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‘Team needs to keep a balance between religion and cricket’

October 22, 2006

LAHORE, Oct 21: The Pakistan Cricket Board chairman, Dr Nasim Ashraf has expressed his concern about a perception that players only get selected in the Pakistan team on grounds of being devout Muslims.

He has told the national team in clear terms to stop exhibiting religious beliefs in public and has discussed the matter with captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, who is currently serving a ban from the game.

"I have told him (Inzy) clearly that there should be no pressure on players who don't pray regularly or any compulsion on them to do it," Ashraf commented in a recent interview.

"He has assured me there is no pressure on anyone to do anything they don't want to do."

The importance of religion to the Pakistan team has grown in recent years with former opener Saeed Anwar and spin twins Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed emerging as devout Muslims, undertaking regular community tours for preaching of Islam.

And more recently, batsman Mohammad Yousuf, a former Christian, made headlines in 2005 when he revealed his conversion to Islam. Nonetheless, the suspicion persists among sections of the Pakistani media and the country's minority communities that the number four batsman was pressured into changing faith. Others have accused the team of overtly demonstrating their commitment to Islam as a means of avoiding heavy criticism when results go against them.

The PCB chief said that while he accepted religious faith was a motivating factor for the national team, it was necessary to strike a balance somewhere. "It binds them together, but there should be balance between religion and cricket," he added.—Agencies