In Pakistan, other than the cricket played on a national and international level, there is a strong local culture of tape ball cricket, which is played in the streets and on open grounds. Tape ball cricket is played almost throughout the country because it’s cheaper (it doesn’t require a professional kit, which usually costs between 400 to 700 US dollars) compared to a professional club or domestic level cricket. Tape ball cricket is played with a taped tennis ball and a bat. It doesn’t require gloves or pads or helmets or proper grounds, which makes it accessible to all those who aspire to play the game.
There are different levels to how tape-ball cricket is played in the country. Some only manage to represent their local teams, while others, those who excel at it, play as open players for other teams throughout the province and country. Those open players charge money for their services in a competition. Those bowlers and batters who play as open players are also quite famous in the tape ball circles because they are not confined to playing for any one small local team. They clash with each other on several occasions in different high-voltage tournaments.
While there’s a large audience for the national cricket team of Pakistan as well as their domestic T20 competition, there’s also an audience for tape ball cricket. Many tape ball competitions pull a crowd of two to three thousand people. The crowds at these matches are pretty electric as they cheer for their favorite local talents. Usually, a tape ball match lasts for 16 overs, with eight overs allotted to each side, which makes it a quick affair. That is why multiple matches are conducted on a single day. The local commentators add flavor to the whole affair. Often, these commentators are known for their sharp wit and ability to engage the audience. It is a very immersive experience because the audience and players have access to the commentary, which does not happen in professional cricket. These commentators also use local poetry between serious match analyses, but more often than not, the commentary in these matches is a light-hearted affair. Commentators like Mirza Mukhtar Ahmed Bosalvi and Ejaz Kalu (whose particular “duzz! duzz! duzz!” reaction at a batter hitting a six went extremely viral online) are pretty well-known in the tape ball circles.
Facebook live has considerably influenced the popularity and accessibility of tape ball cricket. In the days before the arrival of online streaming, tape ball matches and the stories around competitions were confined to a very local space. Still, with Facebook pages dedicated to covering the competitions live, a massive growth of audience can sit and watch it live or save it to watch later on. Some competitions are streamed by 10 to 15 thousand people on Facebook. Another effect of that is the popularity of local tape ball players. Those who do well in these competitions are seen and appreciated by tape ball aficionados throughout the country. Facebook streaming has narrowed the gap between the audience and the action. Many open players are hired by teams from far off just on the basis of their performances that were streamed live on Facebook.
TikTok is another platform where many players put out their videos and short clips edited from Facebook live streams. The platform has a massive following of many famous tape ball players, with adoring fans in the comment section. Along with famous tape ball cricketers, there are also young boys with specialized skills (like hitting a six with one hand off the bat or bowling a ripping googly) who use the platform to showcase their potential. Such videos receive millions of views and considerable likes.
Some of the famous tape ball cricketers from Punjab, Pakistan are:
Taimur Mirza (right-handed batter)
Achi Butt (right-handed batter)
Khurram Chakwal (right-handed batter)
Chhota Vicky (right-handed batter)
Zaheer Kalia (left-handed fast bowler)
Usama Ali Sialkoti (right-handed batter)
Fahad Mian Channu (right-handed batter)
Waseem Lefty (left-handed batter)
Jalat Khan (left-handed fast bowler)
Colonel Zahid (right-handed fast bowler)
Farhad Abdali (left-handed bowler)
Ahmad Kulfi AK (right-handed fast bowler)
Abu Bakar Johnson (left-handed bowler)
Bantu Bhai (right-handed batter)
Ahsan Chittaa (right-handed batter)
Hafiz Pola aka Sultan Rahi (right-handed batter)
Hamza Ghallu (right-handed batter)
Chhotaa Faana (right-handed batter).
Three cricketers from the list above have also had songs made after them by the local musicians of Punjab. Those are Taimur Mirza (perhaps Pakistan's most famous tape ball cricketer), Achi Butt, and Khurram Chakwal.
The earning of tape ball cricketers vary from player to player. While speaking to BBC Urdu, Taimur Mirza said he earns around 5 million Pakistani rupees annually. Not many make more than Mirza. However, those who excel at it can easily make ends meet.
Tape ball cricket is an essential part of our culture. Many teenage boys play it in the streets whenever they find time between their school, tuition, and mosque hours. Through sports, they find companionship and a spirit of being competitive.
Moreover, playing tape ball cricket does not mean that that is the final fate of a talented player. Many tape ball cricketers were picked to represent the national team as well. One famous example is Wasim Akram–arguably the greatest left-arm bowler ever to play the game of cricket–who used to be a tape ball bowler picked as a net bowler first and then fast-tracked into the national system. He had honed his skills in the streets and grounds of Lahore and reached great heights as an international player.
Another recent example of tape ball talent that made it big is Haris Rauf (he used to be known as Haris Islamabadi in tape ball circles). He was picked up by the domestic franchise of Lahore Qalanders in one of their talent hunt programs. Today, he is part of the ICC T20 team of the year and has played franchise cricket throughout the world, along with representing Pakistan.
Despite a massive following for national and international cricket teams, tape ball cricket lives and thrives well in the local region, especially since the onset of streaming services. It is a source of entertainment for people and a legit source of income for cricketers who are really good at it.