Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent
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There's a possibility of departmental teams returning to the Pakistan domestic circuit, after the Iqbal Qasim-led PCB cricket committee discussed the recent changes to the domestic structure and tasked Haroon Rasheed, the director of domestic cricket, to try and find a window to potentially squeeze in a new tournament.
"The cricket committee recommended the PCB should explore a window in the 2020-21 domestic cricket to slot in a tournament for the departments," the PCB said in a statement. "In this relation, Director - Domestic cricket operations, Haroon Rashid, has been requested to look into the potential window in the next season and update the cricket committee at the next meeting, which is expected in April."
Imran Khan, the former Pakistan captain who is now the prime minister of the country as well as the patron of the PCB, has been a long-time advocate of having only regional teams in the domestic circuit, and even shot down a PCB proposal in March last year, which had suggested a system that included the departmental teams, like Habib Bank Limited (HBL), Pakistan International Airlines, and Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA). Based on Imran's instructions, the 2019-20 season was contested by provincial teams - Balochistan, Central Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Northern, Sindh and Southern Punjab. There could, potentially, be a rethink on that, though whether the prime minister signs off on it remains to be seen.
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 then PCB chairman, encouraged organisations like HBL, Sui Southern Gas Corporation, WAPDA and others to provide employment opportunities for players. Since then, the top players have been contracted by the departments in question and given full-time jobs. The role of these departments in helping Pakistan cricket and cricketers has been significant, but it ended up depriving the regional sides from making use of their top players.
Till the 2018-19 season, 16 teams took part in the domestic circuit, playing the country's premier first-class tournament, the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Eight of these were from the provinces and the other eight from departments. After the revamp prior to the last season, most companies - WAPDA the exception - shut down their cricket teams, leaving many players without jobs. With the six regional teams in action, the number of players playing at the highest level domestically also went down significantly - from over 500 players to 192.
However, at the end of the first-class season, with the PSL around the corner, the PCB decided to look into the possibility of allowing departments back into the system. The matter dominated the discussions in the year's first cricket committee meeting in Karachi, at the end of which the plan to look for a new window was suggested. ESPNcricinfo understands that the issue was discussed even last year, but implementing it wasn't possible at the time. The Pakistan domestic season starts in October every year and runs until April.