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Cricket news - HBL scrap cricket team to continue investment in PSL

Afridi is one of the numerous big stars to play for HBL

Habib Bank Limited (HBL), the current champions of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, will not renew contracts of 26 players and six support staff personnel, which expired on March 31, as they shut down their cricket team. HBL, who won the Quaid-e-Azam One-Day Cup last year, have been one of the strongest sides in the Pakistan domestic scene for the past 43 years.

The bank has been the title sponsor of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) since its inaugural edition. The current deal stands over $12m. It had been pondering options to cut costs to continue their investment in the league. Running a cricket team - which had not missed a single season since 1975 - was costing them around $350,000 annually.

"To continue to invest in HBLPSL, and in the larger interest of cricket in Pakistan, HBL will redeploy its valuable resources from other avenues," an HBL spokesperson said. "This reinvestment will be partially achieved by exiting departmental cricket. HBL has had a long history in departmental cricket and recognizes its valuable contributions to Pakistan cricket. Consequent to our enhanced focus on HBLPSL, the HBL cricket team will be demobilized."

The banks started to enter Pakistan's domestic cricket in the early 1970s when then cricket board chairman Abdul Hafeez Kardar, who was also Pakistan's first Test captain, asked them to provide employment opportunities to the cricketers. Since then, HBL has had top tier of country's players with them including Javed Miandad, Mohsin Khan, Abdul Qadir, Shahid Afridi, and Younis Khan. Currently, Fakhar Zaman, Faheem Ashraf, Ahmed Shehzad, Imam-ul-Haq, and Abid Ali, who made a record for the highest score on ODI debut for Pakistan last week, were on HBL's player list.

"HBLPSL has given an opportunity to countless young cricketers to display their talent at a national and international level," said the spokesperson. "This has led to an unprecedented talent pipeline for Pakistan cricket and has played an instrumental role in discovering players like Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Hasan Ali and many more.

"With HBLPSL, international cricket has returned to Pakistan. We are also delighted to see cricket facilities being uplifted in Pakistan and fans once again packing the stadiums to enjoy cricket.

"HBL foresees a great future for Cricket in Pakistan where HBLPSL will remain a catalyst for bringing international cricket to Pakistan and enabling more matches to be played in the country. Moreover, HBLPSL will continue to discover, groom and nurture young talent for the benefit of Pakistan Cricket."

Last year, United Bank Limited, one of the most successful teams, had rolled back their cricketing operations after announcing as much as 63% decline in profits for the first quarter. The bank contracted Shan Masood, Umar Akmal, Saad Ali, Rumman Raees, Sohaib Maqsood under the mentorship of Younis Khan. It boasts an entire sports complex in Karachi which includes a first-class ground on which the final of the last Quaid-e-Azam Trophy was held.

The Pakistan Cricket Board is currently working on a plan to restructure its domestic cricket on the wishes of its Patron-in-Chief and country's Prime Minister Imran Khan. The former Pakistan captain has been an ardent proponent of the notion that only the regional teams should feature in domestic cricket. Khan wants Pakistan to adopt an Australia-esque domestic model in which six state teams play in Sheffield Shield. This requires a complete overhaul of the structure and has attracted backlash, primarily from the departments. Over the decades, the departments, considered an integral part of the structure, have been fielding their teams in both first-class and Grade-II levels along with in List 'A' cricket.

Sixteen teams, divided equally between the regions and departments, participated in the last year's Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Khan wants it to be reduced to six with two teams from Punjab and one each from Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.

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