Umar Gul and Misbah-ul-Haq have added their voices to the motion to revive department cricket in Pakistan. A year after the entire structure was revamped, there are now voices from within the Pakistan Cricket Board seeking a re-evaluation, with Gul being a PCB cricket committee member and Misbah the head coach and chief selector of the senior men's team.
The PCB has been criticised for the move to abolish departmental cricket, with the move having rendered hundreds of cricketers jobless at a stroke, and both Gul and Misbah have urged the board and the government to set up a plan for players whose livelihoods have been affected. In its new structure, the PCB had constituted six associations from each province in Pakistan, with 192 cricketers given an annual contract. Replacing the old structure with the new one was a decision driven by the current prime minister Imran Khan, who is also the patron-in-chief of the PCB, and who had rejected an earlier domestic model the board proposed that included departments.
"The salary I used to receive from the department was sufficient to cover my monthly expenses. But now, honestly speaking, what we are earning from domestic matches, which includes match fees and a monthly retainer, is not enough to cover the needs of my family," Gul told cricketpakistan.pk.
"The players felt secured in departmental cricket but that is no longer the case. We need departmental cricket back, even if it is in grade two, and I will continue to raise my voice in this regard as a member of the cricket committee."
Elaborating on the shape department cricket could take, Gul said, "Even if it's a grade two tournament, it can be with three-day cricket for 10 to 12 departments. In previous meetings, we talked about finding a window for it so that players who lost their livelihoods can get back to their lives."
There had been a possibility of departmental teams returning to Pakistan's domestic circuit earlier this year when the Iqbal Qasim-led PCB cricket committee tasked the then director of cricket, Haroon Rasheed, to try and find a window to potentially squeeze in a new tournament. But the idea never materialised, leading Qasim to resign from his post in protest and calling the committee toothless.
Most departments have already suspended contracts they had with cricketers. Those who were permanent employees were asked to pick desk jobs, effectively ending their cricketing aspirations. These were players hired mainly for their cricketing skills, and given their lack of qualifications for other jobs, they have had to pick non-executive jobs with lesser pay.
Earlier this week, after the national side's return from England, Misbah had also stressed on the livelihoods that had been affected.
"The cricket board is trying to have an alternative for the players," Misbah said. "You obviously don't want cricketers playing in the system to have their livelihoods fully abolished, or have a shortage of players, or that they face financial losses. We have spoken about this, but unfortunately, this issue hasn't progressed properly. One of the reasons are circumstances around Covid-19 when everything was shut down and it took over three months [to normalise]. And now the season is upon us and the board didn't get time to do much about it. But in my opinion, I think they should think about this. I did tell the PCB and the government and they should make a thorough plan on how to involve these cricketers and not leave them deserted."
Domestic cricket in Pakistan has been played among departments and regions since the early 1970s, when Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Pakistan's first Test captain and later the PCB chairman, encouraged organisations like HBL, Sui Southern Gas Corporation, WAPDA and others to provide employment opportunities for players. Since then, top players have been contracted by the departments in question and been given full-time jobs. The role of these departments in helping Pakistan cricket and cricketers has been significant, but it also ended up depriving regional sides of their top players.