The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is working to bring a provincial or city-based domestic structure which will have no role for departments which have been nurturing the country’s budding talent for decades. The departments, however, may sponsor regions or cities. According to the proposed model for Pakistan’s domestic cricket, six teams will feature in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy (first-class): Sindh, Balochistan, Federal Areas, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, North Punjab and South Punjab.
The QT will be played on double league basis under home and away system. The two leading sides will qualify for the final. The season will span two and a half months. According to the blue-print the season will begin from November 15 and will conclude on January 30. As many as 31 matches will be played in the first-class season.
Before this, 16 teams — eight regional and eight departmental — would feature in the first-class cricket season.
Besides the Pakistan Super League (PSL) which will be held in February and March, most of the other events will be contested among 16 associations: Lahore Blues, Lahore Whites, Sialkot, Faisalabad, Multan, Bahawalpur, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi Whites, Karachi Blues, Hyderabad, Quetta, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Waziristan (FATA) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
The three-day championship (non first-class) will carry 16 associations. The teams will be divided into two groups with the leading two teams from each pool progressing to the semi-finals. This event will be held from October 1 to November 9.
For the National T20 Cup which will be held from September 1-25, 16 teams will be divided into two groups with the leading four from each group qualifying for the quarter-finals.
The National One-day Cup, featuring 16 associations, will be held from April 2-21. The teams will be divided into four groups. Leading two sides from each pool will progress to the Super Eight stage. And from there four outfits will make it to the semi-finals.
An Under-23 Zonal Championship (three-day non first-class) will be held from September 1-28. The 48 zones will be divided into eight groups of six teams each. Two teams from each group will make it to the round of 16.
This is the proposed model. Nothing has been finalised as yet. But the intentions are clear. There is no mention of any department in the proposed model, a copy of which has been got by this correspondent.
According to sources in the PCB, the new system is being examined from every angle.
The Prime Minister’s task force headed by Lt Gen (retd) Muzammil Hussain, also WAPDA chairman, had been working on a model under which departments and regions were to be merged. But the task force model was rejected by Prime Minister Imran Khan in a meeting held in Islamabad last month.
The PM said that there should be a first-class season of six provincial sides.
Soon after this, Habib Bank Limited (HBL) decided to “demobilise” its cricket team. It announced this through a press release a few days ago, stating that it would continue to invest in the PSL.
Other departments are also expected to demobilise their teams. How effective the new system would be is yet to be seen. It is also yet to become clear how influential the regions will be in the new proposed domestic structure.
There is no doubt that reducing teams to only six in the first-class cricket will have serious implications. Earning first-class cap will become too difficult. Some people say that cricket will become more competitive in the new first-class system and provincial teams will be backed by their home crowd.
It may happen. But what I think is if you squeeze the volume of first-class cricket, youngsters will be discouraged as they will see it is too hard to get into the first-class cricket. And because of the narrow scope in the first-class cricket most of the youngsters will not take up cricket as a profession.
Such a system may have advantages in Australia but in Pakistan, having 220 million population, it is not possible to give chance of playing first-class cricket to all deserving players.
Pakistan is brimming with talent. There was a time when Test cricketers used to come mainly from mostly Karachi, Lahore and some other big cities of Punjab. But now we see Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the tribal belt, Hyderabad and other small cities and even rural areas producing exceptional talent.
The authorities should think twice before implementing the new structure in order to avoid a future U-turn as by then it will become too difficult to revive the previous system once departments close their teams.
If Imran Khan, who is the patron-in-chief of the PCB, really wants to have a provincial, regional, or city-based first-class cricket structure then he should at least increase the number of teams as six teams will not be able to provide ample opportunities to the budding talent of the country.
If the authorities are sure that they will be able to provide financial security to the talented lot in the new system then there will be nothing wrong with the proposed step. But if players’ interests are hurt with the introduction of a new system then it would be wrong to go with it.