Sarfaraz Ahmed (Sindh), Babar Azam (Central Punjab), Shan Masood (Southern Punjab), Imad Wasim (Northern), Mohammad Rizwan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Haris Sohail (Balochistan) will lead six provinces in a new, streamlined domestic season set to begin next week. The welcome prospect of Pakistan's elite players taking part in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy - from September 14 - is partially offset by the reduction in the number of players who can call themselves first-class cricketers this season: 96, down from 256 last season.
According to the PCB's new model, each of the six associations will have a pool of approximately 35 players, split in half between first-class and non-first-class categories. In all 192 players will be offered a year-long contract (in each province Pakistan's centrally contracted national players such as Sarfaraz, Babar, Haris and others, do not get paid the provincial contract fees), with half playing first-class cricket and the other half playing three-day games, which don't have first-class status, for their association's Second XI.
The old model, which included 16 regional and departmental teams playing first-class cricket, was officially scrapped by the PCB last week.
Given that department sides have long employed the country's best players - because they can afford to pay more - a large majority of the 192 players selected are those who were playing for department sides last year; many of the players who populated the regional sides last year don't make the cut. Performances from the last three years of first-class cricket, the last two years from List-A cricket, and the last four years of under-19 cricket were taken into consideration before the squads were named.
The scale of the change means, inevitably, there will be questions asked of selections across the squads. For instance, Imad has been made captain of Northern despite not being a regular red-ball cricketer. His last first-class game was two years ago and he's played just five games since the start of 2015.
And though the PCB has found a way to accommodate domestic veterans with little hope for Pakistan call-ups - such as Mohammad Sami and Aizaz Cheema - by putting them in as playing mentors of the province's Second XI side, it has decided that Sohail Tanvir, another white-ball specialist, warrants a place in the Northern side. Tanvir will be 35 in December and has played eight first-class games since 2014.
Both squads - the First XI and the Second XI - for each association was finalised by a three-member panel comprising of Misbah-ul-Haq, Rashid Latif and Nadeem Khan. The provisional squads list was put together earlier by the ex-selection committee members - Tauseef Ahmed, Wajahatullah Wasti and Wasim Haider - and the present junior selection committee - Saleem Jaffer, Arshad Khan, Rao Iftikhar, and Taufeeq Umar - alongside the regional coaches.
Explaining the thought process behind the selections, Rashid Latif said emphasis was put on youth, and on legspinners since "we have to start searching for the replacements of Yasir Shah and Shadab Khan from today". "We preferred players in early 20s who have shown improvement," Latif said. "Those who have got a bit old and have had their performances go downhill were let go, which was a tough decision.
"There might be questions on why there are only four local players in the First XI and ten in the Second XI teams from the Balochistan Cricket Association. The purpose behind making the call is to groom these players. At the moment, there are 44% native players in the side. Nadeem Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and I have recommended the PCB to have 90% local players in the Balochistan sides by developing the game there."
Last year, 69 first-class games were played. Under the new structure, this season there will be 31 first-class games, and 16 T20s and 31 one-dayers. The squad for each of these formats will be selected from within the extended squad. The domestic season starts on September 14, with the first-class teams and Second XIs playing concurrently.
The Second XI's version of the country's premier first-class tournament, the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, will include 30 three-day group matches, with a four-day final contested at Karachi's State Bank Stadium from November 26.
Balochistan Cricket Association
Second XI: Akbar-ur-Rehman (c), Akhtar Shah, Atif Jabbar, Awais Zia, Dawood Khan, Fahad Iqbal, Gohar Faiz, Gulraiz Sadaf (wk), Haseeb Azam, Jalat Khan, Mohammad Junaid, Nazar Hussain, Rameez Raja (from Pishin), Shehzad Tareen, Taimur Ali, Usama Razzaq
White-ball specialists: Akif Javed, Ibtisam Sheikh, Mohammad Talha
Coaching staff: First XI: Altaf Jaffery (manager), Arshad Khan (head coach), Shoaib Khan (assistant coach); Second XI: Raj Hans (manager and head coach), Aslam Sheikh (assistant coach)
Central Punjab Cricket Association
Second XI: Ali Waqas (c), Abdullah Shafiq, Ahmed Safi Abdullah, Aizaz Cheema (mentor), Ali Zaryab, Asad Raza, Atiq-ur-Rehman, Ayaz Tasawar, Bilawal Iqbal, Farhan Khan (wk), Irfan Niazi, Mohammad Akhlaq, Mohammad Ali (from ZTBL), Raza Ali Dar, Suleman Shafqat, Zahid Mansoor
Coaching staff: First XI: Khalid Niazi (manager), Ijaz Ahmed Jr (head coach), Samiullah Khan Niazi (assistant coach); Second XI: Naveed Anjum (manager and head coach), Akram Raza (assistant coach)
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Cricket Association
Second XI: Khushdil Shah (c), Ahmed Jamal, Akbar Badshah, Arshad Iqbal, Asad Afridi, Asif Afridi, Atizaz Habib Khan, Azizullah (from Peshawar), Gohar Ali (wk), Irfanullah Shah, Khalid Usman, Mehran Ibrahim, Mohammad Mohsin Khan, Mohammad Naeem (from FATA), Sajid Khan, Samiullah Jr
White-ball specialists: Imran Khan Jr, Mohammad Arif, Mohammad Mohsin
Coaching staff: First XI: Farrukh Zaman (manager), Kabir Khan (head coach), Wasim Haider (assistant coach); Second XI: Riffatullah Mohmand (manager and head coach), Sajid Shah (assistant coach)
Northern Cricket Association
Second XI: Faizan Riaz (c), Ali Imran, Hasan Raza, Jamal Anwar (wk), Naved Malik, Raza Hasan, Salman Irshad, Sarmad Bhatti, Shadab Majeed, Shehzad Azam, Shoaib Ahmed Minhas, Syed Tauseeq Shah, Umair Khan, Umair Masood (wc), Usama Mir, Zeeshan Malik
White-ball specialists: Mohammad Amir, Sohail Akhtar, Zaid Alam
Coaching staff: First XI: Shakeel Ahmed (manager), Muhammad Wasim (head coach), Manzoor Elahi (assistant coach); Second XI: Tahir Mahmood (manager and head coach), Saeed Anwar Jr (assistant coach)
Sindh Cricket Association
Second XI: Mohammad Sami (captain and mentor), Rameez Raja Jr (vc), Adeel Malik, Ahsan Ali, Ammad Alam, Ashiq Ali, Ashir Qureshi, Danish Aziz, Ghulam Muddasar, Hassan Khan, Jahid Ali, Mohammad Suleman, Mohammad Waqas, Rumman Raees, Saad Khan, Saifullah Bangash (wk)
Coaching staff: First XI: Rashid Khan (manager), Azam Khan (head coach), Umar Rasheed (assistant coach); Second XI: Tauseef Ahmed (manager and head coach), Shaukat Mirza (assistant coach)
Southern Punjab Cricket Association
Second XI: Naved Yasin (c), Salman Ali Agha (vc), Ali Usman, Anas Mustafa, Ataullah, Maqbool Ahmed (wk), Mohammad Ali Khan, Mohammad Basit, Mohammad Imran, Mohammad Irfan Jr, Mohammad Mohsin (from Lahore), Mohammad Umair, Mukhtar Ahmed, Zeeshan Ashraf, Zia-ul-Haq, Zulfiqar Babar (mentor)
White-ball specialists: Ali Khan, Shoaib Malik, Sadaif Mehdi
Coaching staff: First XI: Shahid Butt (manager), Abdul Rehman (head coach), Zahoor Elahi (assistant coach); Second XI: Sajjad Akbar (manager and head coach), Javed Hayat (assistant coach)