Bahawalpur make a big splash on return
Having been merged with the Multan region during the overhaul of Pakistan's domestic cricket in 2003-04, Bahawalpur returned to top-level competition by qualifying for the semi-finals of the Faysal Bank T-20. They had spent nearly a decade in the wilderness before being restored to full regional status this season.
Bahawalpur five matches in a row - beating Rawalpindi Rams, Peshawar Panthers, Karachi Dolphins, Lahore Eagles and Hyderabad Hawks - to make the semi-finals of the 14-team tournament. They then lost to Faisalabad Wolves, but were not out of their depth, losing by only ten runs. Their next step is the semi-final on Saturday, against Sialkot Stallions or Lahore Lions.
After partition in 1947, Bahawalpur became a province of Pakistan only in 1952, and was merged into the province of West Pakistan in 1955. They were the champions of the inaugural Quaid-e-Azam trophy in 1953, beating Punjab in the final. They won in 1958 as well, thrashing Karachi C by 211 runs.
"The region has been isolated for so long despite a historic cricketing background and having players talented enough to play for the national team," Syed Hassan Ahmed, president of the Bahawalpur Cricket Association, told ESPNcricinfo. "This part of the region never got the spotlight, instead the focus has been on bigger cities like Lahore and Karachi. I can assure you the talent is here but it requires attention and development."
Bahawalpur also has a cricket stadium know locally as Dring Stadium. It was the first cricket ground in Western Pakistan to host a Test match - the second Test of the India's first tour to Pakistan in 1955. It was the only international match to be held at this ground.
They now have six districts in their region - Muzaffargarh, Layya, Rajanpur, Rahim Yar Khan and Bahawalnagar - whereas when Bahawalpur was merged with Multan the entire province had 14 districts.
"In the last ten years, we have suffered a lot as most of the boys have been moving out of the country to play league cricket in England, but now nobody has to go out and we have our team," Ahmed said. "I am excited to see that Stags have reached to the semi-final, it's just a glimpse that we have players with the calibre to make their way to the national side. We are playing the Quaid-e-Azam trophy and within the next couple of years we will bring out the best talent to make up a steady and competitive team."
Bilal Khilji, the captain of Bahawalpur Stags, was thrilled with his team's progress in the Faysal Bank T-20. "We had a point to prove that we can do it," Khilji said. "We don't have a list of prolific players but what we have is the confidence and motive to do well. We entered the tournament with a minnow tag and critics were even questioning our existence in the event, but we have a simple goal - to win every game no matter if it's a Karachi or Rawalpindi.
"I have been playing for Multan but there was always a sense of insecurity as the team was made with 14 districts. But now a team has been made with players from a region and we have a better understanding and unity."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent