Regional sides in the 2017-18 Quaid-e-Azam trophy will be selected, in part, through a draft process, after the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) voted the changes through at a board meeting. Karachi, which represents the largest regional association in the country (a city with nearly 25 million residents), led the objections and walked out of the meeting on Friday in protest. But that was the only significant objection to what is now a reality: a radical new model whereby regional first-class sides will pick players through a draft process and not, as has been traditionally the way, through their own inter-districts cricket.
"There were animated discussions on the domestic revamp," PCB chairman, Shaharyar Khan said in a press conference after the meeting in Lahore. "Karachi said this new system was wrong. But we have taken the position that the draft will happen, otherwise there is corruption and nepotism in the system. It happens often in some regions where the president wants to play his players. Karachi did raise an objection and then, yes, they did walk out of the meeting."
Problems with non-merit based selections is one of the main reasons the PCB has come up with this new model, as well as a desire to enhance the competitiveness of regional sides who have struggled to compete against department sides in the QEA; historically, when regional and department sides have been grouped together in the tournament, the latter have fielded the better players, enabled by greater financial resources at their disposal.
The move has come in for some criticism, and it was partly that which led the board to agree to a compromise on the balance of players picked by a draft process and players picked through more conventional routes.
Initially, the model envisaged that 12 players out of a regional squad of 20 would be picked through the draft. Lahore, another major regional association, had suggested a reversal, where eight players would come through a draft. In the end, a compromise was reached: eight players will be picked through a draft, 10 through the usual selection and two will be emerging players from the region's Under-19 circuit.
Najam Sethi, the PCB's executive committee head, said all stakeholders had been taken on board. "Ejaz Farooqi (head of the Karachi association) wrote a letter of objection to the board and spoke about it as well at the meeting. Shakeel Sheikh, who is the head of the committee, has made those decisions with all stakeholders involved. Lahore wanted a 12-8 model (with 12 from region and 8 from a draft). So the compromise we worked out is 10-10. Selection will remain with regional heads and regional coaches. It won't be such a big issue."
The decision was taken in the final outgoing Board of Governors (BoG) meeting under the leadership of Shahryar Khan - whose tenure ends next month. It was the last meeting chaired by Khan as well as for the 10 governing boards members; next month, a new board with a new chairman will be formed.
Four new regions - Lahore, Sialkot, Quetta and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) - will replace Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi and Peshawar. United Bank Limited (UBL) and Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) will retain their spots as departments on the board on the basis of their standing in the 2016-17 QEA, while Habib Bank Limited (HBL) and Sui Southern Gas Corporation (SSGC) will replace National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) and Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL).
Sethi, who heads the Pakistan Super League (PSL), is the leading candidate to take over as board chairman from Khan. He was recently named as one of two direct nominees on the BoG, appointed by the patron of the board, the prime minister of Pakistan. Until Friday, Nawaz Sharif was that man, but he was disqualified by Pakistan's Supreme Court in a situation that has been building up since the Panama Papers. His disqualification, for the moment, leaves Pakistan without a functional government, and the PCB without a patron.
Coinciding as it does with the ascension of a new board head, ordinarily, the political uncertainty would ripple out into the board as well. But Sethi was confident that movement in Islamabad would not affect the PCB's imminent changes next month. "What happened in Islamabad has no relation to the PCB," Sethi said. "Today the PCB has no patron. But now a new one will come. It's not such a big deal, there is no constitutional issue."
Sethi's prospects will, however, depend heavily on who takes over from Sharif as the prime minister and patron of the PCB. Even before Sharif's dismissal, a Supreme Court advocate had filed a writ petition against Sethi's nomination in the Islamabad High Court. The court hasn't admitted the case but is assessing the maintainability of the petition and the hearing has been adjourned until August 10.