Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent
A radical overhaul of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Pakistan's premier first-class tournament, is set to be presented before the PCB's governing board on Friday. Though there has been some resistance to the changes, ESPNcricinfo understands that the resolution is likely to win the seven votes that are required for its approval.
If approved, it will mean that regional sides in the tournament - such as Karachi or Faisalabad - will be picked via a draft selection, as happens in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and has since also happened in the country's premier 50-over tournament. News of the change was first revealed by ESPNcricinfo, but more details of the plan have emerged since then. Twelve players from each regional squad will now be allocated through a draft process, and the other eight selected in traditional fashion.
A pool of over 140 players for the draft was initially thought to be made up only of players who are part of departmental teams in Grade 2, the level below first-class. But the PCB has since clarified that Grade 2 players from regional teams will also be shortlisted by the national selectors. The inclusion of more regional players in the pool is a key factor in appeasing critics who argue that regional teams will become further emaciated by the change.
The rationale behind the plan, officials have said, is to make the tournament more competitive by populating each region with more experienced players. They also say that it aims to end a culture of nepotism hitherto rife in the selection of regional sides. However, the idea still hasn't convinced two regional representatives of the PCB, Karachi and Rawalpindi. They worry that a draft selection process will obstruct a significant number of players coming through senior inter-district cricket in open trials.
"Keeping in view the existing format, which includes eight departmental and eight regional teams in the first-class set-up, we have proposed meritocracy in selection through a player selection process since there were complaints that the regional teams were weak and hardly competed with the stronger departmental sides," Haroon Rasheed, PCB's director of cricket affairs, wrote in a blog on the PCB's official website. Rasheed is one of the driving forces behind the change and the blog is the first time he - or any PCB official - has publicly explained the change.
"Grade two players who are playing for departments or regions can be shortlisted by national selectors, and each region's own selection committee can choose 12 players from the pool announced by selectors, while eight players belonging to the region can be chosen based on the performances in the inter-district tournaments."
Ijaz Faruki, the head of Karachi region, has written a letter questioning the process. Former players such as Javed Miandad and Mohsin Khan have also opposed the process, raising concerns about what this might do to regional associations.
"With the draft coming in place, the production of the fresh players coming in the system will be lost with the passage of time," said one regional head, who is likely to argue against it in the board meeting in Lahore tomorrow. "We have inter-district below grade cricket, and there is a huge number of players stepping up to play first-class cricket every year.
"Yes, at an early stage, players are rookies in first-class cricket, but that is what it is all about. Nobody is born a Tendulkar or Younis Khan; they have to get in the system first to be developed, and domestic cricket is a platform where players get experience with time."
Peshawar and Islamabad regions are among those who support the plan, having been part of a working group that created the plan. The four departments, who are neither involved in the debate nor consulted, are not likely to argue against the proposed new system.
The PCB has simultaneously also decided to revive a central contract mechanism for regional players. In 2011, the PCB had awarded six-month contracts for all 20-man regional squads. But with a change in administration, the concept was shelved, with regional players getting only match fees and the facility of lodging and boarding during tournaments.
But the board will now hand 20 regional players a one-year contract, a stability many of them will not have seen before. "This will enable the PCB to work closely with them, monitor their progress, while the coaching staff can also work on improving their game and fitness throughout the year," Rasheed wrote. "This example is followed by leading teams, as well as our own departmental sides. This way, we can produce a strong second string that can replace the national players in a state of readiness.
"From now on, we have proposed induction of Under-19 players in the first-class system, which wasn't the case until last domestic season. We want to concentrate on the development of young players and we might even set a quota for under-19 players in each team to ensure that the youngsters rub shoulders with the experienced lot which will help in developing their game."