Beyond the glitz and glamour of the Pakistan Super League and the endless gauntlets of the National One Day Championship lies a proving ground more prestigious than either. Charting a course alongside Pakistan in its turbulent history, the aptly-named Quaid-e-Azam Trophy has remained a constant fixture of Pakistan’s domestic setup; a no-nonsense, grit and grime tournament that has sifted the country’s best test players from the chaff.
On October 25th, the 63rd edition of Pakistan’s premier domestic Test competition began, bringing with it new opportunities for competing players to prove themselves fit for the most grueling format of the sport.
A total of 31 matches will be played among six provincial teams. These teams include Central Punjab, Southern Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Northern and Sindh. The tournament will be played in a round-robin format where all six teams will face each other twice with top two teams eventually qualifying for the finals. The final will be played between 1-5 January, 2021.
We take a look at the history and changing nature of the tournament, with an eye on what the future holds for it.
The first edition of the Quaid-e-Azam trophy was played in 1953. A year before that Pakistan registered its first test win in 1952 in India under the leadership of Abdul Hafeez Kardar. Ahead of Pakistan’s maiden tour to England, where the Green Shirts were set to play four test matches, there was need of a proper first-class structure to help gauge the skill-levels of the players.
Seven teams participated in the inaugural edition of the tournament. These teams included Punjab, Sindh, Bahawalpur, Combined Services, Karachi, North West Frontier Province and Railways. Bahawalpur won the tournament after defeating Punjab by 8 wickets in the final.
Karachi exerted their authority in the initial years of the Trophy, winning seven titles in a row from 1958-59 till 1966-67. Their first-ever tournament victory came in the second edition.
Though a massive feat back then, in hindsight this was just a beginning of the city’s supremacy, which saw them win nine titles in the next 14 editions.
Overall, Karachi sides have won the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy 20 times. Karachi Blues won the trophy nine times and Karachi Whites completed a hat-trick of titles from 1990-91 to 1992-93.
Teams from other cities were given a chance to compete in the tournament, alongside the traditional powerhouses Karachi and Lahore. Peshawar, Quetta and Dhaka were joined by the likes of Sukkur, Khairpur, Dera Ismail Khan and Hazara who all attained first-class status by competing in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.
Emergence Of Departmental Teams
Although Railways were a part of the tournamnet in its inaugural season, it was in the 60’s that department like Pakistan International Airline (PIA), Water and Power Development Authority and others became a part of Pakistan’s premier competition.
PIA were the first departmental side to win the tournament when the airliners won the 1969-70 edition. The ‘70s and ‘80s saw the departmental teams dominate the event as they won 15 of the 20 editions. Out of seven titles won by PIA in total, four of them were secured in these two decades.
During these years, the tournament was played on either the round-robin format or the teams were divided into different groups. The teams were kept at 10 to 12 since the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy was played between departmental sides, while regions and cities were restricted to Patrons Trophy. For the next nine seasons, the regions and cities returned to the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, with the number of teams remaining between eight and eleven.
Rise of the smaller cities
Until the 90’s, Lahore and Karachi were considered as the major cricketing hubs in the country. This decade saw the emergence of smaller cities and with the passage of time tournament became more competitive. By the turn of the century, the once smaller cricket centres had emerged as formidable forces.
From 2000-01 to 2013-14, Sialkot won the title twice with Peshawar, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi also securing one tournament win apiece. In the 1998-99 season, Peshawar had beaten Karachi by an innings to lift the trophy.
There have been six instances where Quaid-e-Azam Trophy was contested in two divisions. The 2005-06 and 2006-07 editions were played on two-division basis with competition for Gold and Silver categories.
The 2010-11 and 2011-12 editions of Division II were won by State Bank and Peshawar respectively, while the 2012-13 edition was played between 14 teams.
The top four teams from each group qualified for ‘Super Eight’. The last six in the standings competed in a ‘Bottom-Six’ competition, which was won by Faisalabad.
The new domestic system focuses on the quality of competition which will produce some thrilling and high octane matches, while narrowing the gap between domestic and international cricket.
Karachi and its teams have been the most successful and has won the tournament 20 times. Pakistan International Airline (PIA) has won the trophy 7 times followed by National Bank, which has won it 5 times.
Over the years, 26 teams in total – regional and departmental – have taken part in the competition. Before the overhauling of the domestic structure in 2019, as many as 16 teams participated in the tournament and played 69 games.
Domestic Structure Overhauling
In 2019, the new management of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in line with the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has been a long supporter of this system came up with a new domestic structure with regions competing with each other. Only six teams were made to play the premier tournament to increase competitiveness and bridge the gap between Pakistan’s domestic and international cricket.
In addition to this special focus was also diverted on producing quality pitches which supported both batters and bowlers to make the contests more challenging. Kookaburra balls were introduced so that bowlers can adapt quickly bowling in the international circuit.
In line with the PCB’s vision of giving Quaid-e-Azam trophy the utmost performance, a lot has been invested to improve the infrastructure of the grounds as well as the match fees of the players.
More than PKR 17 million are up for grabs this year over the course of the 31-match tournament with the winning prize money PKR 10 million and the runner-up bagging PKR 5 million.
The top-performers – player of the tournament, best batsman, best bowler and best wicketkeeper – will pocket PKR 500,000 each. The player of the final will be awarded PKR 50,000. The PCB as part of its commitment to promote domestic cricket, will broadcast and stream all 11 matches, including the five-day final, from the National Stadium.
Due to Covid-19, this year the tournament will solely be played across different venues in Karachi. To encourage attacking cricket, PCB has tweaked with how teams will be awarded bonus points. Unlike In the last edition where teams were awarded bonus points just on the basis of reaching a few pre-defined milestones.
Batting side that reaches 200 in 100 overs will get one point, two points on reaching 250 in 100 overs, three point at 300, four at crossing 350 and five points for reaching 450 in 100 overs. For bowlers, bonus points will be awarded on the basis of number of wickets taken.
Central Punjab, the defending champions have named a strong contingent for the tournament and will be the favourites. Sindh under Sarfaraz Ahmed will be looking to make amends by learning from their previous mistakes. The last year runner-up Northern will be hoping for a repeat of last year. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa look a bit thin on batting resources but have a lot of fire power in the bowling department.
Southern Punjab have a well balanced unit and will be rearing to go under Shan Masood’s able leadership. Yasir Shah will be captaining Balochistan who on paper look a bit in experienced but fully capable of upsetting any team.
The real test for these teams and their management will come when the National Team and Pakistan Shaheens leave for the New Zealand tour at the end of November. With most of the main players gone it will be interesting to see how teams change their combinations and playing. But having said that it will also give young players a chance to showcase their talent and make a case for the National team.