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A tape ball is a tennis ball wrapped in electrical tape and is used in playing street cricket. This modification of the tennis ball gives it greater weight, speed and distance while still being easier to play with than the conventional cricket ball. The variation was pioneered in Karachi, Pakistan and is credited with Pakistan's famous production of fast bowlers as children are brought up playing the game using a tape ball in which various skills are developed. The increasing popularity of the tape ball in informal, local cricket has transformed the way games are played in cricket-loving nations such as India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh but most famously Pakistan. Such has been the impact of tape ball that in recent years some companies have introduced tennis balls designed to act like cricket balls. These balls are quite popular in South Asia where tape ball cricket is one of the most popular forms of the sport.
The innovation of tape ball cricket began in Pakistan in the 1960s. In Karachi, where proper equipment, pitches and grounds are a luxury. Informal cricket games are played widely by children and young adults across the cricket-playing world, especially in South Asia. Local grounds, parks and city streets are common locations to find locals playing the games in afternoons and evenings. The tape ball provided a solution to a vexing issue for these cricket enthusiasts. The conventional cricket ball, with which professional and amateur club cricket is played, is made out of cork and leather, and is heavier than a baseball. Considerable effort is required on behalf of the bowlers to extract speed and bounce, as well as control of the length and direction. Playing with a conventional cricket ball requires a stronger cricket bat, and poses a constant danger to players and passers-by who may be struck and severely injured by the ball.
In informal games, either a rubber ball or tennis ball is used as an alternative. The rubber ball is not suitable for the variety of surfaces made use of in informal games; it is too bouncy on cement and concrete and barely bounces at all on grass or soil. An unmodified tennis ball is light, but it is incapable of gaining sufficient speed. By covering a tennis ball with electrical tape, the ball's weight and traction are increased, which in turn leads to greater bounce and speed. A tape ball can also be used to mimic a seaming cricket ball by adding an extra layer of tape around the circumference like a seam, the sides can be roughened to mimic conventional swing of a cricket ball. The tape ball is thus a sound compromise between safety and sincerity to the sport.
Every youth of Pakistan gets introduced to tape ball cricket very early on. Every city, town, and village has tape ball leagues (especially during the month of Ramadan). Export of this idea from Pakistanis who settled in the west has led to its popularity throughout UK, USA, and Canada. The tape ball has gained popularity in England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies, but remains most popular and widely used in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and, to a lesser extent, in Sri Lanka. Generations of professional and amateur Pakistani cricket players since the 1980s have been raised playing tape-ball cricket in their neighbourhood streets and grounds. Professional cricketers such as Saeed Anwar, Rashid Latif, Asif Mujtaba, Moin Khan and Basit Ali enjoy the medium and play regularly. Extensive enthusiasm for the medium has led to the institutionalisation of the tape ball in Pakistani cricket.
Tape balls are extensively decorated in different colours, and different kinds of electrical tapes and fibres are used to maximise their advantages.
Tape-ball cricket is considered an integral part of Pakistani cricket and sports culture, with virtually every cricket-playing youth being exposed to it in one form or another. The tape ball's ability to generate bounce and speed has encouraged and influenced Pakistan's fast bowling traditions, including pacemen such as Shoaib Akhtar. The ball also responds forcefully to powerful batting and stroke play, and has helped mould the pinch-hitting style of Shahid Afridi. Mohammed Amir was scouted during a tape-ball tournament when he was 13.
Although not recognised by official cricket bodies, tape-ball cricket is receiving widespread popular, media and commercial support, especially in Pakistan. During festive seasons and the cricket-playing months of winter and spring, major tournaments are organised, often featuring as many as 200 teams representing corporations, clubs and neighbourhoods. The influential role of the tape ball on Pakistani cricket has won the attention and respect of cricketing experts, authorities and students of the game.
In 2005, hoping to capitalise on the enthusiasm created by England's win in the 2005 Ashes series, the London Community Cricket Association began organising tape ball cricket teams for children on estates in inner-city London, where a lack of playing fields has led to a decline in popularity for traditional cricket. The matches use a variant of the Twenty20 Cricket rules designed to make matches last a half-hour or less.