Table of Contents
- In Karachi, Pakistan, tape-ball cricket is a popular sport played in the streets and parks.
- During Ramadan, makeshift floodlights transform basketball courts into cricket arenas, where matches are played all night until sehri, the pre-dawn meal consumed ahead of daytime fasting.
- The affordable alternative to hard-ball cricket has helped make the sport accessible to the everyday Pakistani, with many top players crediting street cricket as a positive influence on their techniques.
As the sun sets and the Taraweeh prayers come to an end, makeshift floodlights transform a central Karachi basketball court into an urban cricket arena, where dozens of young Pakistani men chase taped-up tennis balls zipping through the night air. This is the scene during Ramadan, when night tournaments pop up in most neighborhoods, providing entertainment for those who can’t sleep after breaking their fast.
Tape-ball games are ubiquitous across Karachi’s streets throughout the year, but Ramadan sees an increase in their popularity. The matches range from pick-up games on improvised concrete pitches to professional competitions on dusty ovals. The frenetic matches, which consist of four to six overs per innings, are concluded before sehri, the meal consumed ahead of daytime fasting.
Karachi’s street cricket scene thrives during Ramadan
Money is often involved in the matches, even though gambling is illegal in Pakistan. Big-hitting mercenaries are occasionally lured from surrounding neighborhoods to play under lights that craftily tap into overhead power lines. A tennis ball is tightly bound with electrical tape, giving it extra weight so it swings much like a cricket ball, yet is less damaging if it hits a spectator, window or even a passing rickshaw.
Matches played in the poorest neighborhoods can draw hundreds of spectators, with many onlookers admitting that watching cricket all night helps with the day’s fast. After Partition in 1947, cricket was considered the domain of the upper class, played at Karachi’s posh clubs and elite schools. But as the population boomed through the 1960s, cricket adapted to the sprawling metropolis, and tennis balls emerged as a substitute for the hard ball.
There is no consensus on when the first tape ball delivery was bowled or by whom, but legends abound — and the one thing historians and fans agree on is that it originated in Karachi. From legendary all-rounder Wasim Akram to modern-day pace star Shaheen Shah Afridi, many of Pakistan’s top players credit street cricket as a positive influence on their techniques.
“In cricket, there is a saying: ‘watch the ball’ — it doesn’t matter if it is a tennis ball or a taped ball or a hard ball,” said Pakistan national youth coach Mohammad Masroor. “If a batsman can hit any ball, he can play cricket.”
Watching young cricketers at a street pitch wedged between an elevated expressway and an apartment block in central Karachi, Masroor said rules adapted to the urban landscape hone a batsman’s skills. A hit back over the bowler’s head and beyond the residential area on the full is six runs, but only one run if the ball rebounds off the apartment building. Players must also beware of the “grumpy uncle or aunty” who is unwilling to return a ball hit into their home. A shot like that can cost a batsman more than just his wicket: they need to go buy a new ball, too.
Despite the challenges, the enthusiasm for tape-ball cricket in Karachi remains high, and the game continues to evolve. Whether it’s played on a street corner or in a makeshift stadium, tape-ball cricket has become an integral part of the city’s culture, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.
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