© Getty Images
From left: Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq, Wayne Parnell and Moeen Ali © Getty Images

It’s not uncommon for cricketers to look heavenwards on getting a hundred as thanksgiving to the Almighty, do the sign of cross, or take the field with shaven head following a divine offering. Cricketers also have taken to the social media platforms to wish during religious festivals like Diwali, Dussehra, Christmas and Eid. But there are some cricketers who have given far stronger expression to their religious beliefs. H Natarajan draws up a list of such cricketers.

Bishop of Liverpool and former England cricketer the Reverend David Sheppard © Getty Images
Reverend David Sheppard, the Bishop of Liverpool and former England cricketer, addresses the memorial service of England batsman Ken Barrington on April 28, 1981 © Getty Images

David Sheppard is the only Test cricketer to have been an ordained minister during his Test-playing days. The English and Sussex player converted to evangelical Christianity while studying at Cambridge between 1950 and 1952. Ordained in 1955, he continued to play Test cricket till 1963. He became Bishop of Woolwich in 1969 and Bishop of Liverpool in 1975. In 1998, he was elevated to a life peerage to be conferred the title Baron Sheppard of Liverpool.

AG Kripal Singh.
Kripal Singh shaved his beard, cut his long hair and stopped sporting the turban, after he fell in love with a Christian girl and converted to marry her.

AG (Amritsar Govindsingh) Kripal Singh, who played 14 Tests for India, converted to Christianity after falling in love and marrying a Christian girl. He stopped wearing the Sikh turban and shaved off his beard. This was sometime during his tenure as a Test cricketer between 1955 and 1964. He thus played Test cricket as a turbaned-bearded cricketer and later in his new avatar. However, he is believed to have practiced both religions, though Amritsar Govindsingh reportedly gave way to a name — Arnold George.

Saeed Anwar © AFP
Saeed Anwar © AFP

Saeed Anwar found peace in Islam after the death of his infant daughter.  Last year, he arrived at a training camp of Pakistan fast bowlers at the National Stadium with a group of Islamic preachers and gave a religious sermon to the bowlers. “The idea of talking to the players was to tell them how important it is as a Muslim for us to follow the teachings of Islam. I told them they can improve as human beings and become better players if they followed the principles of Islam in their life,” Anwar said later.

Mohammad Yousuf © Getty Images
Yousuf Youhana, a staunch Christian, converted to Islam during his playing days and changed his name to Mohammad Yousuf © Getty Images

Yousuf Youhana, a born Christian, embraced Islam in 2005-2006 and changed his name to Mohammad Yousuf. When he was still a Christian, it was a familiar sight to see Youhana do the sign of the cross on completing his hundred. But since embracing Islam, he has sported a flowing beard and been a devout follower of his new religion. His wife Tania also converted, adopting the Islamic name Fatima.

Musthaq Ahmed, Saqlain Musthaq, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi all became prominent faces of Islamisation that was rapidly spreading in Pakistan cricket — a far cry from the 1960s and ‘70s when most of the big Pakistan cricketers played county cricket and embraced the liberal Western culture. Besides their appearance, modern Pakistan players keep using words like Inshallah (God willing) and Bismillah (in the name of Allah) when they speak at presentation ceremonies and media conferences. They even pray together as a team.

Notice Hashim Amla’s (left) shirt front and sleeve and see the missing elements when compared to AB de Villiers shirt. A practicing Muslim, Amla does want anything to do with the liquor manufacturers’ logo on his body. Liquor is taboo in Islam and Amla does not even take any money arising from the sponsorship deal from his board © Getty Images
Notice Hashim Amla’s (left) shirt front and sleeve and see the missing elements when compared to AB de Villiers shirt. A practicing Muslim, Amla does want anything to do with the liquor manufacturers’ logo on his body. Liquor is prohibited in Islam and Amla does not even take any money arising from the sponsorship deal from his board © Getty Images

Hashim Amla does not wear a Castle logo on his cricket shirt while representing South Africa. Liquor goes against the teachings of Islam, and Amla, a devout Muslim who prays five times a day, does want to do anything with the liquour-manufacturing company or its logo. In fact, he does not take any money earned by the South African cricket board from the sponsors [Castle].

Wayne Parnell © Getty Images
Wayne Parnell gave up Christianity to turn into a Muslim © Getty Images

Wayne Parnell converted to Islam on July 30, 2011and has now taken the name Wayne Waleed Parnell. Mohamed Moosajee, himself a Muslim and manager of the South African team had said Parnell’s Muslim teammates Amla and Imran Tahir had not influenced the pacer’s decision to convert from Christianity.

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Moeen Ali wears the “Save Gaza” wrist band during the third Investec Test at Ageas Bowl on July 28, 2014 in Southampton, England. The ICC quickly stepped in and asked Moeen to stop wearing the band © Getty Images

Moeen Ali is using his prominence as a cricketer to do good for his religion. The England all-rounder told Mail Online recently: “I wear the beard as a label. Religion is very important to me. One of my aims is to try to show that you can have faith and play cricket. There can be a lot of negativity and misunderstanding of Islam. I feel my job as a Muslim is to change that and show people what my faith is really like. A lot of what is said and written is ridiculous but that’s life. I just get on with it and try to be as positive as I can.” Moeen wore wristbands that read “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine”, during England’s first innings of the third Test against India at the Rose Bowl in Southampton—an action which immediately drew censure from the International Cricket Council (ICC), who asked the player to stop wearing the band in future.

Ahmed Shehzad © Getty Images
Ahmed Shehzad © Getty Images

Ahmed Shehzad stands unique in this list as he is the first known instance of a player advising a player of the opposition team the virtues of a particular religion, when the player belonged to another religion. Shehzad’s impromptu discourse to Tillakaratne Dilshan about the virtues of Islam as Pakistan and Sri Lankan players were heading back to the pavilion after the conclusion of the final One-Day International (ODI) match at Dambulla, went viral.

While the players were heading to the dressing room, Shehzad was caught on camera telling Dilshan, “If you are a non-Muslim and you turn Muslim, no matter whatever you do in your life, straight to heaven.” The Lankan’s response was inaudible on the video, but Shehzad retorted, “Then be ready for the fire.”

(H Natarajanformerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/hnatarajan)