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Change in the air – Pakistan Domestic Cricket

Change in the air – Pakistan Domestic Cricket

The new constitution of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is a major development, approved by the governing body of the game in the country. Now by announcing the schedule of the 2019-20 domestic cricket season on August 31, PCB has taken positive measures of its desire to run the affairs of the game, at par with the international standards.

Sadly, for the last decade or so, the cricket administration in Pakistan, from top to bottom, has been a little haphazard, to say the least. Such has been the sorry state of affairs, that a pre-season schedule has simply been beyond the horizon of the cricket Board. Will the new reforms with its streamlining feature, at last, allow PCB to get to grips with the domestic structure?

With few international teams prepared to tour Pakistan since 2009, the public participation in domestic cricket, with the exception of Pakistan Super League (PSL), has been almost non-existent. It remains to be seen if the entire focus on regional cricket minus departments, can provide the much-needed resurgence to the game. The aim with the new schedule is for less teams playing better quality of cricket. Quaid-i-Azam Trophy, the only first-class tournament, will be contested by six provincial sides – two from Punjab (Central and Southern) and one each from Sind, Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Federal Area (Northerns) – with an aim for each of the teams to be sponsored by a department.

It remains to be seen if just six teams and 31 first-class matches can cater for all the talented youth in urban and rural areas of the country, bearing in mind 16 teams competed – both regional and departmental – in the 2018-19 Quaid-i-Azam Trophy. The concept of second XI, too has been introduced on the lines of English County Championship. The four matches scheduled in Quetta brings first-class cricket to Bugti Stadium, after a lapse of 11 years and hopefully should ignite more interest for playing cricket, amongst the school and college students of Balochistan.

The two Pakistani ‘imports’ Ehsan Mani (Chairman) and Wasim Khan (Managing Director), have accepted the challenge with their respective appointments in 2018, to steer the ship in the right direction.

Both Mani and Wasim have strong management credentials and long association with the game but have had great difficulty in convincing the Board of Governors in their vision to streamline the infrastructure of the game in the country. It has to be added that both needed a bit more time, than has been the case, to fully comprehend the peculiar working culture of the Pakistan Cricket Board.

From what one gathers, the key men are Subhan Ahmad (Chief Operating Officer), Zakir Khan (Director International Cricket), Haroon Rasheed (Director Domestic Cricket) and Mudassar Nazar (Director Academies). One hopes the new ‘working culture’ is able to get the best out of the above named four, who have all previously held responsible positions with the Board.

By literally scrapping all departments, that have been the backbone of Pakistan domestic cricket, since the mid-1970s, PCB has certainly backed sweeping changes. The leading departments, i.e. Railways, PIA, PWD, National Bank, United Bank, Habib Bank, WAPDA, Khan Research Laboratories, Zarai Taraqiati Bank, Sui North Gas Pipelines Limited, etc, had hundreds of cricketers on their payrolls to provide them with financial security.

The introduction of central contracts for 32 players from each of the six provincial teams is a much better incentive than mere match fees for the first-class players but the pool of players to feed to the national side is certainly going to shrink dramatically. The bottom line we are made to believe by the PCB is that the new revamped domestic structure is aimed at quality rather than quantity. Unless the playing conditions at existing grounds receive major uplift and new grounds are developed, there is no guarantee of quality of cricket improving by merely playing less cricket.

A Pakistan cricket fan is used to upheavals on yearly basis and the chopping and changing of format and number of teams in the domestic cricket in both Quaid-i-Azam Trophy and Patrons Trophy, but 2019-20 is completely reshaping it, in the most drastic way. The sweeping changes, with entire focus and accountability on regional cricket associations, might have initially worked better at a junior level, before embracing first-class cricket. The impact of all the changes will no doubt be measured after a couple of years. It remains to be seen if Pakistan will finally have a domestic set-up with a continuity and is sustainable to the modern day needs and produces quality players for international arena?

The general feeling among former cricketers, media and other observers, is one of apprehension as the vision of a strong competitive domestic structure based on the Australian model, favoured by the PM Imran Khan also, which given the population of the Pakistan that is engaged and associated with the game, could possibly backfire. A Pakistani model with some features of Australia and England, the two countries’ domestic cricket Imran himself played in, would have possibly won more support than is the case, at present.

Beside the revamped domestic programme, PCB also seek to fill in a number of coaching positions for the national side. As expected, the coaching and management staff that accompanied Pakistan team in the 2019 World Cup in England, did not have their contracts renewed, leaving the cricket Board to start the 2019-20 winter, afresh. In order to move forward, chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq, too is no longer part of the management, having held the position for just over three years. The only format Sarfraz Ahmed seem capable of leading Pakistan is T20 as the names of Azhar Ali and Imad Wasim, have come up as possible captains for Test and ODI, respectively.

Just over two years after his retirement from international cricket, Misbah-ul-Haq, has emerged as Head Coach. Is it too soon for a national captain to enter the fray in a management role? The answer will be no for 45-year old Misbah is a man of many qualities and should make a good coach, though not in the conventional type. If he is picked ahead of other candidates - Dean Jones, Johan Botha, Waqar Younis or Mohsin Khan – it could well be that he is appointed more for his management skills than anything else.

One strongly believes that time is ripe for Pakistan to scrap the idea of head coach, batting coach and a bowling coach for the senior side on tour. Any player needing a coaching advice should be able to link with the best coaches, who should either be at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) or on tours with A team or a U-19 squad. There is enough evidence to suggest that most of the coaching staff that accompanies Pakistan team is of little use to established international players. There is simply no harm in just naming a fielding coach and a fitness trainer for the next overseas tour and see how it goes. At times, especially with Pakistan teams, the full-scale coaching staff have made the captain’s role much more complex than it needs to be.

Pakistan cricket and its cricketers are a distinctively different breed from the rest of the world and PCB need not follow the rest of the world and employ a head coach for the sake of it?  Let the national team be accompanied with a strong manager and a bare minimum coaching staff. In the past it seems, the likes of Mushtaq Mohammed and more recently Mohsin Khan, both not exactly out-and-out tracking suit coaches, have worked quite well for Pakistan. For that matter Misbah-ul-Haq, might fit the bill, better than the other candidates.

©Cricket World 2019