Bradford is one of the most fertile and flourishing hotbeds for cricket in the country. John Fuller, editor of cricketyorkshire.com, uncovers a thriving culture of cricket played in the raw.
One July morning last summer, I found myself walking up Barkerend Road in Bradford in the middle of the day to watch taxi drivers and takeaway restaurant workers do cricketing battle. This wasn’t advertised in the local paper or promoted online but through the grapevine, under the radar, and a world removed from ECB participation surveys.
Saghir, a taxi driver in Harrogate who also runs a takeaway business, was the organiser for this midweek challenge match at a ground perched high up, with breathtaking views over the city. Welcome to cricket but not as you know it, hiding in plain sight and indicative of versions all over Bradford that are more fluid and arbitrary.
Down south, the notion of parks cricket might conjure up images of Cambridge University at Fenner’s but here in Yorkshire, it means impromptu games between friends, commonplace in Bradford’s green spaces like Bowling Park and Myra Shay.
The Bradford cricket scene is as vibrant and diverse as its population. While the city looks forward to the multi-million pound redevelopment of former county ground, Park Avenue, league cricket continues to evolve too. The Bradford Cricket League has expanded, having absorbed the now-defunct Central Yorkshire League, rebranding as the Bradford Premier League.
Yet, alongside what might be considered mainstream recreational guises sits a fusion of social and competitive alternatives to league cricket on a Saturday in a woolly jumper.
Let us introduce tape-ball. This fast and furious version of street cricket came about in Pakistani cities in the Eighties and bypasses the prohibitive cost of equipment. A tennis ball is completely covered in electrical tape that adds density and speed without the need for pads, gloves, helmet or box.
There is no lbw so bowlers must refine their yorkers but a tape-ball roughs up quickly so reverse swing comes into play. Batsmen use light, wide bats to attempt to hit every delivery into outer space. There is no such thing as defence in tape-ball, only attack. Pakistanis emigrating to England brought with them knowledge of and a thirst for tape-ball cricket and this turbo-charged incarnation is growing in popularity in our cities.
If you have your ear to the ground in Yorkshire, news of tournaments pop up all over the place from Dewsbury to Bradford. At the moment, they are self-contained within South Asian communities but as a low-cost, inclusive and frenetic format, it should be embraced alongside conventional Twenty20 and Last Man Stands.
Nasa Hussain, groundsman at Bradford Park Avenue and immersed in what cricket is in the city, believes the way tape-ball can be up and running in minutes is part of its appeal: “You can pitch up anywhere. You could play on a road if you wanted to but in Bradford, they tend to play on the artificial pitches. Over in Pakistan, it’s tape-ball wherever you can find a bit of land.”
By and large, these are not club cricketers dabbling in another guise of the game. After all, this is a world away from hard-ball cricket and attracts specialist tape-ball cricketers. This thirst for high-octane, bite-sized cricket experiences reflects the ever-changing landscape of recreational cricket. Twenty20 is positively ancient and too long, if you can believe it.
Nasa recalls organising an eight-a-side, eight-over competition in April at Karmand Cricket Club where the final went down to a super over but it was getting dark, so they had a super 3. He believes without concrete rules, there is greater scope to be spontaneous: “The beauty of playing the ad-hoc stuff is that you can adapt to the conditions, you can adapt to the time, there’s not a hard and fast rule to say, ‘This is what’s happening’. You play it by ear.”
There is some really inventive thinking going on in Bradford cricketing circles. For the eight-over thrash Nasa refers to, two teams padded up against the same opposition who were fielding to minimise faffing around, breaks and disruption.
The fast-forward nature of tape-ball won’t appeal to those that like to linger over their cheese and pickle sandwiches at tea on a weekend but it’s hard to argue with the crowd numbers of a couple of hundred for an eight-a-side tournament. The worlds of club and social cricket exist separately and yet they also rely on each other. Due to a chronic shortage of cricket grounds in Bradford, matches like the one between taxi drivers and restaurant employees often take place at cricket clubs who obviously benefit from the income and scope to persuade a few players to join.
Naheem Malik, secretary of the Quaid E Azam Cricket League, also organises a major tape-ball tournament at Marley Stadium in Keighley each year. He tells me it’s a day-night event under floodlights on an astroturf football pitch involving eight teams and players are so keen to be involved that they’ll drive the 50 or so miles north from Manchester.
Apparently, Scotchman Road, where Manningham Mills competed in the Bradford League for many years, has also become a tape ball hotspot with games happening throughout summer. This is a city that cherishes its cricket and, if you know where to look, there is something on offer for everyone.