Monday, March 17, 2008

The Microsoft Cup – Part I

From the wet wintry overcast weather, lush alpine greenery and snow capped mountains in the background, you could mistakenly think Redmond, WA is simply part of the American rural backwater – just another stop on the way to some of the best ski slopes and hiking trails in the Pacific Northwest. But then if you navigate around “1 Microsoft Way” you come across a un-remarkable corporate sprawl, with wide expanses of black asphalt parking lots and cookie cutter office buildings with reflective glass.

To most of the world, this is the den of the evil empire; the scheming software giant that is Microsoft, seeking to dominate the world of technology by any means possible. To any cricket lover new to the area, things would be equally dark and unpromising. It rains here continuously from Fall to Spring – if its not raining, its pretty dark and depressing. The ground stays wet till the summer, so there really cant be any hope of playing serious cricket. Cricket does pick up in the summer, as this article by Reuters mentions. There is a serious and well-structured 50 over a side hardball, cricket league that involves “home” and “away” games. Star performers are selected for state-wide “all-star” outfits and even get to travel to California. But as this article mentions, this type of cricket is played mostly by local Indians. The Pakistanis as I will go on to explain turn to other forms of cricket.

However, all is not lost in the winter months. To keep its employees happy, Microsoft does have world class soccer fields that have great drainage and in fact the surface is an artificial grass called FieldTurf. The same surface is used in many professional stadiums in the US, including Qwest field, home of the Seattle Seahawks. In the company’s own words:

FieldTurf’s grass fibers are surrounded and stabilized by a special blend of “synthetic earth” - FieldTurf’s patented mixture of smooth, rounded silica sand and rubber granules.

What this surface means for cricket is that there is never any standing water and the small pieces of rubber that come with the surface add to the playing conditions. After an overnight rain, the surface becomes slick with moisture, the pieces of rubber add unpredictable bounce and an intelligent bowler can really take advantage of the conditions. And, as I will go on to explain, the surface is also conducive to some serious swing bowling. Add Pakistani’s and some willing Indians to the equation and you have the makings of some serious battles.

Any true Pakistani cricket worth his salt is brought up playing “tape ball” cricket. These days everybody talks about the IPLs and ICLs and the wham bam action of 20/20 cricket. But if you know anything about the Pakistani psyche, you will know that we want big action and we want it fast. That’s where tape ball cricket comes in. You will find a game going on in the streets of Pakistan with people of every age playing no hold barred with a tennis ball that has electrical tape tightly wound around it. The Indians Ive seen playing cricket here prefer to use a heavier rubbery ball which they refer to as “MRI”. The Pakistani’s unsurprisingly use taped tennis balls.

Now, on to explaining the finer details of this setup. The games are usually played in a street with houses on the sides. Any hits into people’s houses can at the worst result in broken windows, the banning of cricket on the street and at best result in you being declared out. The best of shots are straight hits for six. For the bowlers it means trying to bowl at express pace with plenty of yorkers and slower ones thrown in. It also means trying to swing the ball from the get go with potentially devastating consequences. If the tape is wound tight in an uneven way, the ball is not a perfect sphere and tends to swing from the start. Once it hits the rough road surface a few times, the tape breaks apart from a few places and reverse swing can be unleashed in even the very first over! Yes, Ive said it – Pakistani reverse swing bowling owes a lot to tape bowling. Have you ever seen a Pakistani bowler getting worked up about the umpire changing the ball (ok, routine changes only)? Batsmen of the street always examine the ball if it swings prodigiously and inevitably ask the opposing captain to supply a freshly taped one. I myself have played endless “test matches” on the streets with a half tape ball (only one half taped). What Wikipedia has to say about the physics of reverse swing , only reinforces my belief that any Pakistani bowler has an acquired ability to reverse swing the real ball because of his tape ball experience. Maybe Sami didnt play tape ball cricket?

Wikipedia says that when a conventional cricket ball "becomes very old—around 40 or more overs old, it can begin to swing towards the polished side rather than the rough side."

This is exactly what happens with a non-pristine tape ball. For ideal inswing, hold the side with the biggest tear away from the desired direction of swing, and then hand it to a tear-away fast bowler. Forget about the 40th over, a tape ball swing from the first over… what was that I said about being Pakistani ☺

Now, lets rewind to Redmond. The FieldTurf surface has prickly artificial grass which is wet. The dew makes the tape wet, lose grip on the ball. Tears that open up can be fully exploited for swing. And if there are 2 simultaneous games along the breadth of the soccer field, the batsmen can exploit a 20 yard off and legside boundary and all things become even. Imagine having the goal line as the point boundary and the kickoff line as the legside one.

Now that I have hopefully set up the stage for tape ball cricket in Redmond, WA, I will talk about a 6 a side, 6 over per side tape ball tournament that occurred over the last 3 weekends. Even though I was called in as a replacement, I managed to deliver one match winning performance, one Misbah-like damning performance and witnessed some never-seen-before type occurrences that are made for blogging.

Opinions and personal experiences on the joy/curse of tape ball cricket arewelcome.

On a more serious note, I hope and pray that things improve in Pakistan and that our street cricketers can once again return to their cricketing habitat without having to fear for their lives.

Make your pitch on this post...

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2 Pitched:

  1. NAzhar said...

    Call me as a replacement next time :-)

    Sami did not play any cricket before joining the team!

  2. Q said...

    Sami started off so well. On his debut he took 8 wickets. Within his 1st year he had a hatrick in tests and ODIs. He got to 50 test and 50 ODI wickets in no time. And then I just don't understand what happened.

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