Pakistan’s minorities continue to aspire to become truly equal citizens and serve the country in every field. However, an area that is somewhat barren as far as the representation of minorities is concerned is sports — especially cricket, which is the country’s unofficial national game.
The last debut of a non-Muslim cricketer in Pakistan was 19 years ago. While those at the helm of affairs can put forth excuses of lack of talent, the general perception is that like in most fields, members of minorities are not given a fair chance when competing with the majority Muslim population.
Cricket — which unites the country almost like no other force — has only had a handful of non-Muslim players to-date.
Wallis Mathias was the first member of minorities to play international cricket for Pakistan. Starting at the age of 20 in November 1955, the noted fielder played 21 Test matches over the next seven years. The 64 and 45 runs the middle-order batsman scored in Pakistan’s win over West Indies in Dhaka in the 1958-59 season are still remembered. He also became the National Bank team’s first captain in 1969-70 and played until 1975-76 before becoming the team’s coach, selector and manager.
Duncan Sharpe was an aggressive right-hand batsman and wicketkeeper who played in the solitary series against Australia in 1959-60. He was also the top scorer in the first Test match at Dhaka but after the series he did not represent Pakistan again and migrated to Australia where he played for South Australia in Sheffield Shield from 1961 and 1966.
Antao D’Souza made his mark by scoring 76 runs in six Test matches and also claimed 17 wickets. He remains only the second player in cricket history whose batting average is more than his highest score. Later, D’Souza moved to Canada with his family.
Anil Dalpat debuted against England in Karachi in 1983-84. In his nine Test matches, he made 25 dismissals and scored 167 runs with the highest score of 52. He took 22 catches behind the stumps as well. He is also the first non-Muslim to represent Pakistan in One Day International (ODI) format of the game.
Sohail Fazal played two ODI matches and scored 32 against India in the sixth match of the 1989-90 Champions Trophy. In his debut match of the same series, he scored 24 runs off 34 balls. Sohail’s strike rate was 94.91 with an average of 28 runs.
Rusi Nausherwan Dinshaw played both unofficial Tests when Sri Lanka — the Ceylon — toured Pakistan in 1949-50. Later, he was also part of Pakistan’s first Test squad which toured India in 1952-53.
One of Pakistan’s greatest players, Yousuf Youhana, started his career against South Africa in February 1998. Before converting to Islam and becoming Mohammad Yousuf, the big-hitter would make the sign of the Christian cross every time he would make a half-century or century – giving hope to minorities’ members and showing a plural image of Pakistan. After becoming a Muslim in late 2005, he scored 1,788 runs including nine centuries the following year, breaking the 30-years-old record of West Indies’ legend Sir Vivian Richards. Later, following some disciplinary issues, he announced retirement from the sport.
To-date, Pakistan’s last international player from minorities was Danish Kaneria. He took 276 international wickets in 61 Tests and 18 ODIs, and also has over 1,000 first class wickets to his credit. The world class leg-spinner’s career ended abruptly, however, when he was struck with a life ban by the English Cricket Board after being found guilty of corruption in a spot fixing case.
Commenting on the issue, former cricketer and coach, Jalaluddin, said Pakistan’s cricket scene always had Hindu and Christian players but in sync with the discrimination-led migration of minorities in the country, the number of such players has reduced greatly.
Echoing the sentiment, former team manager and head of the Karachi City Cricket Association, Syed Sirajul Islam Bukhari, said it is a fact that most of the cricketers from minorities hailed from Karachi. He likened the decline in their numbers to the alleged fall in selection of players from Karachi in general.
Former cricketer and national record holder Nadeem Yousuf said Lal Kumar could be a substitute for Abdul Razzaq but he was neglected at the peak of his career for flimsy reasons. “Any player of any country never represents his or her religion but plays as an ambassador of the country,” he said, adding that discrimination in cricket must end so talented players from any religion or region have a fair shot at the pitch.