Abid Ali Kazi
The highlight of the season was the return of India for their first full tour of Pakistan in 14 years. They brought the crowds back to the stadiums and much-needed revenue to the Pakistan Cricket Board - but, to the disappointment of the masses, Pakistan eventually lost the one-day and the Test series. Both times they entered the final game level, only for India to clinch the decider. That summed up a season in which Pakistan's performances remained mediocre, though studded with strokes of brilliance.
Before India arrived in March 2004, Pakistan had won their previous three Test series, though the only whitewash was against Bangladesh; they beat South Africa (at home) and New Zealand (away) 1-0 while losing the associated one-day series. Their results in three one-day tournaments after India's visit - the Asia Cup, Videocon Cup and ICC Champions Trophy - were uneven; they beat India in each of them, but lost the crunch games and picked up no trophies.
Losing the series with India cost Javed Miandad his job as national coach for the fourth time; Bob Woolmer replaced him in June, before the Asia Cup. Inzamam-ul-Haq retained the captaincy, which he had taken over from Rashid Latif during Bangladesh's tour, and Haroon Rashid carried on as manager. But there were two changes at the top of the PCB. The chairman, General Tauqir Zia, had stepped down in December, after four years in command, tired by rows over Pakistan's performances on the pitch, television rights, and the selection of his son Junaid for the national one-day side. Shaharyar Khan, a career diplomat, took over, and soon found out that foreign policy was a piece of cake compared with running the PCB. He and the board's chief executive, Ramiz Raja, were given a torrid time by the senate after the defeats by India; in August, Ramiz finally caved in after barely a year in office and resigned to concentrate on his career as a television commentator. An overhaul of the game's domestic structure has become something of a PCB tradition. In 2002-03, the regional and departmental sides had competed alongside each other for the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy; this time, they were separated again, with the Patron's Trophy revived for the departmental teams after a season's gap. The Quaid-e-Azam Trophy reverted to a regional tournament, in a new format. The PCB divided the country into nine regions, with some first-class teams losing their identity as they merged into larger neighbours, and the players were picked by the board's own selectors. The nine sides were Faisalabad (absorbing Sargodha), Hyderabad (including Dadu), Karachi, Lahore, Multan (Bahawalpur), Peshawar, Quetta, Rawalpindi (Islamabad) and Sialkot (Gujranwala and Sheikhupura); they were scheduled to play eight four-day matches apiece in a round-robin league with no knockout.
But there was some resentment at the imposition of the PCB's selections. One player who thought he should have been chosen for Hyderabad sued; the court temporarily barred Hyderabad from taking part in the competition. Meanwhile the Cricket Association of Baluchistan, the province represented by Quetta, went to court against the PCB, alleging biased selection. Hyderabad's opening three matches and Quetta's first two were cancelled (these included the game between the two of them). Though they did eventually play their remaining fixtures, the PCB announced that these would not be counted in the final championship table; all points earned by other teams against Hyderabad and Quetta were wiped out, and though the games retained first-class status the league was effectively reduced to seven teams playing six matches each.
Faisalabad were clear first-time champions with five victories - their only defeat was in the discounted game with Quetta. Faisalabad completed a double triumph by winning all the seven fixtures they played in the oneday Quaid-e-Azam Cup. In 2004-05, the first-class competition remained regionally based, but expanded to 11 teams as the two biggest cities, Karachi and Lahore, were once again allowed to field two teams each. The intention was that the Patron's Trophy should be contested by the top eight teams from an Inter-Department Qualifying Tournament for 27 sides in October and November, with Bangladesh A invited as a ninth. But when Habib Bank and National Bank failed to reach the last eight, they pleaded to be allowed in anyway, arguing that many senior players would otherwise be deprived of first-class match practice. It was no surprise when the PCB rewrote the rules and invited four more teams to take part. The 13 sides included three making their first-class debuts: the Defence Housing Authority, Karachi Port Trust and Pakistan Telecom Company Limited. They were divided into two pools, won by the Water and Power Development Authority and Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (until recently known as the Agricultural Development Bank of Pakistan); these two met in a final, which ZTBL won to clinch the title for the first time since 1995-96. Habib Bank, one of the original non-qualifiers, beat PIA in the final of the one-day Patron's Cup. The non-first-class Cornelius and Kardar Trophies, which functioned as the second divisions of the Quaid-e-Azam and Patron's competitions, were scrapped, but the board introduced a regionally based tournament, the Inter- District Seniors, for 79 district teams playing two-day cricket.
The season's leading batsman was Aamer Bashir, of Pakistan Customs and Multan, who made 1,260 runs, including five centuries, culminating in a career-best 205 against Hyderabad. Shoaib Khan scored 1,249 including an unbeaten 300 for Peshawar against Quetta, the 13th first-class triplehundred by a Pakistani. The leading wicket-takers were Nasir Khan of DHA and Karachi with 62, and Zahid Saeed of National Bank and Sialkot with 60.