It's not often the opportunity arises to write about cricket on a humanist blog, but reports in the Indian press following the conclusion of the recent Twenty20 World Cup certainly deserve a mention. India beat bitter rivals Pakistan by five runs in Monday's final in Johannesburg, and post-match comments by losing captain Shoaib Malik attracted the attention of some Indian sports writers. Asked for his thoughts on his team's defeat, Malik said: "First of all I'd like to thank people back home and the Muslims around the world. We gave our 100%".
That Pakistan's players felt they were competing on behalf of all the world's Muslims probably came as news to the millions of Indian Muslims celebrating their country's first international trophy since 1983, not to mention Muslim fans and players from the world's other cricketing nations. And what of non-Muslim Pakistanis? For one, Malik's team-mate, the spinner Danish Kaneria, is a Hindu. As one Christian blogger on Pakistaniat.com said: "How about Hindu and Christian Pakistanis in the US, Canada and Gulf who supported the Pakistan cricket team? Don't we count?"
To those who have observed the Pakistan cricket team in the past few years, Malik's remarks came as little surprise. There have been visible signs of increasing Islamisation of the team, especially under Malik's predecessor Inzaman ul-Haq, who often thanked Allah in interviews and regularly led his men in public prayers. In 2005 the batsman Mohammad Yousuf announced his conversion from Christianity to Islam, with many suggesting pressure from team mates may have played a part in the decision. Under ul-Haq, Malik was part of a group of players who joined the conservative sect Tablighi Jamaat.
Political scientist Imtiaz Ahmed, a scholar of Islamic trends in the sub-continent, believes such outward shows of Islam by the cricket team reflect general developments in Pakistani society. He told the India Times: "You cannot see Malik's remarks in isolation. Pakistani society has undergone rapid Islamisation in recent years. Malik was merely playing to the gallery and telling them that though they had lost the finals, they were still good believing Muslims."
For an excellent analysis of the current political crisis in Pakistan, read Maruf Khwaja's piece in the current issue of New Humanist.