It was a Quaid-e-Azam Trophy round that will be forever remembered for a frenetic game between Sui Northern Gas Corporation and Lahore Blues. The highest innings score was 92, with the first three innings all wrapped up without any side reaching triple digits - the first time that has ever happened in the QeA Trophy. In the fourth innings, Sui Northern chased down a target of 70 to seal their passage into the final.
WAPDA lost after failing to defend 301 in the fourth innings, with Sui Southern cruising to victory by seven wickets. Despite that, WAPDA had already done enough to claim a place in the final.
But look a little deeper, and something else seems off. WAPDA's premier fast bowlers, Mohammad Asif and Waqas Maqsood, bowled a combined 9.5 overs, leaving part-timers and even out-and-out batsmen to bowl the rest. Sui Southern ended up chasing 302 in a mere 56.4 overs, with Sami Aslam scoring an unbeaten 133.
That was, according to Butt, down to the hectic schedule of this season's tournament, one that has taken a fair toll on fast bowlers. Butt wanted to protect his pacers ahead of the QeA final, which begins on Thursday.
"The main thing is we're into the final and we only had two days," Butt told ESPNcricinfo. "These are the only bowlers we had available and some of our players are injured. We have only 13 guys over here so we decided to give them a rest because we found out in the morning we had qualified for the final. So we didn't ask them to bowl too much, saving them for the final on the 21st."
Butt was also quick to dismiss suggestions that the competition had been devalued by his tactical decision. "Is this a bigger match than the final?", he asked. "If we don't have bowlers in the final, what am I going to do? The boys have been playing for two-and-a-half to three months. Two or three of them had gone off to the T10 league, so we just don't have the guys. What are we to do?"
This year's QeA season had raised eyebrows when the schedule was announced in September. Just 41 days were allocated to the group stage, in which each team had to play seven four-day games. Less than three months were set aside for the entire tournament, which started on September 26. The final begins on December 21.
However, there was a break in the tournament between November 5 and November 25. But take the word "break" with a pinch of salt, as it was used to play the National T20 Cup, which was previously postponed from August.
Asif has bowled 174.5 overs this QeA season, taking 39 wickets at an average of 12.92, while Maqsood has sent down 152.3 overs taking 27 wickets at just under 17. They are crucial to WAPDA's hopes of retaining the title, and while Butt was hopeful his premier bowlers would be fit for the final, he also highlighted several other challenges cricketers faced with regards to fitness.
"The problem is, players have health issues. In the departments, there are no proper doctors, masseurs or nutritionists with the boys. So when they say they're not feeling well, we give them a rest. If the outcome would have determined whether we made the final, we would have given it our all. But we were already through, so it wasn't smart to overexert them."