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
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
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
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.