PSL 2021: How Did Lahore Qalandars Mess It Up?

The Qalandars were top of the table after six games, but lost their last four matches to crash out on NRR.

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When the second leg of the PSL started, Lahore Qalandars were 4th in the table with a game in hand. They promptly won that game, albeit off the last ball, and jumped to the top. They then won their next game. The whispers about one of the world’s “best T20 bowling attacks” got louder, and beleaguered Qalandars fans thought their time had come. They were at least sure that they were through to the playoffs. But it wasn’t to be…

Recruitment

Aqib Javed’s Qalandars aren’t renowned for their smarts during the recruitment process, having invested in some big names over the years who have failed to stamp their marks on the PSL. Yet, they got the major calls mostly right. Picking the best T20 spinner in the world in Rashid Khan is a no-brainer, while the likes of Samit Patel were great for squad balance. The core of the squad that finished as runners-up in PSL 5 remained the same.

Yet, the other picks left much to be desired, resulting in a squad that lacked depth. With no obvious option for #3, the Qalandars utilized no less than five batsmen here (Agha, Hafeez, Denly, Faizan, Zeeshan). With struggling openers and no real backup for the top order, this would ultimately result in the Qalandars’ elimination from the tournament.

When it comes to the silver and emerging categories, teams often look to domestic cricket. Yet, as per their usual tradition, the Qalandars mostly opted to go with their Player Development Program options. While emerging pacer Ahmed Daniyal started well, the Qalandars’ ultimate lack of confidence in other options would also play a part in them finishing second-last in the group stage.

Top Order Disaster

During the Karachi leg, Fakhar Zaman and Hafeez were in top form. Aided by David Wiese, these batsmen clinched chases with relative ease. However, with batting in UAE being somewhat challenging, especially for the top order, both batsmen’s form fell off a cliff. With captain Sohail Akhtar enduring a poor season, no reliable #3, and Hafeez’s wobbly form, Fakhar went into a shell at the top. Additionally, the loss of early wickets meant that Hafeez had to bat earlier than suitable for him. Effectively, the Qalandars fell like a pack of dominoes.

 

Inns

Runs

Avg

SR

BpB

50+

Fakhar in Pakistan

4

189

63.0

143.2

5.3

2

Fakhar in UAE

6

98

16.3

93.3

8.8

0

Hafeez in Pakistan

4

182

91.0

176.7

4.0

2

Hafeez in UAE

6

90

15.0

96.8

9.3

0

The only saving grace for Sohail Akhtar’s men was the performance of the overseas batsmen in the lower middle-order. Wiese played his role to perfection early on, while Tim David proved to be a hit during the Abu Dhabi leg and is almost certainly likely to be back in the future, if available. As a result, the Qalandars proved to be a deadly batting side at the death. However, the pressure of the top order failures was simply too much to overcome.

Batting Teams in UAE Group Stage Games

 

Avg

RPO

Powerplay RPO

Middle RPO

Death RPO

Quetta Gladiators

16.6

7.2

6.8

7.1

8.2

Lahore Qalandars

16.7

7.5

6.5

6.8

12.2

Karachi Kings

25.4

8.1

6.7

7.4

12.0

Multan Sultans

28.1

8.7

9.3

8.2

9.5

Islamabad United

39.2

9.4

8.6

9.6

10.5

Peshawar Zalmi

28.8

9.5

7.9

9.7

11.8

Bowling Strength – With a Caveat

Rashid Khan, Haris Rauf, and Shaheen Shah Afridi are far and away the top three wicket-takers in T20 cricket since 2020. In the Abu Dhabi leg, the Qalandars hit pay dirt with the selection of James Faulkner, who proved to be an effective powerplay bowler. Teams looked to target him due to Shaheen’s renowned effectiveness with the new ball, but the wily Australian used that to his advantage.

Overall Team Bowling Numbers for PSL 6

Team

Avg

RPO

Karachi Kings

31.8

9.10

Lahore Qalandars

24.6

8.26

Multan Sultans

21.3

8.21

Islamabad United

26.4

8.41

Quetta Gladiators

31.8

9.36

Peshawar Zalmi

27.5

8.85

That left the fifth emerging bowler – Ahmed Daniyal. The youngster had an impressive start with some good performances in Karachi. However, with the other bowlers proving to be hard to target, opposition batting sides went after Daniyal. While the youngster held his own, he was expensive overall and dulled Rashid Khan’s effectiveness in the middle overs. As a result, teams would look to play him out, knowing that they can go after Daniyal, get a par score, and then trouble Qalandars’ batting.

 

Overs

Runs

Wickets

Avg

SR

Econ

Daniyal in PSL 6 overall

35

330

6

55.0

35

9.42

Daniyal in middle overs

24

231

4

57.8

36

9.60

This is another phase where the Qalandars’ poor performance at the draft cost them. Their other emerging bowler was Maaz Khan; playing two leg-spinners is difficult, whether on the Karachi flatbeds or Abu Dhabi’s humid, dewy conditions.

Tactical Incompetency

An obvious example is the Qalandars’ must-win final game against the Sultans. Despite Akhtar’s struggles with the bat, the franchise captain is least suited to batting in the middle order due to his struggles against spin (avg 33, SR 129 against pace, avg 17, SR 110 against spin). Yet, the management decided to put him in the middle order. 5 off 13, stumped off Imran Tahir’s bowling. Dunk, who usually takes on the spinners, was promoted to open. And when he fell early, Hafeez arrived to bat – in the powerplay, where he averages 18.5, striking @ under 100. He duly got out in the last over of the powerplay.

There’s no doubt that the poor performance at the draft put them in this tough spot in the first place. But they could have countered that by altering their strategy during the Abu Dhabi leg. With Ahmed Daniyal struggling, the Qalandars could have taken a punt on Zaid Alam in the batting order as the emerging player, accepting that he may well struggle… But the real effect of that change would be allowing Dilbar Hussain to come into the lineup. The right-arm pacer has a superb middle overs bowling record, averaging under 15 at an economy of under 7. That would, in turn, make Rashid Khan more effective. If your batting isn’t working, make your bowling unbeatable.

What Could Have Been…

  • Silver category, 7th pick: Qalandars pick Zeeshan Ashraf. Two picks later, Sultans pick Mohammad Rizwan.

Now in hindsight, no one would have known that Rizwan would become one of the best top-order anchors in the league, but the signs of his transformation were there during the National T20 Cup and Pakistan’s T20Is toward the end of the year. Yet, Aqib Javed and the management were insistent on Sohail Akhtar as the opener + captain. Now Akhtar was decent last season, if unspectacular, but Rizwan has a far higher ceiling as an overall batsman.

  • Silver category, 19th pick: Qalandars pick Mohammad Faizan. Three picks later, Kings pick Zeeshan Malik.

At this stage of his career, Zeeshan Malik is no world-beater. But he did have an impressive Quaid-e-Azam Trophy in 2019/20, backed up by impressive List A performances. Moreover, he had some standout innings in the National T20 Cup, making 300+ runs @ 34 (SR 137). He would have provided an alternative for the top order. Meanwhile, Faizan hasn’t played any domestic cricket and duly looked completely out of his depth.

  • Emerging category, 5th pick: Qalandars pick Maaz Khan. Next pick, United pick Mohammad Wasim.

Maaz Khan, another PDP selection, having played no domestic cricket. He’s a decent leg-spinner in his own right but never likely to play as long as Rashid was available. Mohammad Wasim, meanwhile, had an impressive domestic season with KP, with Abdul Razzaq (formerly associated with LQ…) impressed by his pace and overall ability. The youngster had a good outing with the ball in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, then made an impressive fifty in the Pakistan Cup. He also came through the system, playing the Under-19 World Cup.

Conclusion

Lahore Qalandars had a strong first XI, at least on paper, for PSL 6. But once again, they were let down by their backup plans and lack of bench strength after some big names began to struggle. Furthermore, they continue to show tactical naivety, which has been an issue throughout the franchise’s existence. Therefore, it may be time to finally move on from the current team management and some big names and return with a new approach for PSL 7 – while maintaining what remains a strong core group of players.

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