Yousuf begins new innings, as a Muslim

MULTAN — When Pakistan’s Mohammad Yousuf returned to international cricket in the first Test against England this weekend, it was with a new name and a new religion.

By (AFP)

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Published: Sun 13 Nov 2005, 10:34 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:36 PM

The cricketer formerly known as Yousuf Youhana converted from Christianity to Islam in August, joining prayers with team-mates including his captain Inzamamul Haq.

“For me it’s a new start to life. Embracing Islam has changed my whole life,” Yousuf, 31, told AFP.

Yousuf, previously the only Christian in the team, surprised many observers by his conversion. It leaves spinner Danish Kaneria, a Hindu, as the only non-Muslim in the team.

The switch also caused problems with his family, including his mother, who threatened to set herself on fire.

“Naturally it was big news for them and they were hurt. I hope things will improve,” said Yousuf, who now lives separately from his family in the eastern city of Lahore.

But Yousuf said he had never faced any problems in the team or with the fans — either as a Christian in 97 per cent Muslim Pakistan — or now as a Muslim.

“I never faced any problems before and hope things will continue to remain good for me. On the field I look for more runs and off it I want to be a good Muslim,” he said. The only issue now is how he will be listed in the international cricketing annals, where changes of name are all but unheard of.

“Our policy at Wisden is that the player’s wishes should be paramount, but that we cannot go back and change a player’s name in retrospect,” said a spokesman for the Wisden Almanack.

“So for the upcoming Pakistan v England Tests, he’ll be Mohammad Yousuf. But for all games played before his conversion, he’ll remain Yousuf Youhana,” said the spokesman. Yousuf’s change in name caps a dramatic rags to riches tale.

Brought up in a poor family which lived in a one-room house in Lahore’s teeming old city, Yousuf almost started a career with a local tailor before destiny pointed him towards cricket.

He started playing in Bail Hatha, a Christian-dominated area and low-income settlement close to Lahore railway station, and was first spotted by former Test cricketer Azhar Khan.

“I first saw Yousuf play in a local match and realised that this was a boy who could go places. He has travelled a good distance in his career since then,” said Khan.

Before making his presence felt at domestic level, Yousuf was picked to play a warm-up match against England in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates, in 1997.

His half century did not make any headlines but his technique and approach to batting caught the eyes of the selectors, who picked him for Pakistan’s tour to South Africa and Zimbabwe a year later.

Ever since Yousuf has played 59 Tests for Pakistan scoring 4,272, besides accumulating 6761 runs in 202 one-day internationals and has become one of his team’s most reliable batsmen.

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