Domestic players in Pakistan will not only be competing against their opponents this season in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy (QeT), but will also be up against a grueling schedule when the country’s premier first-class tournament begins from September 26. The 16 teams – comprising eight regions and as many departments – will play seven matches each in a span of 41 days. That means every side will have just two days for recovery, to work on their skill-set, and travel (in case of the departments) if their matches last all four days.
Not only will the tournament be extremely cramped, it will lack a proper pre-season. It has already been delayed for unknown reasons yet is still scheduled to start earlier than usual, when temperatures are still quite high around the country. And to top it off, the QeT will also feature a break to accommodate a T20 tournament, according to media reports. Top coaches and players have expressed their shock and dismay at the PCB’s decisions regarding its showcase domestic trophy.
“This is a failure of those responsible to plan the domestic tournaments,” said Sui Southern Gas Company’s (SSGC) coach Atiq-uz-Zaman. “The PCB has put us in a fix. It is quite a tough task to plan the season as a coach. But luckily we possess a great depth in the squad. I have a prime bowling lineup, comprising of seven players. We will be making combinations amongst them and rotating them on consistent basis.”
Salman Butt, captain of the defending champions Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) captain, also underlined the significance of pursuing a rotation policy during what promises to be a backbreaking season. When asked how he plans to manage his side that begins its title defence against Lahore Blues at the Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore from Tuesday, Butt said: “The [scheduling] could be tough on the players. But we will try and manage by rotating our players. We had implemented the rotation policy in the last season as well and we rotated our players more than any side. Unfortunately, we don’t have log books of our players’ fitness levels and other such detailing in domestic cricket. But, our players are looking good.”
The tournament’s first stage will last till November 5th, before teams take a 20 day break. The tournament will resume from the 25th of November, with the final scheduled for December 16th. Originally, the QeT was scheduled to start from September 14th, but was postponed for reasons known to the board’s domestic committee.
For Tabish Khan, who was the second highest-wicket taker in the last QeT, the board’s reversion to two-day gaps between the matches did come as a shock to him.
“For the past 10-12 years the trophy had been conducted like this,” he said. “It was only until the last two seasons that we were given three-day rest periods. Reverting back to the two-day rest has come as a shock to me. It becomes difficult for players like me who are representing departments. Our rest days are gone. We travel on one day and train on the second.
The three-day gaps had allowed players to rest in between matches. Even those who otherwise did not last for the whole season made it through that way.”
Another aspect of the trophy’s scheduling that will test the players, especially the fast bowlers, is the fact that the tournament begins almost a month earlier than usual with the temperatures still on the hotter side all over the country. Highlighting this fact, Tabish, who bowls right-arm-medium-fast said: “The season used to begin towards the end of October or at the start of November but this time around it is starting in hot weather..”
The lack of a pre-season period has exacerbated the situation for the teams. Since the QeT was announced at the end of August and then postponed, they had a maximum of 12 days to prepare their players for the country’s top tournament.
“During his previous tenure [as a member of domestic cricket committee], Haroon Rashid wrote a letter to all departments and criticised us for the substandard fitness levels of our players,” SSGC coach Atiq revealed.
“Now how can a department maintain the fitness standards when it is given a 10 or 12 days’ pre-season? Boards all over the world give at least four months before the season in which teams work on their players.
“Our coaches, on the other hand, are not aware of anything. They don’t know when the players would be available. They don’t know whether the 50-over tournament will be held first or the T20 tournament.
He added that the lack of a coherent schedule made it impossible to plan in advance. “Those responsible for preparing the schedule should think about conducting quality tournaments. We hired a foreign coach right away from the UK to improve our players’ fitness after Rashid’s letter. Last year we did get some time [for preparations]. This year, we have gotten only ten days. How is it possible to work on our players’ fitness in these 10 days? How can we claim that we have developed them physically? The cricket board will criticise us once again. We should be given at least one-month pre-season time. If we don’t get pre-season we cannot do anything, leave alone working on players’ fitness.”
When asked whether he approach the board to talk about his concerns, the SSGC coach said: “PCB listens from one ear and take it out from the other...the board only listens to the ‘so-called legends’ and make us feel like we don’t have brains.”
“What can WAPDA do on its own?” Butt queried when he was put forward the same question. “This is something which can be spoken about. But only WAPDA alone cannot do it. All the teams, especially the departments need to come forward and speak about their concerns with the PCB. We don’t have a platform to discuss such matters at domestic level. Sometimes you are singled out even if you speak the truth. And we need to join voices to put weightage in our argument by having more people on our side. If we raise this issue alone it would not be taken positively. We will be maligned and the people would say that we are not fit and we are making excuses.”
There is a high likelihood that all of these hugely consequential changes by the PCB to the country’s premier first-class tournament would be ignored by the cricketing fraternity. But if the dangers pointed out by players and coaches are as serious as they say, then the damage to cricket in the country would last for a lot longer.
Cricingif is awaiting the PCB's comment on the story since September 25, 2017.
The writer tweets @ahsannagi