As the England national side experiences an identity crisis, there is a grassroots cricket format that can hopefully provide the next generation of international cricketers.
Tape-ball cricket originated in Pakistan but is starting to trend across the UK now, particularly in inner city areas.
Utilising a taped tennis ball, the game allows youngsters to develop their bowling and batting techniques, before moving onto the leather ball used in traditional versions of the game.
This cheap game allows children of all ages and backgrounds to gain an introduction to cricket. An alternative to the wind ball that is often used in youth coaching, the tape-ball provides another challenge for cricketers.
The lack of a proper seam on the ball makes it harder for bowlers, who are punished by batsmen unless they are disciplined and accurate. But when this skill is mastered, it can be easily transferred to a normal cricket ball.
Moeen Ali – who has now played three ODIs and six T20 Internationals for England – was raised on tape-ball cricket, which he feels helped him to develop his spin bowling more.
The left-hander grew up in Birmingham, where he played the playground-based game. A fast pace encourages players to score as quickly as possible, helping produce some high run rates.
Both spin bowling and expansive batting are attributes that Ali possesses and they are factors that have influenced his England call-up.
With these skills being encouraged, it could mean that limited-overs formats are dominated by players who have grown up in urban areas, and who have picked up cricket courtesy of the tape-ball game.
But could this also provide players capable of representing England in Test cricket? Ali is a pioneer who could either prove or disprove that theory.
The 26-year-old will certainly be on the radar of the Peter Moores and Alistair Cook for the upcoming tours by Sri Lanka and India, but selection would be a big step forward for Britons of Asian descent.
The Professional Cricketers’ Association granted the Player of the Year award for 2013 to Ali, and a Test cap would prove a victory for the game of tape-ball cricket as well, which is continuing to provide cricketing opportunities for youngsters in inner city areas.
The continued exposure of this game in playgrounds and schools across the land will help cricketers develop both their batting and bowling. Sharpening both of these skills will make them more adept to the T20 format, which is arguably the biggest form of the sport currently.
With that in mind, England could have a very bright future ahead in the one-day game.
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