Exposure to tape ball cricket at a nascent age hinders the development of skill set required to excel at the international arena.
Pakistan has an incredibly rich cricketing history. Over the period of last seven decades, it has produced some of the sport’s greatest icons. Just as most South American footballers grow up playing football barefoot on the street, Pakistani cricketers too start the same way. The world’s most popular version of street cricket, the ‘tape-ball’ variation, originated in early 1980’s in Karachi. The tape ball was quickly adopted by cricket enthusiasts all over Pakistan, owing to its affordability and suitability with rough metropolitan conditions. Despite playing a major role in making cricket more accessible to the common man, it is important to understand how it has had a negative overall impact on professional cricket.
A tape-ball requires an entirely different technique when compared with formal hard-ball cricket. In tape-ball cricket, a batsman’s choice of shots is limited because of the restricted playing area. The only options are either to slog or block. This explains why Pakistani batsmen can’t seem to play sophisticated cricketing shots like the pull or hook. Also, as bowlers rarely pitch the ball short in the tape ball format, batsmen do not get the chance to practice the aforementioned strokes. While the tape ball does develop hand eye coordination, there is no incentive for wrist and foot work. Another major problem is that the tape ball variation inculcates a selfish style of play as there is no strike rotation. This has adversely impacted Pakistan’s performance against its rivals, since even the likes of the swashbuckling Inzamam ul Haq were notorious for their lax running between the wickets. Thus, the unrefined ‘slogging’ currently associated with the likes of Fakhar Zaman and Ahmed Shahzad is a negative byproduct of tape-ball which has destroyed the temperament and technique of our batsmen.
It is often argued that tape ball has produced many great fast bowlers for Pakistan, but it is important to note that with the lighter tape ball, chances are higher to bend the elbow for generating pace. This is one of the reasons why Pakistan has so many bowlers with illegal action. Moreover, although the tape ball aids bowlers in generating more pace and bowling yorkers at will, it prevents them from developing skills required to swing the ball. A classic example of this phenomena is Umar Gul, a bowler famed for his deadly accurate yorkers yet incapable of swinging the ball. The dearth of good test bowlers in Pakistan is more evidence of the tape ball curse because bowlers have been accustomed to play a few overs and lack the stamina required to last for marathon sessions.
The solution to Pakistan cricket’s woes, especially the fall in fortune of its once great test team, lies in ushering the revival of club cricket and the promotion of classic hard ball cricket at the school level. This would ensure that aspiring young cricketers develop muscle memory at an early age and are accustomed to playing conditions required at the sport’s professional level. The PCB must take cue from next door India, who have successfully eliminated the use of tape ball at school level and are reaping the benefits of this well thought policy.
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