Dodgy Dukes, departmental domination, and Fawad Alam
Round-up of the first set of fixtures from the 2017-18 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy
The Duke's debut
The PCB inducted English Duke balls on their premier first-class circuit in a bid to prepare for the two-match Test series in England next year. However, several players - bowlers and batsmen alike - complained about the quality of the ball. According to players, it is 'extraordinarily hard' on the bat and in the hands for the fielders, specifically in the slips. Bowlers also complained that the ball was difficult to shine, with the leather looking somewhat coarse.
At the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, in the opening round of fixtures, Water And Power Development Authority dismissed Lahore Blues for 198. The balls had to be changed no less than three times after losing their shape, supporting players' accounts that the quality was substandard. Those who have played league cricket in England claimed that the balls used in the QeA over this week were much harder than the ones used on the domestic circuit in the UK.
Departments dominate regions
The PCB recently introduced a draft system for selecting players in regional sides in a bid to make the tournament more competitive. But the opening round saw departmental teams, boasting sizeable international quality, continue to be in command, beating regional teams by significant margins. Sui Southern Gas Corporation beat Islamabad by 360 runs, Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited thrashed Peshawar by 154 runs, WAPDA tamed Lahore Blues by 120 runs, Habib Bank Limited thumped FATA by 335 runs, United Bank Limited toppled Karachi Whites by an innings and 73 runs, and National Bank of Pakistan saw off Faisalabad by 6 wickets. The only victories for the regions came for Rawalpindi and Lahore Whites, who turned over Khan Research Laboratories and Pakistan TV respectively.
Weeks after Mickey Arthur leapt to Sohail Khan's defence following a tense defeat against the World XI in Lahore, the bowler repaid his coach's faith, kicking off his QeA season with an 11-wicket haul, helping his side, United Bank, to an innings victory against Karachi Whites. He followed up a six-wicket haul in the first innings - including five of the top six - with a five-for in the second innings. It was a thoroughly all-round performance, too: in the one innings in which he batted, he scored 63 at No. 9, bolstering his all-round credentials.
The comeback kid
Raza Hasan, who was banned for two years for testing positive for a prohibited substance in 2015, returned with cracking match figures of 4 for 112 and 8 for 76 to help National Bank of Pakistan rip through Faisalabad's batting line-up. He was the young sensation of the 2012 World T20, but hadn't played first-class cricket since 2014 before being banned from playing all forms of cricket. The 25-year-old played 10 T20 matches and a solitary ODI for Pakistan, and remained in isolation before Lahore Qalandars director Aaqib Javed helped him revive his career. His contract with NBP - revoked after his suspension - was reinstated earlier this year, and he will be hoping to make up for lost time.
Contentious selections often make the news for all sorts of reasons; Vernon Philander's inclusion in the 2015 World Cup semi-final to apparently meet a transformation quota, James Pattinson's brother Darren's shock call-up to the England XI for a Test against South Africa in 2009. But you would have to wade through the archives to come up with a non-selection as perplexing as Fawad Alam's from the Pakistan team. He played the last of his three Tests in November 2009 - the same series in which Umar Akmal made his debut.
Over the last three seasons, he hasn't so much been knocking on the selectors' doors as barging in, helping himself to a cup of tea and putting his feet up on the comfy chair by the fireside. He ticks so many boxes for an international call-up you'd get bored if they were all listed. He's averaged nearly 60 over the past three domestic seasons, has the experience Pakistan so require in the wake of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan's retirements, and has come through the same domestic set-up the PCB uses for bowlers with alacrity.
In the opening QeA game, as captain of Sui Southern Gas, he scored 23 and an unbeaten 43-ball 50 (his strike rate has been one of the reasons selectors have offered for overlooking him). He could be forgiven for feeling, however, that he should have been batting in the UAE capital against Sri Lanka, instead of Pakistan.