When Mohammed Yousuf is at the wicket I often stop by the TV and watch, for he is one of the more graceful batsmen now playing. I thus caught snatches of the three long hundreds he scored against England earlier this summer, in the course of which at least two commentators referred to him as ‘Yousuf Yohana’. The error was human, for he had indeed played for many years under that name.
Before Yohana converted to Islam, a man from Madras (as it was then known) was the only cricketer to have played Test cricket under two religious affiliations. This was A. G. Kripal Singh, who made his debut for India in the mid 1950s as a bearded, turbaned, Sardar, and returned to the Test team some years later as a clean-shaven Christian. Where the Pakistani changed faith owing to the influence of his team-mate Saeed Anwar, the Indian had a more personal reason—it was in order to marry the woman he loved. Yousuf ’s name change is visible in the record books, although sometimes missed by the commentators. Did the other fellow also change his name? The scorecards suggest he did not, for before and after his conversion to Christianity he played under the name of ‘A. G. Kripal Singh’. However, a Madras cricketer I know, and who was a contemporary of Kripal’s, claims that while he did not change his initials, he did change what they stood for, ‘Amritsar Gurugobind’ becoming ‘Arnold George’.
More than two thousand men have played Test cricket. Yousuf and Kripal remain the only two to have played while practicing two different faiths. Some others have changed or modified their names while retaining their commitment to their ancestral religion. These include at least three other Pakistanis. That country’s first captain was Abdul Hafeez Kardar who, before Partition, had played for India on the 1946 tour of England under the name, simply, of ‘Abdul Hafeez’. Then there was Asif Iqbal who, before he migrated to Pakistan in the early 1960s, had appeared for Osmania University under the name of ‘A. I. Rizvi’. (Years ago, I came across a clipping from The Hindu, which described a dashing hundred he made under that name and for that team at the old Marina ground in Madras.) Then there was Asif’s close contemporary Majid Jehangir, who made his debut for Pakistan as a fast bowler, and later became an opening batsman while adding the surname ‘Khan’.
The cynical view—which I do not share—is that Yousuf Yohana changed his faith only so that he could captain his country’s cricket team. Oddly enough, Kardar, Asif and Majid all went on to captain Pakistan after changing their names. It is unlikely that Mohammed Yousuf is aware of this, for modern cricketers do not usually know much about the players of the past. However, it is an augury from which his supporters and admirers can take heart.
At least one Indian captain also changed his name. This was Mansur Ali Khan, who became the Nawab of Pataudi when not yet in his teens, owing to the early death of his father. The senior Nawab of Pataudi was in a very select list of Test cricketers—of those who had played for more than one country. An orthodox, careful, batsman, he had appeared for England in the 1930s, and went on to captain India in the 1940s.
At the crease the son was rather more of a dasher. He broke his father’s record for the most runs made in an Oxford season, then lost an eye in a road accident. He was still good enough to be chosen to play for India in 1961. This he did, under the name of ‘Nawab of Pataudi, junior’. The next year, he was unexpectedly elevated into the captaincy, when Nari Contractor was felled by a blow to the head from Charlie Griffith. This brought him into yet another select list–of fathers and sons who have led their countries in Test cricket.
Where Iftikhar Ali had only one series as captain of India, his son Mansur Ali stayed in the job for the better part of a decade. In 1971 he suffered a double demotion. In January of that year, he was replaced as captain of India by Ajit Wadekar; in December, he had his title taken away from him by the Parliament of India. To his credit, he fought his way back into the Test team and, in time, came to captain his country again. However, his last apperarances were not as ‘Nawab of Pataudi, junior‘, but as plain ‘M. A. K. Pataudi’.
If Pataudi’s was the most democratic name change undergone by a cricketer, surely the most charming was that effected by the England fast bowler Bob Willis. He made his first-class debut with the two Christian names his parents gave him. Then he spent a winter following Bob Dylan around the west coast of America. After he returned to England, and cricket, he changed his name by deed-poll to ‘Robert George Dylan Willis’. As it happens, Dylan is my favourite folk singer too. If I have not added his name to mine, it may only be because I never had a hope in hell of playing Test cricket for my country.