Saeed Ajmal, who last played first-class cricket in 2015, has been picked up by Faisalabad Region for the upcoming Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Pakistan's premier domestic tournament. As many as eight regional teams selected their squads, with eight players out of 20 selected through the draft process for the very first time in the history of Pakistan cricket. A total of 12 players, including two emerging players, were selected through the traditional process of picking players from their own senior inter-districts.
Ajmal, 39, last played for Pakistan in Bangladesh in 2015 after remodelling his bowling action, which was declared illegal by the ICC in September 2014. He struggled to maintain his performances ever since, and is yet to play for Pakistan since that ill-fated Bangladesh tour, which saw Pakistan lose all three ODIs and the solitary T20I. His personal performances on that tour were also a sharp diversion from his high standards before being sanctioned. They included figures that read 10-0-74-0 in the first ODI, the worst of his career.
He earmarked the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in 2016 as a stepping stone from which he would make a national comeback, but was never able to establish himself as an automatic selection for his franchise, Islamabad United.
The method to pick players via a draft was a radical change this year, but then again, Pakistan's domestic cricket has been the subject of an overhaul almost every second year for the past decade. The format remains intact for the second year running, with 16 teams (eight regional and eight departments), but the selection process was tweaked in spite of strong objections raised by Karachi, the largest cricket association in the country.
The move initially came under heavy criticism, leading to the board to agree to a compromise of the balance of players picked through the draft. The PCB had initially intended for 12 players to be selected through a draft system, leaving regions to pick only eight players from their districts. Facing pressure from cricket quarters within the country, the PCB found a middle ground by allowing associations to pick 60% of players through more conventional routes from their respective regions.
Eight players were picked through a draft and 10 through the usual selection process, with two set to be emerging players from the region's Under-19 circuit. The model, according to the PCB, was introduced to counter the problem of selections not based on merit, making it more competitive when competing with departmental teams, who can field much stronger players. The PCB wished 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 eight regions expressed their satisfaction at the smooth conduct of the ceremony and wholeheartedly accepted the new system which encourages meritorious selections," the PCB said in a statement. "The regions are our arms; we want to give them maximum support since they produce talent at grassroots level and are the reason for Pakistan cricket's success at the highest level which has recently culminated in the historic Champions Trophy success. Our domestic system is on the road to improvement and that's the reason that the Player Selection Ceremony was introduced this year to add a new exciting dimension for the players besides further encouraging the role of new blood through induction of two Emerging Players in each squad."
The year's domestic calendar is also yet to be unveiled, with several dates decided only to be pushed back. The PCB had earlier scheduled to start the season with the National T20 Cup and forced all the players playing in the Caribbean Premier League to return home, before deciding to postpone the National T20 Cup to November.