Despite the talent at their behest and the popularity of the franchise, Lahore Qalandars have failed to crack the PSL code, with disappointing results throughout the three seasons, finishing last each time, having lost 18 of their 29 matches in the competition.
They have had a history of picking up big names, who have fallen short of meeting the enormous expectations. Luck, somehow, has had its say as well. In the first season, they went with Chris Gayle, but it backfired, as the opener landed in Dubai injured. He went on to play five games, nevertheless, but averaged only 20.60. He was instantly traded next season with Karachi Kings. During the same season, Qalandars also had to deal with Yasir Shah‘s suspension after the legspinner tested positive for a banned substance, besides losing Mustafizur Rahman to injury.
Problems only proliferated for the Qalandars thereafter. Even before the second season began, they lost Shaun Tait, Dwayne Bravo and Anton Devcich to injuries, while their hottest pick, Chris Lynn, dislocated his shoulder in the Big Bash League only days before the start of the third PSL season. That left them heavily dependent on captain Brendon McCullum, who went two seasons without a fifty, scoring his runs at an underwhelming strike rate of 114. This year, they will have appointed Mohammed Hafeez.
Known to buy big, Qalandars have gone for AB de Villiers, arguably the hottest pick of the season, on this occasion. They have also gone back to a local captain in Hafeez, after Azhar Ali led them in the inaugural season, followed by McCullum in the two preceding seasons. Batting, their Achilles heel throughout the tournament looks to be in safe hands with the likes of Fakhar Zaman, de Villiers and Hafeez themselves, and Devcich forming a formidable core. Allrounders Carlos Brathwaite and Corey Anderson should provide some depth in that department.
A local captain, Mohammad Hafeez
With McCullum in charge, the Qalandars struggled with identification and optimum utilisation of local talent, an area well covered this season, under local captain Hafeez. The top-order looks in good shape, as does the bowling department, led by emerging Pakistan star Shaheen Shah Afridi. They have also picked up Nepal lespinner Sandeep Lamichhanne , who could be seen bowling in tandem with Yasir Shah at some stage.
They have a set of great players on paper: local captain, specialist T20 bowlers, power hitters, anchors, all you need to form a great T20 side. But if the last three seasons were any lesson, they would know only too well that such tournaments are not won on paper. They need them clicking as a cohesive unit for a change in fortunes.
Key foreign players
All eyes will naturally be on de Villiers. Retired from international cricket, de Vllliers remains a destructive force, exemplified by his strong performances in the BPL, where he struck a 50-ball hundred, averaged in excess of 60 and scored his 247 runs at over 168. His presence will be a massive boost for some of the youngsters in the squad as well.
Under-the-radar local players
A 23-year old Haris Rauf, with no first-class experience, will be unleashed in PSL for the first time. A product of Lahore Qalandars’ player development program, the right-arm quick was discovered in Gujranwala by Aqib Javed. He was given a contract and taken in by the franchise for further development. He was trained exclusively by Aqib in Lahore, before being sent to Australia last year to feature in competitive cricket with Hawkesbury Cricket Club.
He made a T20 debut against Hobart Hurricanes in Abu Dhabi T20 last year and picked up one for 23 in Lahore Qalandars’ defeat of South African side Titans in the final of that tournament.
Local: Mohammad Hafeez, Fakhar Zaman, Yasir Shah, Rahat Ali, Agha Salman, Sohail Akhtar, Hassan Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Imran, Maaz Khan, Gauhar Ali, Aizaz Cheema, Haris Rauf, Saad Ali.
Overseas: AB de Villiers (South Africa), Carlos Brathwaite (West Indies), Corey Anderson (New Zealand), Sandeep Lamichhanne (Nepal), Anton Devcich (New Zealand), Brendan Taylor (Zimbabwe). Hardus Viljoen and David Wiese (both South Africa) as cover for AB de Villiers, Anderson and Brathwaite.
Coaching staff: Aqib Javed (head coach), Mansoor Rana (batting coach), Carl Crowe (bowling coach), Adrian Birrell (fielding coach), John Gloster (physiotherapist)