Huge crowds welcomed back members of the victorious Pakistan team after a successful Champions Trophy campaign. Thousands thronged different cities across the country as ten players landed after weeks of downs and ups in England. And thousands gathered outside the residence of skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, who proudly held aloft the trophy his team had won by defeating India in a one-sided final.Pakistan celebrated their victory and they deserved to. They earned it. But there is more to celebrate for a country that has long been left frustrated by the inability of their players to stay in sync with the modern-day game – the influence of extreme religiosity influenced by the presence of the Tableeghi Jamaat, is finally on the wane.WHAT IS THE TABLEEGHI JAMAAT?Tableeghi Jamaat or TJ a movement which was started in 1927 by Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi in India. Wikipedia describes TJ as “a non-political global Sunni Islamic missionary movement that focuses on urging Muslims to return to primary Sunni Islam, and particularly in matters of ritual, dress, and personal behaviour. The organisation is estimated to have between 12 million and 150 million adherents (the majority living in South Asia), and a presence in somewhere between 150 and 213 countries. It has been called “one of the most influential religious movements in 20th century Islam.”The cricket world had noticed a sudden shift in focus in the Pakistan team setup under Inzamam-ul-Haq, who took over as captain in 2004. In the next three years till he retired, players were actively encouraged to offer their namaz (prayers) in full public view. Cricketers grew beards, thanked the Lord before post-match speeches and apparently did not even spend much time at the gym honing their fitness.advertisementHowever, the TJ influence dates back to Waqar Younis’ reign as captain, who had brought on board Saeed Anwar, who was grieving the death of his daughter. The stylish left-handed opener then spent time recruiting team members into their fold and the religious transformation of a cricket team was underway.The impact of Islamist practices in the cricket structure has long remained a talking point in Pakistani circles.Back in 2013, the Dawn had reported former Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)chairman Shaharyar Khan in his book “The Cricket Cauldron” wrote of the religious movement in the team. In the 2003 World Cup, Anwar had told his teammates to loud applause that “angels will descend and help Pakistan win the Cup.”CONSEQUENCES OF RELIGIOUS EXTREMESPakistan were knocked out in the first round after winning only against Holland and Namibia, Waqar was removed as skipper and many of their other stalwarts bowed out. Inzamam only took over in 2004 (after a brief stint by Rashid Latif) and under him, key players were kept out in the cold because they did not subscribe to his hardcore interpretation of religion.Inzamam led Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup and again, the team exited in the first round, this time having to deal with the humiliation of losing to Ireland.Pakistan’s performances had started to dip sharply from 2003 and the terror attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009, further pushed things back for Pakistan. No international team has since gone back to play in that country except for Zimbabwe in 2015 for short limited-overs series. Consequently, the team suffered. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) became their home base, the domestic cricket structure, never a strong suit to begin with, plunged further.Under Inzamam’s leadership, Yousuf Youhana, a Dalit Christian, converted to Islam. Shaharyar, in his book, explained, Yousuf was inspired by the message of Islam being propagated by the then captain. More importantly, Yousuf believed conversion would help him become captain at some stage.Pakistan, blessed with the flamboyance of men like Imran Khan and Wasim Akram, were quickly being wiped off the cricketing map. Imran and Akram represented different eras of swag, glamour and inflicted fear and charm in equal measure. They were serious international celebrities and were showered with adulation wherever they went. Pakistan cricketers of subsequent generations failed to inspire similar feelings of awe.HINDU LEG-SPINNER VICTIMISEDThen there was the case of leg-spinner Danish Kaneria. He was banned for life by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) back in 2012 after being accused of trying to influence some of his teammates at Essex to indulge in spot fixing. Kaneria continues to deny his involvement and last year it was reported he was desperate for the BCCI to step in and help him after being ignored by the PCB.However, Kaneria later denied making any such statement but the talented leggie continues to battle it out on his own without any kind of assistance from the PCB.advertisementThe Kaneria episode is in stark contrast to Mohammad Amir, who was jailed for his role in the spot-fixing scandal of 2010 but subsequently returned into the international fold and played a key role in Pakistan’s Champions Trophy triumph.Amir, undoubtedly talented, was backed to the hilt by PCB and the team management despite a far more serious offence while Kaneria has been left to fend for himself despite denying the charges laid down by the ECB.PAKISTAN CRICKETERS TRIED TO CONVERT INTERNATIONAL STARSAfter an ODI against Sri Lanka in 2014, Pakistan batsman Ahmed Shehzad had attempted to convert Tillakaratne Dilshan on the field. Shehzad had a shocking conversation with Dilshan as the teams left the field after a Sri Lankan victory. “If you are a non-Muslim and you convert, no matter whatever you do in life, you can go straight to heaven,” Shehzad was heard saying in a video that went viral. Dilshan’s response was barely audible but it was clear it did not please Shehzad, who said: “Then be ready for the fire.”It was perhaps not the only instance of a Pakistani player trying to convert players of other faiths from another country.Several other media reports had emerged after the Shehzad controversy which claimed Yousuf wanted to convert Australian cricketers. During Pakistan’s horror tour down under when they lost all three Tests, five ODIs and the one-off T20 International, Yousuf spent time chatting up the Aussies to see if they would convert.FEAR FACTOR LOST, ZERO CHARMThere came a phase in Pakistani cricket – 2003 onwards – which saw loss of form and charm. Shoaib Akhtar was fast, brutal and fun to watch – he refused to conform to the rigidity of the team leadership. According to Shaharyar, Younus Khan was another such star, who struggled to hold on despite his phenomenal record.With the advent of time and the emergence of Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan cricket found its footing again and shifted its focus solely back to the game. There are still traces of religiosity in the side but there is a sense of purpose.NEW DAWN FOR PAKISTAN CRICKET?A Test series victory in England was forged on the back of two old warhorses, who were determined to turn the tide. But the Champions Trophy glory will be owed to Pakistan’s new brigade, which is now eager to catch up with the rest of the world. They want to achieve what their slicker neighbours from India have achieved, they want to see where the fitness of Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya can take them.Zaman was in the Navy a decade back but now wants to be considered among the fiercest opening batsmen in world cricket. Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan and Hassan bowled with spite and venom and they looked fitter than an entire earlier generation of Pakistani pacers. Shadab’s fielding was electric and his confidence on the biggest stage unparalleled. The current cricketers have grown up watching Younus practice for hours, they are accustomed to watching Misbah sermonise on the art of perfection as cricketers and they are more open to the idea of learning from Kohli, David Warner and Steve Smith.advertisementThe new generation of Pakistan cricketers has seen the opportunity to make their name in a new world. There is a chance for them to build the old aura again. With time, the Fakha Zamans, the Shadab Khans and the Hassan Alis will perhaps inspire the same kind of adulation that their illustrious predecessors did, before Tableeghi Jamaat raised its head in the dressing-room.