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Cricket and religion
by Gulu Ezekiel
Oct 13, 2006
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh’s recent run in with the Sikh religious authorities is just another example of cricket’s links with organized religion.

The Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC), the custodians of Sikhism, publicly condemned Singh for appearing in an advertisement for a liquor product with his hair open.

This the SGPC has said goes against the Sikh model code of conduct forbidding a man appearing in public with his hair loose.

The most prominent manifestation of religious influence on a cricket team has been the devout and very public face of the Pakistanis.

Last year current vice-captain Mohammad Yousuf—formerly known as Yousuf Youhana--created a storm after announcing he had converted from Christianity to Islam.

Following the match fixing scandal of the late 90s, the Pakistan team came under the influence of the austere Tableeghi Jamaat missionaries from Raiwind, a small town near Lahore.

But Yousuf is not the only cricketer to start his career practicing one religion and end it with another.

The first known such instance was batsman AG (Amritsar Govindsingh) Kripal Singh who played 14 Test matches for India over a period of nearly 10 years, starting with a century on debut against New Zealand at Hyderabad in 1955.

Kripal made his debut as a Sikh in turban and full beard. But these were discarded by the time he played his final Test in 1964—he had converted after marrying his Christian secretary. He kept the same name but rumour has it the initials ‘AG’ now stood for Arnold George.

His father, two brothers and two sons all played first-class cricket for Tamil Nadu state.

Eyebrows were raised by the sight of South African batsman Mandy Yachad carrying a hot-pack of TV dinners slung round his shoulder at all functions when his country toured India for the first time in late 1991. Being orthodox Jewish Yachad had ‘kosher’ food packed from home that he brought with him on tour.

The opener played just one ODI for his country and had to retire from first-class cricket in 1994 as he found it difficult to play on the Jewish Sabbath (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown).

"I could not justify playing on the Sabbath when I taught my children it should be a day of rest," he said at the time of his retirement.

New Zealand’s Lancashire-born all-rounder Victor Pollard was a Baptist lay preacher who also refused to play cricket or football (he was a double international) on a Sunday. He retired from cricket in 1973 and is currently a member of the Christian Heritage Party.

Perhaps the most famous mix of cricket and religion came in the form of England batsman David Sheppard, later the Right Reverend Lord David Sheppard.

When he passed away last March a day before his 76th birthday, Sheppard who played in 22 Test matches, had risen to the rank of Bishop of Liverpool.

Other prominent examples include legendary West Indies fast bowler (Reverend) Wes Hall, South African pace ace and father of Shaun, Peter Pollock (a lay preacher) and late West Indies opening batsman Conrad Hunte who in the 1960s became a member of the ‘Moral Re-Armament’ (MRA) Christian spiritual movement.

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