They turned the lights on. They had brought a small, used broom with them to wipe off the pitch. People started to gather on their rooftops to have a good view of the happenings in the street. A guy stepped forward into the middle of the pitch and in a loud voice started to read the rules off of a little crumpled page he took out from his pocket. It was the second day of Ramadan and marked the start of the street cricket tournament of a highly populous area of Rawalpindi. Some people from the neighborhood started to gather around them. The game had started. One can feel the zest in the atmosphere as the night progressed.
This small anecdote describes almost every night of Ramadan of the city. Street cricket or what Pakistanis would connect more with, the “Galli cricket”, is an integral part of almost every child growing up in the streets of Pakistan specifically in cities like Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Karachi where it’s most famous.
These pitches are the breeding grounds for the world’s greatest superstars who are destined to be on top of their game. People from around the world often wonder how nations with scarce resources and weaker cricketing infrastructure produce high quality and highly talented players. These countries have a different way of nurturing and carving talent. Wasim Akram played on his rooftop, Shahid Afridi used to play in the streets of Gulshan e Iqbal, Javed Miandad mentioned in his interview that he used to play in the streets of Karachi, Sikander Bakht acknowledged himself playing with a tennis ball outside his house on the road in the 1970s and Sohail Tanvir perfected his skills in Rawalpindi streets before knocking out almost every renowned batsman of international and league cricket.
Looking down into the history of tape ball cricket Pakistan comes out as the pioneer. Almost some 35 years ago players discovered that having electrical tape on the ball allows the ball to spin more and skid at a much greater pace. The bustling metropolitan of Karachi, burning roads of Gaggu Mandi and narrow streets of Lahore, all became academies for the greatest of the world to hone their skills. Batsman became more vigilant, bowlers even more skillful developing variations in the ball no one had ever done before.
After 1978 street cricket became a more ordered occasion. Tournaments we’re organized in the neighborhoods of Karachi. The parameters started to expand, spectators started to gather to watch the game. Cricket became a competitive game and even more famous and organized as compared to the national game. Money got involved. There was an “entry fee” for participation which was collected from the teams and expenses were excluded from that money. The winners would usually now receive prize money along with trophies as a gift.
No one born and raised in Pakistan can deny playing at least once in the streets or on the paved roads, with either a chair being used as wicket or crates stacked upon each other on one end while the bowler end mostly had a brick or two for the wicket. Just as the Brazilians and Mexicans grow up playing football on Sandy beaches, Pakistanis grow up playing cricket in the streets. Rules are strict, hitting the ball inside a house is considered out. Catching the ball with one hand even after it hits the surrounding walls once, too. A single batsman has cannot make a single run. If players are not enough to be divided into teams, each player becomes a wholly independent entity. The law of “Win to bat” is one of the most favorite ones. The “Jack” who usually stands as a keeper, is a player who plays from both teams and is mostly either the weakest or the extraordinarily strong player among them. There is no leg before wicket, neither any score for leg-by or overthrow. If a ball gets stuck somewhere it is automatically considered a “dukki”(2 runs). These restrictions may seem like restricting the players, but they enhance their control on their shots, giving them the opportunity of more calculated shots.
Cricket has never been considered just a “game” in Pakistan, it is more of a lifestyle for Pakistanis. Pakistan, passion, and cricket have always been synonymous. Street cricket develops the greatest team players, it creates unity and provides a platform for the youth of the country to exhibit their skills. It allows them to follow their passions without the need for costly playgrounds which, needless to say, is almost impossible in such saturated cities. Street cricket has recently been in the spotlight for producing quality players like Shadab Khan and the legendary Muhammad Yousaf. Pakistan has the potential to produce more world-class players with a little more effort and promotion of this game. These streets are full of gems waiting to be recognized and discovered by the world. With a little more recognition the world can witness the raw talent that Pakistan has.