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Pakistan Domestic Cricket – New Model in ‘Full Swing’

Zong 4G National T20 Cup

It has not escaped one’s attention that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) besides streamlining the domestic cricket structure, has also taken positive strides in reaching out and engaging more readily with the worldwide media.

The rebranding of the corporate culture of the cricket Board was on the cards once Wasim Khan, who lately switched from being the first ever Managing Director to a more familiar designation of Chief Executive Officer of PCB, arrived in Pakistan, after a proven track record in cricket management in England.

The 2019-20 Pakistan domestic cricket season, with a new ‘Pakistani model’ in place, at present, is in full swing. The National T20 Cup staged in Faisalabad is close to the knock out stages, after the four rounds of Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the country’s flagship first-class tournament. The participation of just six regional Cricket Association teams – Central Punjab, Southern Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan, Sind and Northern Areas – in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and with both First XI (first-class) and Second XI (non-first-class) is being played simultaneously.

It is surely an unprecedented departure from the norm for PCB, now armed with a freshly revised constitution, to disregard all previous district cricket associations and even take the matter of final selection of the 32-player squad of the six teams, in its own hands as well, based on the performance of three previous domestic seasons. By appointing management teams for both First XI and Second XI of the six teams, on the basis of their previous engagement in similar roles, the Board has made sure their rich experience did not go to waste.

The first four round first-class matches of the Quaid-e-Azam trophy has seen only three outright results and the other nine ending in draw. There is a determined effort on behalf of PCB to prepare pitches that last four days and give both batsmen and bowlers to show their true worth.

Batsmen are being encouraged to play long innings in the four-day cricket, if they hold ambition to represent the country in red-ball Test cricket. Thus far three double hundreds – Abid Ali (249 not out), Sami Aslam (243) and Salman Butt (237) and additional 26 hundreds would suggest, the bowlers, with newly introduced Australian kookaburra make balls, on the whole are having to work pretty damn hard to pick up wickets and that is not a bad thing for the development of bowlers, in both pace and spin.

It is early days but discarding the departments altogether has not gone down very well as good many cricketers and coaches, all over Pakistan may leave the game altogether. A conventional route, in the past, to reach the top ladder was to represent one’s region before one of the departments offered you a contract to secure your livelihood. If the budgets of sports sections of the departments have shrunk and PCB too has distanced itself from them, it is set to have a negative bearing on all sports in Pakistan and not just cricket.

The new domestic cricket structure that only features six teams has triggered debates among former players and administrators and in the media. The argument of an Australian model that also features six teams, being ‘imposed’ in Pakistan, do seem to carry weight Some have found it quite baffling for the two countries with entirely different socio-economic needs and population size, to pursue one ‘system’. It does not seem like for like comparison. The switch over to just six regional teams, as opposed to 15-20 teams representing districts and departments in the previous seasons, is generally believed to be too dramatic, with negative financial implication on thousands of players and management.

The province Punjab for instance with one third of country’s population and good number of districts and as the leading nursery of young cricket talent will be catered by just two teams at first-class level and also with reduced opportunities at junior level. The correlation between the population and the squad size, is set to come under question, moving forward.

The reduction in teams has resulted in all departmental teams, i.e. Railways, PIA, Habib Bank, National Bank, United Bank, WAPDA, Khan Research Laboratory, Sui Gas, etc. are no longer to feature in domestic cricket. The chopping and changing has been the theme ever since the first edition of Quaid-e-Azam trophy back in 1953-54. The new system with the backing of PM Imran Khan, is aimed to cut out meaningless matches and instead raise the standard of cricket. The pros and cons of the new system will be more evident at the end of the first domestic season by April 2020 and one would expect the PCB to review it with an open mind.

©Cricket World 2019