If cricket is a religion in India, can priests stay out of the game for long?
The archakas (temple priests) of Andhra have become the official openers, with a first-ever state-level cricket tournament being held at the coastal town of Rajamundry. Dhotis and angvastrams have come together with pads, gloves and helmets, literally.
The tournament got off to a promising start on Sunday at the Chambers of Godavari Timber Merchants grounds.
The tournament will follow the IPL 20/20 format. The finals will be held on May 20. The winners will get a cash prize of Rs. 12,000 and a trophy.
The only concession made was in the attire - with the priests choosing to play in their traditional garb. But for safety's sake, pads gloves and helmets had to be retained.
"This is a first-of-its-kind tournament and we had a fantastic response," said Mediraju Srinivas, the brain behind the idea.
"Thirty-three archakas-only teams responded. We finally allowed 20 to play."
Not all the teams are greenhorns.
Annavaram team leader Subba Rao, who presides over a major temple, said his team has won trophies in district-level competitions. Dwarka Tirumala team leader Ramakrishna said they have been playing for five years. The Bhimavaram team has even engaged former Ranji player Ravi Sarma as their coach.
"In many temples in the state, priests play cricket. We wanted to bring them under a common platform," said V Bhaskar Ram, chief patron, who also happens to be the president of Andhra Pradesh Table Tennis Association.
But when do priests get the time to play?
Believe it or not, religion itself has made room for cricket.
"This month is considered inauspicious by Telugu people and functions like wedding or house warming are avoided, keeping priests free," said Srinivas.
Howzzat for a googly?