Why the QeA draft is a bad idea
The traditional annual event remains one of the pillars of modern sports. There are the Christmas Day games in the NBA, Boxing Day games in the Premier League, the Boxing Day Test and the Bastille Day stage of the Tour de France. Each of them is laden with tradition and helps keep these sports popular in their respective countries. Pakistan cricket too has its traditions. Devoid of any international cricket at home, it is admirable that the cricket fraternity here continues to persist with them. The greatest of those traditions is the annual domestic cricket reform. Much like traditional holidays they promise much and they leave you feeling empty inside when it's all over.
These domestic reforms aren't regurgitated though - like every snowflake each of them is unique. To describe them all would waste time both yours and mine, but while Australia's Sheffield Shield and the English County Championship have had more or less the same format and participants for decades, the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy - Pakistan's foremost first-class competition - bucks the trend.
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Thus the fact that there is another potential reform of domestic cricket on the way elicits little more than a shrug.
Except this time around there are, actually, significant changes. The move away from substandard Grays balls to Dukes is a welcome if overdue one. And the introduction of the draft promises a level of meritocracy that's been mostly absent from the Pakistani game. Or it would if Pakistan cricket existed in a vacuum.
Since the draft for the first PSL the PCB has begun to think of a draft, any draft, as the panacea it has been looking for. The Pakistan Cup, the National One-Day Cup and now, potentially, the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy all will have one draft system or another. And the official logic behind each of these has been that this method removes the corruption of selection that is otherwise so prevalent in the country. If only it was a simple as that.
In 2016, buoyed by the success of the PSL and its draft, the PCB repackaged the Pentangular as the "Pakistan Cup" - the new premier 50-over tournament in the country. Each of the four provinces, as well as Islamabad had teams that were to be selected by the draft. Five respected cricketers - Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Sarfraz Ahmed, Azhar Ali and Shoaib Malik - were appointed as captains to introduce a veneer of respectability.
Yet as Islamabad drafted its final player, the captain of that team - Misbah - reportedly walked out. That final pick had been of Arsal Sheikh. Ordinarily this would not have been that big a deal, except that Arsal is the son of Shakeel Sheikh, who just happens to be the head of the Islamabad Region Cricket Association, a member of the PCB's Governing Board and a former head of the PCB's Cricket Committee.
An uproar in the media followed - not over the selection of Arsal - but at the ignoring of the outstanding players from Pakistan's under-19 World Cup just a few weeks prior to this draft. Thus the PCB opted to expand the draft by one more round allowing each of the five teams to select a player from the under-19 World Cup squad, and so Hassan Mohsin and Shadab Khan were selected.
Once the tournament started, Shadab would play the first three matches, take five wickets, and with Misbah not available for the fourth game, would be dropped for Arsal.
A year on from that episode, we will be told by the PCB that the draft system is immune from selections which may be perceived as nepotism.
Let's ignore the fact that these proposed changes emerged from a PCB meeting involving its major domestic stakeholders. Let's especially ignore the fact that this meeting was chaired by Shakeel Sheikh. Let's also ignore that sat next to him in the meeting was the recently appointed Director Cricket Operations for the PCB, Haroon Rasheed. A cursory Google search tells us that in 2014 the PCB created a four-man committee for domestic cricket reform - two of the four men were Sheikh and Haroon Rasheed. In 2009 the PCB had a similar committee - two of the five men in that were Sheikh and Rasheed. There are probably many other such committees but Googling any further would be pointless, because we know what that would throw up. Perhaps the reason Pakistan has had the same domestic system for two seasons in a row (2015-16 and 2016-17) might be that Rasheed was too busy being the chief selector to be part of domestic reform. Now free of those duties he can return to his calling.
The proposed reforms state that eight players in every QeA regional squad will be selected from the region itself and 12 drafted in. In an ideal world those first eight would be the best possible players available. But considering the nepotism and favouritism that is rampant it isn't likely to be the case. There are a hundred such cases dotting the country; each region has its own. The only reason the Pakistan Cup story is known is because of how high profile an event it was.
In any case, the result of the latest reforms could well be that the majority of the eight slots end up being filled by men with the biggest clout. The 12 players that will be selected via the draft will be departmental players, meaning these are the players who have already established themselves in the domestic game. And so the tiny window that all youngsters have in this country to reach the first-class level will be closed. In one fell swoop, the PCB plans to cut off the small pipeline that keeps Pakistan cricket alive, and will denude the powers of the regions even further.
And that's the important thing to remember here. For all the corruption, for all the nepotism, for all the incompetence it's these regions that have kept Pakistan cricket alive. It is they who oversee the clubs that are the entry point into the professional game. It is they who develop kids into cricketers. It is they who provide opportunities to the players to shine on the domestic stage. And when that player signs up with a department, with its promise of higher, regular salary and job security, these regions return to do that process again. The regional associations may be crooked - and there is very little doubt that they aren't - but it is they who make Pakistan cricket work. This move would reverse the progress of a stagnated system.
But there is not much cause for alarm. Even if these reforms are enacted you can be sure that there will be a domestic cricket committee in 2019 that will reverse these decisions. And we already know two of the members of that committee.
Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, commentator, co-manager of the Islamabad United PSL franchise, and co-host of the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. @mediagag