PCB revamps first-class structure again
After months of deliberation, the PCB has once again overhauled its domestic cricket structure, combining the department and regional teams in one first-class tournament. Twenty-six teams - 12 departments and 14 regions - will now compete in the premier first-class competition - the Quaid-e-Azam (QEA) Trophy, but in two divisions. The 2014-15 season begins with the one-dayers and the first-class tournament runs between October 12 and January 22.
Previously, the regions and departments played first-class cricket in separate tournaments - the QEA Trophy and the President's Trophy. That format was in place for two years from 2012, but has now been done away with by the interim PCB administration under chairman Najam Sethi.
Pakistan's domestic cricket structure has been unstable over the last decade, with revamps occurring almost every two years. To end the inconsistency, the new system has been announced for a five-year period, with a review to be conducted after three years.
The latest restructuring removed the President's Trophy, which was introduced in 2012 and contested by service departments. The revamp brought back a two-tier system with the 12 top sides - six departments from the previous President's Trophy and six regions from the QEA Trophy - competing in QEA Gold. Five departments that finished between seventh and 11th in the 2013-14 President's Trophy, one other department (winner of Grade-II Patron's Trophy) and the bottom eight regional sides in the 2013-14 QEA Trophy (14 sides in all) will play in QEA Silver.
An incentive system has also been introduced with the bottom-placed department and region from QEA Gold facing relegation to Silver, and the top department and region from Silver getting promoted to Gold. The department and region that finishes bottom of QEA Silver will be demoted to grade-two level.
"Our domestic structure has never been consistent," Haroon Rasheed, PCB's director of game development, said in Lahore. "We are aware that the structure had duplications, loopholes and things going in two different directions. We were not getting quality from the previous structure. So there was a definite need for a revamp and we are hoping to get the result with the change.
"We have researched that last year, departments have not really invested in new players and no player from the 320 regional players managed to win a place for the national team. So there was a concern because the PCB has been investing huge amounts of money in domestic cricket but the output isn't really what we are expecting. So we have decided to merge both departments and regions to let them play each other. The new structure will have a new spirit and the format is a competitive one."
The ball used in domestic cricket has also been the subject of debate in Pakistan over the last five years. The imported Kookaburra was used in domestic competitions between 2000 and 2007, until the PCB, under Ijaz Butt, encouraged the use of locally manufactured balls. In 2012, the Kookaburra was reintroduced but the PCB has now decided to use the Grays of Cambridge - a local manufacturer engaged with PCB since 1973 - in first-class cricket. White Kookaburra balls, however, will be used for one-day and T20 matches.
The first-class tournament has been spread over four months and the PCB has decided to keep most of the matches in the south of Pakistan to avoid bad weather in the north during the winter. Last year, the PCB was forced to reschedule most of the matches from cities like Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Faisalabad.
"All domestic matches during the period from December 1, 2014 to January 25, 2015 will be scheduled in the south to avoid the extreme cold and foggy weather in the north, due to which a number of matches could not be completed in the last cricket season," Rasheed said.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson