Inzamam refuted comments made by new Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Nasim Ashraf regarding finding a balance between players' faith and sporting activities, and that players should not feel under pressure to be religious.

 

"I have never forced anyone to offer prayers, nor have I linked selection in the team to religion. This is not correct at all," Inzamam said in an interview with the BBC's Urdu service.

 

"Those who are saying these things have never offered prayers, nor have they any link to Islam, which does not force anyone.

 

"Look at the players yourself. Just three players who toured England - Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi and myself, have beards, and our prayers and religious activities have never stopped a match," added the 36-year-old.

 

Ashraf, who recently took over from Shaharyar Khan as PCB chief, had commented on the religion question last week in a television interview with CNBC Pakistan.

 

"There is no doubt their religious faith is a motivating factor in the team. It binds them together. But there should be a balance between religion and cricket," Ashraf said.

 

The chairman also said he had told Inzamam "clearly that there should be no pressure on players who don't pray regularly, or any compulsion on them to do it under pressure".

 

"I have told him there should be no perception among players that if they don't pray they will not be in the team and Inzamam has assured me there is no pressure on anyone to do anything they don't want to do," Ashraf added.

 

Religious origins

 

Mohammad Yousuf kisses the
pitch after scoring a century

The issue of religion in Pakistan cricket arose last year when batsman Yousuf converted to Islam from Christianity, changed his name from Yousuf Youhana, grew a beard and started bowing on the pitch after making big scores.

 

Pakistan cricketers were typified by playboy and legendary all-rounder Imran Khan in the 1980s, who has become increasingly devout in his new career as a politician.

 

Following the death of his daughter in 2001, former opening batsman Saeed Anwar joined a preaching group, which turned more teammates towards religion.

 

These players included former spinners Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq, who now sport beards and preach Islam in England, while Anwar also persuaded Yousuf to convert from Christianity.

 

The Pakistani players attend religious congregations on a regular basis and are often seen offering prayers in public, as well as having a special prayer room set up in their hotels.