First-class cricket in Pakistan is likely to undergo yet another structural change in the forthcoming season, which might see departmental teams, such as Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Habib Bank, grouped together with regional teams, such as Karachi and Lahore, in a single first-class championship.
This proposal, along with a host of others, including inviting overseas players to play locally, was discussed by the PCB's ad-hoc committee meeting aimed at improving the standard of domestic cricket. The meeting was attended by regional heads, representatives of the eight departments, ex-cricketers and board officials.
No concrete decisions were taken - save for a "resolution of a vote of confidence in Nasim Ashraf, chairman PCB" by regional associations - but some of the proposals are expected to be finalised in a meeting next month.
The age-old debate over the role of departments in the first-class game had been brewing again in recent months with many suspecting they were about to be sidelined altogether from the circuit. But it now seems probable that they will be included in an expanded championship next season.
Currently, departments have their own first-class tournament - the Patron's Trophy - while regions battle it out for the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the premier first-class tournament in the land.
Grouping both entities together is not new; as Gul Hameed Bhatti, Sports Editor of the Jang Group and leading statistician pointed out, this is the third time in only eight years when regions and departments will be grouped together. In the 1999-00 season, 23 teams played the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and in the 2002-03 season, 24 teams took part. On both occasions, PIA emerged champions. Most pertinently, as Bhatti points out, each time, the formula was scrapped the very next season and separate tournaments for regions and departments again were embraced.
Other initiatives discussed included inviting overseas players to take part in domestic cricket in Pakistan, the purpose of which was two-fold, according to Zakir Khan, Director Operations, PCB. Zakir told Reuters, "We want to raise interest in domestic cricket ... and to lift the competition level so the standard of talent available for the national team also improves in the near future." Ashraf added that players from Sri Lanka and India are likely to be targeted.
The system of promotion and relegation, currently in place, is also likely to stay in any new structure and the board reiterated once again its intentions to provide salaries to all first-class cricketers and make sure that national team players turned out for domestic matches. "Through the central contracts given to the home players they are now bound to play in domestic events," said Ashraf, "and we will make sure they feature in at least 75% of these events."
Club and school cricket will be run by associations but is to be financed by the PCB and an Advisory Council, comprising regional and departmental representatives, is expected to be formed. The council will oversee domestic development. The end-of-season Pentangular also survives and will be played now by "the 100 best players from provinces or zones." Details for these initiatives are expected to be hammered out at the next Advisory Council meeting on July 16, in Karachi.