The 2017-18 Quaid-e-Azam trophy had attracted attention for its hectic schedule, with each team having to play seven four-day games in just 41 days. On Sunday, it attracted its most prominent critic, with former Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq bemoaning the quality of the pitch, claiming the heavy schedule meant it was difficult to prepare good pitches.
On the first day of the fourth round of QeA fixtures, 93 wickets fell across eight games, with the LCCA ground in Lahore alone seeing 17 wickets tumble. In the previous round, a game between WAPDA and Islamabad saw 24 wickets fall on the opening day.
Some attributed the bowler-friendly nature of the games to the Duke ball - introduced to the Pakistan domestic circuit for the first time - but Misbah - who continues to play domestic cricket despite retiring from international cricket in May - laid the blame on the pitches being overused. "I have been playing with these players [on the domestic circuit] all my career, and I feel good. But there is some disappointment as well after watching the state of pitches in domestic cricket," Misbah said. "This is supposed to be the most prestigious form of cricket after international cricket, but the standard of the tournament is very low.
"I always have been insisting that these concerns need to be heeded and these problems addressed. You cannot produce better cricketers until you don't improve the standard of the pitches. We take a lot of time to get here, players invest a lot of time to play but this isn't the standard that should be in place. When 20-24 wickets are falling in a day, then it is a concern. Wickets are uneven, the ball keeps low and it is obvious that the pitches are underprepared It's difficult for players."
Fifteen venues have been chosen to host the 69 matches. Just 86 days have been set aside for the entire tournament, with the final to be played from December 16. The group stage has been especially compressed, with each team afforded only 13 rest days if their games last all four days. That is a reduction on an already packed schedule: teams were given 18 and 15 days off in the group stages in the last two seasons. A National T20 Cup has been squeezed within this tournament, with a three-week window allocated after the group stage of the QeA, which ends on November 5, and the next stage - the Super Eight - starting from November 25.
There have been several rounds of talks over the last decade regarding the improvement of Pakistan's domestic cricket, with the circuit revamped every other year. But the players have often complained about the quality of pitches, the standard of the tournament and the uncertain schedule.
The PCB has also struggled to find a permanent resolution to the quality of the cricket ball being used in domestic cricket. This year, they got the manufacturers that produce the Duke balls to prepare a custom-made ball to withstand the extreme heat in Pakistan. This is the third time the PCB has changed the maker of the ball over the last five years, with the Grace and the Kookaburra also used.
With all the back-to-back games at venues, the pitches will inevitably take inevitable strain, and Misbah said domestic cricket needed to be taken seriously, instead of simply playing it as a compulsion. "It will happen when you play back-to-back games with only a two-day gap, and it will be difficult to maintain a pitch. It takes time to prepare a good pitch for a game and nobody can make it in two days. Organising the first-class tournament only for the sake of obligation shouldn't be the purpose; it should be played at a high standard. It should prepare us for Test match pitches."