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Beating SL in Tests, revamp of Quaid Trophy to boost Pakistan cricket

Beating SL in Tests, revamp of Quaid Trophy to boost Pakistan cricket

The improbable yet magnificent victory in the third Test at Pallekele against Sri Lanka proved that Pakistan cricket is alive and kicking. The entire team rose like a man to the stiff challenge and came out trumps to win the series in emphatic fashion.

Younis Khan the great was clearly the hero of the match, his monumental 171 carrying Pakistan ashore in face of heavy odds. He has been such an amazing servant of Pakistan cricket, words can never do justice to his invaluable contribution. And then there was young Shan Masood who defied his critics in style to score a fantastic hundred in trying conditions. There was wily Yasir Shah who eclipsed the legendary Shane Warne with his exploits in the series while Azhar Ali, skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Khan and others also chipped in with their bit to show that Pakistan players have the verve and the panache to give just about any team in the world a run for the money when it comes to accepting the challenges.

The ODI series is on these days and Pakistan is clearly looking the better team there too.

Here, I would like to say that if the grand idea of holding the Pakistan Premeir League (PPL) in Dubai materialises in the near future, it will be a real boon to our cricket. With hardly any international cricket happening on our soil and the Pakistan players also wrongfully overlooked in the Indian Premier League, the PPL could provide tremendous exposure to our players and a platform to hone their skills while competing alongside the world’s top players.

Najam Sethi Sahab has been emphasising the importance of holding the PPL and I could well understand his keenness for that. He is a wise man who has travelled the world and has rubbed shoulders with top cricket officials around the world to know that Pakistan cricket can only survive if it gets regular and high-calibre contests against the top teams.

Besides PCB chief Shaharyar M. Khan, whose untiring efforts resulted in the historic Zimbabwe tour and an Ireland one could be just round the corner, Sethi’s brilliance and goodwill have been instrumental in keeping Pakistan among the front-ranking cricketing nations despite all odds. I sincerely hope that the fine combination of these two erudite officials continues to serve Pakistan cricket for a long time.

I must also laud the latest PCB move to rope in a genius like Wasim Akram for a fast bowlers talent hunt project. That, I am sure, will yield good results and some good young players will be unearthed during the process.

On another front, a lot of debate has ensued over the revamped format of the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy which remains the country’s premier first-class competition.

However, a closer, rational analysis of the changes made by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) shows that cricket could become more qualitative, competitive and exciting at the domestic level rather than getting reduced to a farce of some kind, as pointed out by a few people.

I must remind here that many of the game’s critics in the country have already been criticising the otherwise large number of teams, 26, that have been allowed to contest the trophy during the past few seasons.

Personally, I have also been of the view that too many teams in any tournament can reduce it to a hotchpotch and take the sting out of it. So when the PCB recently decided to revamp the Quaid Trophy format, I thought they had acknowledged a widely-backed notion.

By reducing the teams to 16, the PCB has clearly laid its focus on quality and not quantity, something that Shaharyar Khan has emphasised from day one. He has, on a few occasions, also called for shaping our domestic tournaments on the lines of Sheffield Shield which is Australia’s premier domestic tournament.

I could not agree more to this. Australia, without a shadow of doubt, have been the leading cricketing nation for several decades with a whopping five World Cup titles to their name. And yet, only six teams form the nucleus of the Sheffield Shield competition which remains a tight, fiercely contested event with only the best players featuring in it.

As opposed to that, England’s domestic circuit comprises as many as 18 county teams, but they are yet to win a World Cup title and failed to qualify for the quarter-finals at this year’s ICC World Cup, jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Coming back to PCB’s revised format for the Quaid Trophy, from what I understand twelve teams (six each from regions and departments) have direct entry into the main first-class pool on the basis of their performance during the last season. That, I feel, is also a matter of upholding the merit and the teams who did well last year will definitely get a boost by their automatic elevation into the prestigious Quaid Trophy.

The other four teams will be decided on results from a qualifying round that will be contested between fourteen teams. Here too, the regions and departments are given a fair deal because they will play their qualifying rounds separately. Eventually, two teams from each group will advance to the main first-class pool which basically means that only the best of the best will make the grade.

There’s also another key factor that has been foremost in devising the revamp plan, and that is safeguarding the players’ financial needs. As many as 65 players are currently playing league cricket in England or elsewhere and they are contractually obliged to various clubs. Recalling them in August would have severed Pakistani relations with these clubs and would also have impacted our players financially. Therefore, the PCB has now decided to schedule the qualifying round in September which is extremely sensible.

The writer is former Test cricketer and chief selector

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2015

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