For cricket The 90’s is described as the decade in which the reign of West Indies as the cricket power house ended. Among the teams that emerged as strong performers Australia and Pakistan come at top of the list. But if we look closely at the overall performance and swagger the decade can truly be called as the decade of Pakistan. This was the decade that brought Pakistan its first world cup win, established Pakistan as a Fast bowling powerhouse and saw some of the most remarkable innings played by its batsmen. As a kid growing up in the 90’s nothing gave me more pleasure then seeing Wasim Akram’s unplayable deliveries making the batsmen dance Waqar Younis’s in swinging Yorkers rattling the stumps or Shoaib Akhtar terrorizing the batsmen with his devilish speed. And all those great fast ballers credited street cricket in developing them at the early age especially in the creation of the art of reverse swing.
Cricket in Pakistan has the same stature as Football is to the Brazilians. Every kid grows up playing cricket in school in grounds and in the streets. But the biggest factory of producing Pakistani cricketer’s are the street. No Pakistani international player can say that he didn’t played street cricket. I remember all through the year and especially in every summer holidays (of about 3 months starting from June till August) from school my favorite pass time was playing cricket in the street with friends. Now the summers in Pakistan mean temperatures sometimes reaching almost 50 °C but that never stopped us from playing. One reason of playing cricket in the street was the unavailability of sufficient public parks and grounds in cities.
Now it was very rare that the match was played between two teams as the space was limited and usually players less than 10 played the match but the number could be increased depending upon the arrival of a new friend.
The matches were not the traditional matches of 50 overs. 90% of the time the match consisted of each guy batting and taking his turn until he gets out then the next one comes. The one who scored the most runs was declared the winner and would bat at first as the cycle got completed. Now the interesting thing was that who would bat at what number. This was determined by one guy going away and sitting on the ground writing the numbers from 1 to whatever the number of players were involved and them placing the bat on the numbers, then he would draw a line in front of each number which would be visible in front of the bat .As soon as he shouts “aaaa jao” (come) the players would run in and choose their lines based on pure instinct. The one who got the first batting as he selected the line in front of number 1 would be the happy lad and the poor fellow who got the last usually has a long face as he would have to wait for his turn to bat.
Who would bowl the first over? This privilege always went to the guy who got the last number of batting as it was the rule that whoever will get the last batting will bowl the first over. The over consisted of 6 ball as per standard. Sometimes in spirit of fair play that everyone got their turn and no player is not left without batting as fielding was the least liked thing in the hot sun it was determined first that each player would play 2 or 3 overs and after that the next one’s turn will come up. Now in between if he got out he was out (sometimes not he would play his remaining quota of balls).
The gear is the most interesting part. The ball was usually a tennis ball on which a guy would roll on electric insolation tape in a crafty manner. The bats used were lighter and longer than standard hard ball bats and were made especially for tape ball cricket by bat manufacturers. The wickets were a chair a pile of bricks structured in length and width like standard stumps or just two bricks placed at a distance thought of as the exact length as the original 3 stumps on a real cricket pitch. If the ball went through in between the two stones or bricks it was out but not if it went too high (which was always the point of controversy and arguments).
Some standard rules
If the ball rebounded from a wall and was caught it was the rule that if the catch is taken by one hand then its legal otherwise the catch was considered not out. As the match was played on solid ground rarely a dive or a glistering effort was seen to catch the call or save a run as it was known that if you fall the hard asphalt of the street road will not be forgiving resulting in a nasty bruise. This is one of the main reason why Pakistan is not known for its fielding as the fear of getting hurt is set in the mind from an early age resulting in the inability of developing quick reflexes and skills necessary for world class fielding.
As the cricket was played in the street so there was no-off side or leg-side to play your shots, the only way you could make runs was by playing straight. Sometimes it was determined before the start of the match that if the ball hits a certain wall it would be four or a six. If the ball was hit and it went into a house the player was considered out.
The X Factor
The fear which every boy who played street cricket during a match always had was that if some over enthusiastic kid or an unskilled batsman would hit the ball so hard that it would land in someone’s house. This usually ended in great difficulty in retrieving back as the owners were not always pleased in giving the ball back. Special care was taken not to hit any windows or ongoing traffic or people as it resulted usually in curses and sizing of the ball by the affected party.
In today’s modern era of Facebook and video games I see that the number of children playing street cricket has reduced dramatically as the kids are now more occupied in their Facebook accounts or mobile phones. They prefer in staying home in air conditioned rooms rather than sweat on the street getting bruises on their knees. But for me those bruises brought some of the happiest memories of my life. Whenever I remember those matches and the incidents that happened during them a smile always rises up on my face, even now my ears just wait for a friend to come at the door and say … “aa Cricket khalain” (come lets play cricket)… Cuz he knows i’ll be ready for it.