They use a taped ball, but avoid the sticky wicket
By Judith Stiles
A formal cricket match is played with proper wickets, often on manicured grass fields, with men sporting pristine white attire. However in Downtown Manhattan, since there are so few grass fields, a group of young men from Pakistan, who are high-powered investment bankers during the week, settle for city garbage cans in lieu of proper wickets and are happy to play cricket on the blacktop playground at the corner of 20th St. and Second Ave.
Every Saturday morning from April to November, they meet there to play what is called “tape ball,” a street form of cricket that satisfies their cravings for a lively competitive cricket match. They don’t wear white or typical protective gear, such as arm guards or knee pads, and they use a tennis ball that is carefully wrapped in red and blue tape to give it more weight, simulating the bounce of a regular cricket ball. They play a stripped-down form of cricket which by no means indicates that their games are laidback. On the contrary, the players from Aitchison and Lahore, Pakistan, have a fierce hometown rivalry that predates their years spent in American colleges, such as Amherst, Yale and Franklin and Marshall.
Raza Mujtaba, who attended Amherst, started an informal cricket team while he was there and is now the captain of this tape ball team called the Manhattan Tigers, which he founded with his friend Amer Tiwana. “We don’t stay out late on Fridays because we look forward to getting up and playing cricket together, like a reunion of sorts,” says Mujtaba. Still, he misses his days of playing on large fields in Pakistan where cricket is the most popular sport. Farid Sheikh, an accomplished athlete on the Tigers, points out that the fastest baller (pitcher) in the world is from Pakistan — Shoaib Akhtar, whose ball has been clocked at over 90 miles per hour. There are similarities between the pitcher in American baseball and a baller in that they both manipulate the “pitch” in the way that they hold the ball at the seams and release it. But most of the similarities end there, as the baller takes a long running start and often a windup while jumping, only to release the ball with a purposeful bounce before it reaches the batman (the batter).
On a recent Saturday of tape ball cricket, a traditional rivalry was played out between veteran captains Mujtaba and Agha Shuja. Captain Mujtaba wrote in his game report that “The two captains very predictably selected their favorite players in the lineup. Agha’s team had match-winning all-rounders in Farid Sheikh and Amer Tiwana, as well as dashing batsmen like UT and Agha himself. Raza’s team boasted all-rounders Imran Nadir and Amyn Pesnani, bowlers Fasghar and Sharwani, and specialist batsmen Shahan and Danish. The two main 8-over-a-side matches resulted in one victory for each team as the honors for the day were shared.” Mujtaba enthusiastically added, “Match 2 resulted in victory for Raza. Shahan, Amyn Pesnani and Imran Nadir batted brilliantly after a faltered start to stabilize the innings. Some late lusty blows by Imran Nadir and Raza Mujtaba ensured a very respectable total of 99 runs of the allotted 8 overs. Fido and Tiwana were again the pick of the bowlers for Agha’s team.
Then the drama began! UT was once again the aggressive batsman as he displayed a broad array of shots after seeing off Sharwani’s first over with caution. Agha’s team dominated in the first 6 overs and took the total to 85 runs, with two overs remaining and only 14 runs to win. Amyn bowled a brilliant over and gave just 6 runs. Raza brought himself to bowl the last over with the odds heavily stacked against his team. The first three balls resulted in no runs and two wickets of the dangermen Amer Tiwana and Farid. In comes their star batsman Jozy to face the fourth ball, as he swings and misses. Jozy recovers and smashes the 2nd-last ball of the over for a six. Fortunately for Raza’s team, the captain was able to bowl an accurate last ball and take Jozy’s wicket. That resulted in a thrilling one-run win for Raza’s team.”
For fans who follow American baseball, the seven-hour games with over 100 runs on the scoreboard can be dizzying to follow.
However, the players on the Manhattan Tigers have a love of the game and raw enthusiasm that is thoroughly contagious to onlookers. At a recent Saturday game, a young man who had been shooting hoops nearby became so enthralled watching the Tigers, that he dropped his basketball and said he was tempted to run over to the captain and say, “Can I play? Can you teach me?”
Learning the rules of cricket will definitely not be easy for him. However, he can still follow their games every Saturday. And, who knows? Soon he might find this team dressed in snappy white outfits, playing more formal league games, perhaps in Van Cortlandt Park.