Tape-ball cricket: one man’s journey from Lahore to Leyton … and then Lord’s
Lahore: Sports News:- Playing tape-ball in Lahore, joining a game in a Leyton car park, coaching at Lord’s – it’s not a bad trajectory.
Adnan Choudhry, one of the UK’s strongest proponents of a relatively unknown version of cricket called tape-ball, refers to his sporting journey as a “remarkable thing”.
Although relatively few fans in England are aware of tape-ball, the sport – a version of street cricket developed in Pakistan – is growing considerably, both in its country of origin and farther afield.
The name comes from the use of electrical tape to cover a tennis ball; this ensures players have the opportunity to experience all aspects of hard-ball cricket – just with less outlay and less risk.
Costly pads, helmets and gloves are not required, as the ball poses less of a threat than the traditional, leather-bound wooden ball. “Cricket is an expensive sport to play, but tape-ball makes it much easier,” says Choudhry. “You just need a bat, ball and tape.
“You can play in a car park, a normal park, any place where you can run around a little. You don’t need gear or even 11 players – just a few friends. But you use the same type of skills that are used in hard ball cricket.”
As a young child growing up in Pakistan, Choudhry was first introduced to tape-ball by his uncle, who played for his work team. Fascinated by what he was watching, the 10-year-old began playing with his uncle on the dusty neighbourhood streets.
At the time, it was a sport played mainly for fun, but over the past decade it has grown in popularity, and sponsorship has made tape-ball cricket a fully professional sport in Pakistan.
“I played mostly with my friends when I was younger,” Choudhry says. “It was popular then, but now it’s grown all over south Asia and is expanding beyond the continent.
“Players who are good enough are now able to play it professionally and choose it as a career. There are lots of tournaments and events, the players get paid, and there are coaches specifically for tape-ball.”
When Choudhry arrived in England in 2004, at the age of 19, to study business at college, it was the first time he had ventured away from his family and his country.
He knew there would be plenty of competitive hard-ball cricket played in his adopted home, but imagined tape-ball hadn’t been exported to the UK.
But a friend from Lahore knew where there was a tape-ball game being played in a car park in Leyton, London – and it was this that helped Choudhry find his feet. “Playing cricket – tape-ball in particular – is how I made friends and connections. It opened up new doors for me,” he says.
That first game in the car park quickly became a regular event, with spectators becoming players. “We created a team, and through tape-ball we were able to connect with some local clubs,” he says.
Ace Avengers Lions – the club Choudhry helped form in 2016 that also plays T20 and T10 cricket – has grown in the past four years from just two friends to more than 100 members.
Its creation was partly driven by the knowledge that children in his local Walthamstow area were unaware of pathways to playing cricket, or being able to easily find a club to join.
Choudhry also works as a cricket coach and engagement officer for Capital Kids Cricket, an organisation that delivers cricket-related projects in London, as well as coaching on the Chance to Shine Street programme. Both organisations focus on providing disadvantaged people with the opportunity to participate in healthy, physical, activity.
Once Waltham Forest council became aware of the work Choudhry was doing, it was keen to get behind the initiative and provide added resources and support.
“This area is quite deprived, and a few years ago the kids here did not have easy access to sports. We are trying to bring tape-ball to a school level and introduce it to kids at a young age,” says Choudhry.
It’s an aim shared by NatWest, who have spent almost 40 years championing cricket as a sport for all by partnering with organisations such as Chance to Shine. The national children’s charity engages young people in communities across the country, and uses cricket to create positive opportunities and show the sport is available to everyone.
This year, Choudhry helped host a tape-ball event for the local community that was sponsored by Essex Cricket and Leyton Orient FC – with the football club hosting at their ground.
Local primary and secondary school pupils participated, and 50 visually impaired students from nearby Joseph Clarke school also played an adapted version of the game.
Later in the day came the main event, The Tornado Tape Ball World Cup – an eight-team tournament in which Choudhry’s Ace Avengers were victorious.
It was a day filled with pride for Choudhry, who now has ambitions beyond the UK for tape-ball. “In the future, there are tape-ball teams from Germany, France and Belgium that we are hoping to bring over here to play, or we can travel to play them.”
Playing and coaching cricket has enabled Choudhry to play at some of the sport’s most iconic grounds – the sort of thing most lovers of the game dream of – and he understands how fortunate he has been.
“Now I do coaching sessions at Lord’s, and I’ve played at the Oval too. It’s a big leap from that car park. I can’t quite put it into words how amazing that journey has been.”