me to sell my religion while being on someone else's payrol. I only WISH our team had just maintined the PAKISTANI CULTURE instead of the IMPORTED TABLEEGE CULTURE maybe we would have done better.

W G Abbas Jul 14, 2013 02:34pm

This is what is happening to the Secular Republic of Pakistan after the demise of our beloved Zia ul Haq. Within 30 years there is nepotism, exploitation of rich by poor, no peace but warfare. Hence enslavement of our players to bowl over maiden after maiden and implement the soon to be introduced wajib-ul-qatil ICC rules which will come very handy against Infidel XI and non-Muslim teams.

Nasiroski Jul 14, 2013 02:41pm

Can someone please explain how Angels descent will help a Cricket team win a match, will they be 12th "man", bowl/bat or replace the umpire, throw banana peels (invisible offcourse) when the opponents are in the field?? What Pakistan is playing SA and Hashim Aamla is on the pitch (he definitely has his squad of angels), it will be ineteresting to watch angels vs angels.

cha cha cricket Jul 14, 2013 02:43pm

A fact that the writer missed out also that most of the players who grew beards were also named in Justice Qayum's report on match fixing in 1994. Saeed Anwer , Mustaq Ahmed, Inzimam, Waqar, Saqlain. Only Waseem akram and Waqar did not sport beards desoite being named in the report. The rest all have long long flowing beards. Was it a mere coincidence!!?

taimoor Jul 14, 2013 03:52pm

R.I.P. journalism.

Capt C M Khan Jul 14, 2013 04:35pm

@cha cha cricket: Thanks I never thought about this. If Inzamam becomes Chairman PCB one day I am sure he will request ICC to allow Pakistan team to play in Shalwr qameez's instead because all of a sudden Tight Clothes are not allowed on men anymore.

Zeem Jul 14, 2013 04:39pm

@Nasiroski: Real good! Angels vs Angels!

zalim singh Jul 14, 2013 05:28pm

great article. Angels seem to be helping India now. Even though there are no Muslim players in our team right now.

Avtar Jul 14, 2013 05:49pm

At least, Tableeghi Jamaat does not consider cricket to be an unIslamic sport! I wonder if this attitude permeates in all aspects of Pakistani life.

Ozz777 Jul 14, 2013 06:33pm

I wonder how many times NFP will keep harping on the same topic. I don't disagree with him but it's beginning to get a little 'stale'........

citizen Jul 14, 2013 07:20pm

I am always suspect of overt religiosity simply because you not only expose yourself but your own religion to the mockery that is on display in the comments here.

Pankaj Jul 14, 2013 07:28pm

@zalim singh: It seems only a non-muslim can be considered a good muslim by Islamic angels...... I wonder, why no - sensible person in Pakistan opposed Islamization of Pakistani Cricket Team......

Pankaj Jul 14, 2013 07:39pm

It seems, Islamic angels preferred clean shaven/playful IK over big beard/sadistic IH........ Women are women even if they are islamic angels.......They always go for looks and notoriety....:)

Ammar Jul 14, 2013 08:46pm

What is a 'good muslim'? I am sure any other definition than the one deviating from TJ's version wont be good enough for Saeed Anwar.

Khalil Sawant Jul 14, 2013 09:02pm

Waqar apparently looks to have a change of heart. I remember him keeping a short beard for a long time. Now, possibly after shifting to Australia, is completely clean shaven (wonder if the 40 days beard rule applies or not)

I also thought Shoaib Akhtar could have put up something of these team-private-religious stories in his biography, but I am not sure he has

Interestingly, two of the staunchest opponents of TJ influence, YK and MUH, are both Pathans

Also wonder how Salman Butt reconciles his staunch religiosity with his match fixing

Lastly if not for TJ, probably, the world would have got more of Saqlain Mushtaq

Observer Jul 14, 2013 09:45pm

@Avtar: Tablighi Jamati hashim Amla is a number one batsman in the world and who can you blame for pakistani batting failure! Shahid khan farid I today hit entertaining 76 runs happen to be TJ follower as well, it's not their religion practice bit their natural ability and hard work prove them great!

Malay Deb Jul 14, 2013 09:55pm

@zalim singh: I hope you are not suggesting that angels are helping Indian team because at the moment there is no Muslim player in the team. Just kidding. Md Nissar, Ghulam Ahmed, Pataudi Snr and Jnr., Abbas Ali Baig, Salim Durani, Abid Ali, Sayeed Kirmani, Azharuddin, Zaheer Khan, Pathan brothers, Md Kaif and many others have made us proud.

Malay Deb Jul 14, 2013 10:00pm

@G.A.: Excellent observation. Two thumbs up!!!

pathanoo Jul 14, 2013 10:35pm

@zalim singh: Be aware of the finicky angels.

pathanoo Jul 14, 2013 10:37pm

@Capt C M Khan: As long as he does not demand a TURBAN on their heads.

Sadaqat Al Balushi Jul 14, 2013 10:58pm

Unfortunately, in our society the relegion is taken more seriously then any thing else.I remember Salman Butt use torecite something when aball was about to be diiver to him , while he was batting.Many people in our societyadmired him.But honestly this showed a little bit of lack of confidence ,when a person start to think that Almighty woul hold his hand for hitting a boundry.Whatever Inzimam and copany has done during their tenure was praiseworthy , no doubt but this also has promoted grouping in the team, as suggested by Paracha , while quoting Sheryar Khan. One more problenm in our society is lack of education, that the proponents of jihad use the same thread of relegion to drag us into exteremism.As lack of education almost snatch the usage of one's mind, depriving him or her of the insight.There are socities which are more relegious then us , but ,surely they do not drag it into every thing, every matter.

anon Jul 14, 2013 11:07pm

"Without smiling back, Anwar sombrely replied that the angels hadn

anon Jul 14, 2013 11:09pm

@Ozz777: The problem of fundamentalism and religiosity in public domain is too big to be tackled by a single article. May he keep writing more.

Haroon Jul 14, 2013 11:53pm

funny, today i read one of NFP's articles about cricket and there were some hints in that about such a trend following from fazal mahmod and saeed ahmed

"Though not a religious man during his cricketing career, Fazal joined the Islamic evangelical organisation, the Tableeghi Jamat, in the late 1980s."

"In an interview to Grieg, Saeed told him that he had

Masood Hussain Jul 15, 2013 01:43am

S.Khan is right Religion was brought into the game by Saeed Anwar after his child's passing away, but it was Waqar Younis who promoted this trend seriously,He would start his every post match speech with loudly reciting Bismillah sharif, Fazal Mahmood first Grew beard and slowly started practicing rituals very late in life so was the case with Saeed Ahmed.

Observer Jul 15, 2013 02:18am

@Masood Hussain : What a brilliant performance by SHahid Afridi performance won the first ODI against West Indies , it was TJ electric got Afridi thunder in the game ,long live TJ!

Capt C M Khan Jul 15, 2013 02:22am

@ NFP ...your article today angered the Angels I guess...they descended in Guyana and helped Afridi to win man of match and prove all wrong...never mind if it was AFETR TWO YEARS of PATHETIC match after match losing performance though.

Capt C M Khan Jul 15, 2013 02:28am

@pathanoo: My dear freind his next demand will defiently be a "Turban" and then stopping the game at every prayer time in foreighn countries. The same countries whose citizens are shoot anytime they visit Pakistan.

sms Jul 15, 2013 03:02am

What's wrong in the observation that angel's didn't descend to help because the players were not good muslims? I think it's very likely .. actually I think they might have descended on the opposing team just to teach bad muslims a lesson.

NFP, please don't write such things -- this will pxxx them off even more.

Raj Patel Jul 15, 2013 03:11am

It is said in America that if one guy's thought is wearied then we can call him a crazy guy but if thoughts of mass are wearied then we call it as a religion. How tru it is.

Leela Jul 15, 2013 06:12am

@Ammar: True. pakistanis can never be true muslims. Ask the Arabs and they will tell you so!

SK Jul 15, 2013 07:01am

Nadeem, Isn't Hashim Amla a good example of sticking to his religious beliefs despite ridicule by people like Dean Jones but letting his bat do the talking rather than overt references to God or angels or whatever....

Ashok Jul 15, 2013 10:27pm

Religion is a personal matter and should never be discussed in worl place. . "Full stop"

Pankaj Jul 16, 2013 11:08am

I remember one of the related event: Salim Malick, then Pakistani Captain appologised from all the muslims of the world after loosing a match against Kafir India. I can understand it now after reading NFP article, what was going on inside Pakistan cricket. It seems Angels knew very well the dark motives behind Islamization of cricket and they refused to help such evil minded people and saved Islam from further disgrace.