Mohammad Wasim isn't intimidated by weak squads, and that's probably just as well, because the Northern's head coach arguably had the weakest squad in the competition to work with. In the new, revamped structure of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy that saw just six teams compete in Pakistan's premier first-class competition, there was no side as light on Test match experience as the one Wasim was coaching.
It showed in the first half of the competition. After each team had played six of their ten scheduled matches, Northern were bottom of the table, with four draws and two losses, and yet to register victory in the tournament. Their young starlet, 18-year old Rohail Nazir, who, in his commitment to youth, Wasim appointed captain early on in the tournament, hadn't yet found the form that has earned him that reputation. Central Punjab had beaten them soundly by an innings, twice. The gulf between them and the best teams in the competition was, to put it mildly, distinctly discernible.
But these are precisely the sort of situations that Wasim feels stimulate his strengths. You might deem a squad that had Umar Amin (four Test caps) as its most experienced exponent of international red-ball cricket, a little light in quality, but Wasim has worked with less. A year earlier, he was coach of the Swedish national team (current T20I ICC ranking: 42) that finished third in the World Cup Europe Qualifier, only just missing out on progression to the next stage. As such, he wasn't complaining about the challenge he had been presented as Northern coach.
"I've been coaching for three seasons in one place or another, but this was my first assignment as a PCB employee," Wasim told ESPNcricinfo. "When the format changed, I thought I had a chance of working within the system. What pleased me was the squad I was handed played to my strengths. Some people work better with senior players - Central Punjab for example where almost everyone has Test caps - but give me a young team and I feel I know how to extract performances from them. That has been my strength in the past, wherever I worked.
"I had a lot of youngsters, and we formed a core of young players. No one gave us a chance, and halfway through the season, we were at the bottom, but I had the feeling we could peak at the right time. I thought after six matches, we began to peak, and the way we won our final three matches [three of the last four] was a big turning point. But overall, it was a great experience. Not only the fact the team achieved great results, we also identified a few youngsters who are performing and I think they are the future of Pakistan."
They did peak at the right time. Two of their last three wins were final day heists, including a dramatic showdown with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the final game of the competition. Needing to force a result, they declared twice and gave themselves just under a full day to bowl out KP on surfaces not known for their cooperation with the bowling side. But in fading light in 76.4 overs, they worked their way through KP, winning by 39 runs and pipping them to second place, which earned them a place in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy final.
They would fall, by an innings once more, to Central Punjab, who boasted ten players capped by the Pakistan Test side as opposed to Northern's two (Amin and Muhammad Musa). But Wasim was heartened by the way his side responded to adversity, and detected a change when compared to the relationship between coaches and players at domestic level in the past.
"The most important challenge for us was that in the past, players didn't perhaps trust domestic coaches to the extent that our team did this season. There's no point blaming anyone, but that's what I felt. It took some time to earn that trust and confidence level where players could understand the coaches knew what they're doing. After that, things become easier and the boys started listening to us. I'm not singling anyone out, but our system was such that the role of coaches wasn't what it should have been.
"Whether that is down to the players, the system, or the coaches I don't know. But that has improved - at least in my team. If you give them certain plans, they try to execute them. When I used to be an analyst, I worried about the culture of selfish cricket that was developing in Pakistan cricket, a trend we needed to arrest. My main focus was to eradicate that in the Northern team, and I don't think we saw any of that this season. We played for the team and that got us results, and it's something I take great pride in."
But for all the talk of young players - and there's been plenty around the Northern team - the side's highest run-scorer and wicket-taker are both over the age of 30. Thirty-one-year old Faizan Riaz scored 857 runs at 71.41, including a hundred in the final while 33-year old left-arm spinner Nauman Ali's 54 wickets were 11 clear of the second-most prolific bowler across all teams.
It hasn't been a case of throwing youngsters in and building for the future; the concoction of youth and experience that Northern have managed to brew have produced results in the here and now. Wasim even believes they could yet become Pakistan prospects.
"You can't write anyone off, especially batsmen and spin bowlers. For me, whoever is scoring runs and has a good technique can be selected, particularly if they're in form and keep good fitness standards. This is another thing I believe needs to change in Pakistan cricket, where once a player turns 27 or 28, a player is considered to be past it in terms of international cricket. A lot of batsmen and spin bowlers who're doing well internationally are mature, older players. If they have the fitness to thrive in international cricket, then why not?
"I told Faizan, 'I don't care how you score runs as long as you're fit and have the technique to survive in tough conditions.' That's what matters in the end. I don't think you can say a guy like Faizan can never play for Pakistan."
As for the tournament as a whole, Wasim accepted there were flaws within it that needed fixing - the flatness of the pitches has received some scrutiny - but he was more interested in what it had revealed about the state of Pakistan cricket. "The best thing about this format is the system has exposed the problem areas in Pakistan's cricket. We've identified a dearth of fast bowling in this country. We don't have many spinners either. We need new spinners, particularly legspinners. These are the things the sides will work on in the off-season, and you can expect to see the results in the next season."
For Wasim personally, the central message remains unchanged. "I'd like to see more youngsters in all teams. In Northern, there were plenty, but in some of the other teams, there weren't perhaps as many. But I don't see the gulf in quality between Central Punjab and us being a problem. This gives me extra motivation. I tell myself in two years, Northern should have five players in Pakistan's Test side."