August Issue 2010
Cricket’s Holy Men
On November 30, 2006, during Pakistan’s final Test against the West Indies, Mohammad Yousuf surpassed Viv Richards’s 30-year-old record and became the highest scorer in Test matches in one year. He also broke several other records. In the same year he hit 12 centuries, which is a world record for the most centuries in one calendar year. He also equalled former Australian batsman, Donald Bradman’s record, by scoring six centuries in consecutive Tests — and it took him only four matches compared to Bradman’s six.
No doubt it was an amazingly successful year for the middle-order batsman. But the day he broke Richard’s record, Yousuf declared that his golden form was a direct result of his conversion to Islam the previous year. “By becoming a Muslim I’ve found complete peace of mind and a focus that was missing before,” said Yousuf, formerly Yousuf Youhana, who was one of the few Christians to play Test cricket for Pakistan. Saeed Anwar, a former Pakistan Test batsman, was instrumental in drawing Yousuf towards Islam. “Saeed Bhai made me realise that Islam is a complete way of life. It teaches peace, wishes good for everyone and prescribes a code of conduct,” remarks Yousuf.
Yousuf’s decision to become a Muslim angered his family, but he went ahead with it. “I knew that my family members would be angry with me, but the broader thought was that this world is not our main destination. Success in this world does not count as true success and failure in this world is not real failure. The biggest truth in this world is death and the biggest deception is life.”
But while Yousuf celebrated his most successful cricketing year soon after finding peace in Islam, his mentor Saeed Anwar was unable to prolong his career after reverting to religion following the death of his daughter, Bismah. In an interview prior to his retirement, Saeed, who made history by scoring 194 runs in an ODI against India, said, “People say that becoming religious has affected my form. That’s not true. I never come late for practice sessions and I performed better than any other Pakistani batsman in the World Cup. The transformation doesn’t mean I am going to quit the game. I am not distracted.” Furthermore, he added, “After retirement, there is only one aim in my life, and that is to follow Allah’s path and to prepare for the Day of Judgement.” He feels that it is a big misfortune that many people in the West consider Islam a violent religion. “It is a moderate religion and I am not a fanatic or a jihadi.”
While it is understandable why Saeed turned to religion after the death of his daughter, Inzamam’s rabid enthusiasm for the Raiwind regime remains a mystery. The former Pakistan captain influenced his teammates as well and brought several of them, including flamboyant all-rounder Shahid Afridi, into the religious fold. In fact, Inzamam was criticised for focusing too much on religious activities during Pakistan’s disastrous tour of England in 2006. At the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, his critics, including the team’s media manager PJ Mir, alleged that Inzamam and company were more focused on preaching rather than on playing cricket. At one point during Inzamam-ul-Haq’s tenure as captain, allegedly there was so much preaching of Islam that Dr Nasim Ashraf, ex-chairman of the PCB, had to advise Pakistani players to strike a balance between religion and cricket. Inzamam, however, debunks such criticism and says that as a cricketer and Pakistan captain, he never forced anyone to pray or join his preaching missions.
Many cricket buffs still wonder why we had gone from a clean-shaven, good-looking and athletic cricket team to a bearded brigade in the Inzamam years. Most youngsters look up to the cricketers as icons and mentors. Maybe that is why the focus of the Raiwind regime was the superstars of the Pakistan cricket team. Who better than Inzy and Anwar to further the Tableeghi cause?
The writer is ranked among the battle-hardened journalists covering sports. As sports editor for The News, he covers sporting action extensively in Pakistan and abroad.