PCB invites department teams to return to domestic cricket
Pakistan's first-class cricket is set to return to a model featuring both regions and departments
The Pakistan Cricket Board has invited the country's private and government departments besides three military institutes to be part of the domestic circuit. The PCB has initiated a restructuring of domestic cricket, and a return to the 16-team hybrid first-class model featuring both regions and departments.
The PCB has already abolished the previous six-team model after the completion of the 2022-23 season in the first week of January.
"The Pakistan Cricket Board has formally written to 27 leading departments, seeking their interest in participating in the PCB Domestic Cricket Season 2023-24, which will start in August," the PCB confirmed through a press release. "In the letters, the PCB has not only invited the departments to confirm their participation in the upcoming season at their earliest convenience [which] can help them prepare the season's calendar but has also encouraged them to set up strong cricket sides, assuring them maximum coverage and publicity through the traditional and new media."
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In the new structure, eight regional teams and eight department teams will play in the premier first-class tournament, the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Every season, the regional and department teams finishing bottom get relegated and two toppers (one region and one department) from the Grade 2 tournament will be promoted. Although the 2023-24 season effectively starts in August, the Pakistan government had given the new head of the PCB, Najam Sethi, 120 days (starting from December 21, 2022) to reset the set-up and go back to the 2014 constitution.
Racing against time, the PCB management committee is making every effort to return to the previous model, reviving the 97 districts that make up the 16 regions. There are around 3200 clubs already functioning across the country and are the major feeders of players into the regional system.
The Pakistan government recently removed Ramiz Raja and his Board by revoking the 2019 constitution the PCB was operating under and brought back Najam Sethi to head the management committee, giving it full executive powers to work on reviving the constitution of 2014. Aside from the changes in the board and its structure, that constitution will also bring back department sides into the domestic circuit - they had been removed in 2019 after former Pakistan captain Imran Khan became the Prime Minister of the country (the PM automatically becomes the PCB's patron).
Even though the PCB has reached out to the departments, it's not clear if the departments are willing to revive their teams in the current economic climate. There might not be much appetite for such organisations to hire a squad of cricketers. A number of department sides had shut down their sporting operations even before Imran's changes, with Habib Bank Limited (HBL) and United Bank Limited (UBL) among the prominent ones to do so.
PM Shahbaz Sharif, the PCB's current patron-in-chief, had already issued a directive in October last year to all 18 government departments/institutes to restore the governance of their sports structure in Pakistan and restart the financing of sports departments. The pick-up on that has been slow - ESPNcricinfo understands that Ramiz Raja as chairman had written to private banks to ask about reviving their teams but they had shown little interest. Various government departments are dependent on government budgets and haven't allocated a budget since the PM's notification.
Several government departments that function autonomously - such as State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Sui National Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL), Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV), Sui Southern Gas (SSG), Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL), and National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) - can easily allocate funds though it's unclear if they see it as a priority. The PCB's letter is an attempt to know their intentions. It is understood that not all 27 departments will be willing to return but the PCB requires at least 16 in the system under its proposed domestic structure. PSL franchise Lahore Qalandars are among the private teams willing to launch a team in the Grade 2 set-up to complement their player hunt program.
According to the 2014 constitution, the Board of Governors (BoG) will have ten members including four regional representatives (the top four teams from the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy), four representatives of service organisations (the top four department teams) and two members to be nominated according to the patron's discretion. To form a Board the PCB also needs to have an active domestic circuit.
The abolition of departments in 2019 led to resentment in the cricketing community of Pakistan. A group of former board members and cricketers including Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez and Umar Gul have been urging the government to revert to the previous domestic structure that included departmental teams such as Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), SNGPL and Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). The model introduced on the insistence of Imran led to a large number of players losing their livelihoods from their employment with departments.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent