Lahore Qalandars may have finished last in each of the three seasons of Pakistan Super League, but their popularity among fans has never diminished. The team has even been labelled as the heart of the PSL despite three wooden spoons in as many tournaments.
In a bid to improve their performances, Qalandars have overhauled the roster of overseas players for this edition. They have brought in five new faces – AB de Villiers, Corey Anderson, Carlos Brathwaite, Sandeep Lamichhanne and Brendan Taylor – whereas Anton Devcich is the only visiting player they have retained from last year.
Brendon McCullum, who led them in the past two editions, was not retained while the 38 years old veteran and former Pakistan T20I captain Mohammad Hafeez has been handed the leadership duties.
To find that we need to go as far back as the first PSL players draft held in Lahore in December 2015. After five rounds in which 25 players were picked by the five franchises, Qalandars were the only team who didn’t know who their captain would be.
That happened despite Hafeez being available in the first five rounds. And once Hafeez was picked by Peshawar Zalmi in the sixth round, Qalandars were left with no other option. The first day of the draft ended with 45 picks, nine by each team, with Qalandars not picking any player who could captain the team. On the second day of the draft, they picked Azhar Ali to lead the team who wasn’t given any game in the 2017 edition and dropped in 2018.
In hindsight, it can be said that Qalandars should have picked Hafeez back in 2015 as their captain or as one of the senior players who could lead them at some stage. Knowing that the teams do not release their best local players before the drafts, Qalandars had to go with an overseas player in McCullum as their captain in 2017. While McCullum’s leadership abilities cannot be doubted, he found it tough to put together a winning combination for Qalandars.
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Qalandars’ batting has either been boom or burst. They have posted 200plus twice in PSLs but have also been bowled out for 59 and 100. Their run-rate (7.91) in the Powerplay (overs 1-6) is highest among all teams but their average runs per wicket (20.40) in overs 7-20 is the second lowest after Multan Sultans (20.04), who
Their aggressive openers, the likes of Chris Gayle, Fakhar Zaman, Jason Roy, McCullum have given them good starts, but the middle-order has struggled to hold the innings together and collapsed more often than not.
The lack of bowling resources, especially in the last phase (overs 16-20), hasn’t helped their cause either. The reason they have lost two matches despite scoring 200plus.
They have also been hampered by the injuries and availability issues. Mustafizur Rahman and Chris Lynn could not join the team in 2016 and 2018 respectively due to injuries while Yasir Shah had to be left out in 2016 due to a ban he was handed for taking banned drugs.
The wicket-keeper batsmen are in high demand in the T20 leagues. That’s why the players like Jos Buttler, Quinton de Kock, Rishabh Pant, etc. are among the most sought-after cricketers. In the PSL too, the wicket-keepers have played a vital role in winning the tournaments – Brad Haddin and Luke Ronchi for Islamabad United in 2016 and 2018 and Kamran Akmal for Zalmi in 2017.
With McCullum not willing to keep, Qalandars have struggled to find a proper keeper-batsman. For example, in the third PSL, they didn’t pick any wicket-keeper batsman in the first 16 rounds. Only in the supplementary round, they picked Gulraiz Sadaf, who lacked credentials of batting in T20 cricket. So, when Lynn got injured, Qalandars picked Denesh Ramdin as his replacement. But Ramdin’s go-slow approach in the middle-overs didn’t go well with them.
They seem to have found a good captain in Hafeez, who brings in a wealth of experience and could lead them to great success due to his shrewd captaincy. Their batting is stronger than ever. Hafeez and Fakhar are likely to form their top-order followed by De Villiers, Devcich, Anderson, Agha Salman, Haris Sohail and Brathwaite in the middle and lower order. They can also use Sohail Akhtar, who recently scored a 100 for them in Abu Dhabi T20 Trophy, as an opening batsman.
However, they could still miss a keeper-batsman. If they go with Taylor, they will have to leave out one of Devcich, Anderson, Brathwaite or Sandeep Lamichhane. This might be an issue for them when all six overseas players are available. In local wicketkeeping talent, they have Umair Masood and Gauhar Ali, but both are yet to prove them as T20 batsmen.
In the players draft for PSL 2019, Qalandars had an option of picking Nicholas Pooran, Johnson Charles or Philip Salt, who actually played for them in the Abu Dhabi Trophy, but they preferred a leg-spinner (Lamichhane) over them.
While Lamichhane’s importance cannot be undermined, he might be a misfit in Qalandars’ team knowing they have Yasir, Hafeez, Salman and Hassan Khan, which is already 16 overs of spin. Plus, Devcich can also be used as a bowler.
Qalandars will be heavily relying on the rookie, and much talked about fast bowler Haris Rauf. But if he does not come off well, the bowling in overs 16-20 might still remain an issue for them. Shaheen Shah Afridi could take care of one end, but from the other end, they might be forced to use Anderson or Brathwaite, the bowlers with T20 economy of 9.06 and 7.98.
Having said that Qalandars with Hafeez leading the team, De Villiers in the middle-order and a heavy spin bowling attack would be hopeful of a better show this time. On paper, they don’t seem to be the sixth team in the points table.