Champion of Innovative Cricket

Author: Syed Atiq ul Hassan

Tape-ball cricket, a remarkable innovation by Pakistanis, is now gaining popularity in Australia. Pakistan has not only produced legendary cricketers but also introduced tape-ball cricket as a recognized form of short-format cricket. This unique version of the game has its roots in the streets of Karachi and has evolved into a beloved pastime, reflecting the ingenuity and passion of Pakistani cricket enthusiasts.

Since its inception, Pakistan has produced numerous legendary cricketers, from the “Little Master” Hanif Muhammad to the world-class Imran Khan. These players have not only brought glory to their nation but have also introduced new techniques and strategies that have enriched the game of cricket. Pakistan is known for its top batsmen, all-rounders, and bowlers, who have showcased their talent in cricket-loving nations. Street boys in Karachi invented tape-ball cricket by wrapping electrical tape around a tennis ball, creating a unique and accessible version of the sport that allowed them to play in confined urban spaces.

Historically, Pakistan has introduced many new techniques in bowling and batting. In pace bowling, legends like Fazal Mehmood, Sarfraz Nawaz, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, and Shoaib Akhtar revolutionized the game. Wasim Akram’s reverse swing was unparalleled, making him one of the most feared bowlers of his time. Shoaib Akhtar, known as the “Rawalpindi Express,” became the first bowler to deliver a ball at the speed of 161.3 km/h (100.2 mph) against England in the 2003 World Cup, securing his place in cricket history and earning accolades for his raw speed and aggressive style.

In spin bowling, Pakistani cricketers introduced new styles, such as the googly in leg-spin by the legendary Abdul Qadir and the doosra in off-spin by Saqlain Mushtaq. These innovations changed the face of spin bowling worldwide, making Pakistani spinners a formidable force in international cricket. Abdul Qadir’s mastery of the googly baffled batsmen, while Saqlain Mushtaq’s doosra added a new dimension to off-spin bowling, making him a pioneer in the art.

When it comes to batting, Pakistan has produced renowned names like Hanif Muhammad, Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Asif Iqbal, Wasim Raja, Javed Miandad, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq, and today, Babar Azam. Javed Miandad earned his reputation as a master of singles and doubles, with exceptional running between the wickets. He introduced the reverse bat shot in international cricket, a tactic that added a new level of excitement and strategy to the game. When Kerry Packer launched the World Series Cricket in the 1970s, he contracted five top Pakistani cricketers, recognizing their talent and appeal.

In addition to record-making achievements in world cricket, Pakistanis introduced tape-ball cricket in the 1960s. Even neighbouring Indians were unaware of tape-ball cricket for many decades. The history of tape-ball cricket began in the streets of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. Boys would gather in the evenings and during school holidays to play cricket on streets, empty roads, parks, and grounds. They created the tape ball by wrapping electrical tape around a tennis ball, leading to the name “tape-ball cricket.” This innovative solution allowed them to play cricket in smaller, confined spaces without the risk of breaking windows or causing damage, making the game accessible to a wider audience.

Initially played only in Karachi, tape-ball cricket soon spread to other cities and towns across Pakistan. Over time, this informal pastime for street boys evolved into a formal sport with tournaments and competitions in major cities like Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and Peshawar. The simplicity and low cost of tape-ball cricket made it an ideal sport for youth from all backgrounds, fostering a love for the game that transcended socio-economic barriers.

When Kerry Packer launched the World Series Cricket in the 1970s, he contracted five top Pakistani cricketers, recognizing their talent and appeal.

Tape-ball cricket is generally a short-format game of 6 to 8 overs, with teams of 6 to 10 players. Today, it is a popular formal game in Pakistan, played by both boys and girls. Sporting clubs organize tape-ball cricket tournaments in major cities, with the most famous tournaments held during the holy month of Ramadan. These tournaments often take place at night, providing a festive atmosphere where communities come together to celebrate their shared love for cricket. Many big corporate companies sponsor these tournaments, offering substantial prize money for winners and runners-up, further elevating the status of tape-ball cricket.

In recent decades, tape-ball cricket has crossed Pakistan’s borders and gained popularity in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the UAE, and England. Now, it is also being introduced in Australia, with Pakistani migrants and descendants playing a significant role in promoting the game in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. These expatriate communities have brought their passion for tape-ball cricket to their new homes, organizing informal games and local tournaments that attract players from diverse backgrounds.

Cricket NSW has recognized the popularity of tape-ball cricket among South Asian communities and decided to promote it as a fun and festive activity to celebrate multiculturalism and engage children and youth from non-cricket-playing backgrounds. This initiative aims to foster a sense of community and inclusivity, using the universal appeal of cricket to bridge cultural divides.

The initiative for the tape-ball cricket competition was proposed by a Pakistani descent, Suffan Hassan, a Multicultural Engagement Specialist at Cricket NSW. After thorough feasibility and viability studies, Cricket NSW is set to introduce this competition for the first time in NSW under the Big Bash League (BBL) franchise Sydney Thunder. The launch will take place at Cricket Central, located in Sydney Olympic Park. This strategic location will ensure that the event is accessible to a large number of participants and spectators, further boosting its visibility and impact.

The introduction of the tape-ball cricket competition under Sydney Thunder aims to significantly boost the popularity of tape-ball cricket in multicultural NSW. The NSW Government and Multicultural NSW are also supporting this innovative sporting project, recognizing its potential to enhance community engagement and promote physical activity among youth.

The launch event will feature a vibrant cultural festival, expected to attract cricket-loving families from diverse communities. This event will not only involve playing and watching tape-ball cricket but also showcase traditional Pakistani festivities, making it a fun-filled day for youth and families. Attendees will have the opportunity to experience Pakistani music, food, and other cultural activities, creating a rich and immersive cultural experience.

The inclusive approach ensures that the event is accessible to all, promoting wider participation and community engagement.

Cricket NSW invites everyone to attend the launch of the Tape-Ball League and Cultural Festival. The six-week-long “Sydney Thunder Tape Ball League” tournament will commence on August 26 at Blacktown International Sports Park. This tournament will provide a platform for talented tape-ball cricketers to showcase their skills and compete at a high level, further raising the profile of the sport.

The introduction of tape-ball cricket in Australia represents a significant step in the globalization of this innovative version of cricket. By embracing tape-ball cricket, Australia not only acknowledges the contributions of its South Asian communities but also enriches its own sporting culture. The success of this initiative could pave the way for similar programs in other parts of the world, promoting a more inclusive and diverse cricketing community.

The writer is a Sydney-based journalist, political analyst, writer, and author.

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