The Quaid-e-Azam trophy, Pakistan's premier first-class tournament, is set to start from Tuesday with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) defending their title in the 31-match event.
Five other teams - Northern, Central Punjab, Southern Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan - will be taking part in the tournament, which will kick off with three simultaneous games in three of the five venues: Abbottabad, Rawalpindi, and Faisalabad. Karachi and Islamabad, which were initially slotted as venues, have been replaced by Multan and Lahore due to logistical challenges. The larger part of the tournament is slotted in the Southern and Central Punjab region with the final scheduled for November 26.
Five of the six teams will be led by Test players, the only exception being KP, who will be captained by veteran domestic allrounder Khalid Usman. Hasan Ali has moved from Central Punjab to South Punjab as captain while Azhar Ali will be leading Central. Sarfaraz Ahmed - who last played a Test for Pakistan in 2019 - will take Sindh's reins. Umar Amin will lead Northern while legspinner Yasir Shah will captain Balochistan.
The Cricket Associations Championship, which is a non-first-class red-ball tournament consisting of second-XI players (Grade 2), will commence simultaneously at three different venues within Karachi. The majority of the Associations Championship will be played in Karachi - with UBL complex, NBP sports complex and KCCA stadium the designated venues - and three games are scheduled for Quetta's Bugti Stadium.
Recapping last season
Northern and KP faced each other in the final in December 2021. KP's 169-run win was fuelled by Iftikhar Ahmed's hundred. Sindh finished third, despite having the same number of wins, losses, and draws as KP while Central Punjab (fourth) and Southern Punjab (fifth) had two and one wins respectively. Balochistan were winless and finished last.
Muhammad Hurraira, who was 19 at the time, became the first player to top the run charts in his debut season. He made history by becoming the second-youngest batter to score a first-class triple century in Pakistan, behind Javed Miandad, who made 311 in the Kardar Summer Shield final, at 17 years and 310 days. Hurraira's knock was the second triple-hundred of the season, following Ahsan Ali's 303* for Sindh.
Mubasir Khan, the offspinning allrounder, was the player of the tournament. He amassed 458 runs at 32.71 - mainly at No.6 - along with 30 scalps, adding to the run-fest from his brief 2020/21 season where he made 307 runs at 51.16. His exploits earned him a PSL call-up with Islamabad United in the emerging category.
Last season was also the season where Pakistan opener Abid Ali, who was batting on 61 for Central Punjab against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, withdrew from the match abruptly due to chest pain. After being taken to hospital, he was diagnosed with a case of Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS) and underwent a stenting procedure in his artery. He did return to white-ball cricket after extensive rehab, but the upcoming Quaid-e-Azam will mark his return in the longer format.
Left-arm spinner Ali Usman was the leading wicket-taker with 43 dismissals at 27.93 while Sohail Khan (30) and Sameen Gul (31) were the only two pacers to be among the top five leading wicket-takers. Mohammad Ali (32) and Mubasir (30) were other prominent spinners. Rohail Nazir, with 21 catches and ten stumpings, was the wicketkeeper with the most dismissals. He was handy with the bat, too, scoring 198 in 10 games.
How is this season different?
The tournament continues to be played on a double-league basis though the arrival of foreign coaches to lead a couple of teams will be worth following. Nottinghamshire assistant coach Paul Franks will be the head coach of Central Punjab while Leicestershire head coach Paul Nixon will take up the same role with Sindh.
Bilal Shafayat, who is working with Notts' age-group levels and second XI, will be assisting Franks as fielding coach for Central Punjab. John Sadler will be Sindh's fielding coach, while some other names include Richard Stonier (Central Punjab), and Ian Fisher (Sindh), who will help with strength and conditioning.
The second XI Cricket Championship will also be played on a double-league basis, across formats. The three-day tournament that used to be played as a pathway to first-class cricket will now extend to a four-day league [though they will not be officially recognised as first-class fixtures.] And just like the T20s and the 50-over tournaments, each side will get a minimum of ten matches.
New and improved central contracts
Ahead of the tournament, the PCB has given an increment to the 192 domestic players in their monthly retainers and match fees - across all formats and levels - for the season. As per the new financial model, a player featuring in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy will now get a match fee of PKR 100,000 as opposed to the previous sum of PKR 60,000. Similarly, the match fee for the Cricket Associations Championship has been increased from PKR 25,000 to PKR 40,000.