The Pakistan Super League franchise with possibly the largest fanbase is yet to win the trophy. Will the perennial underachievers finally be crowned PSL winners?
No team has invited ridicule quite as much as the Lahore Qalandars. Four consecutive last-place finishes, a refusal to change their team management, the constant buying of big-name players only to see them flop. It seemed like they were always destined to be this way, until the 11th over on March 2nd, 2020.
The Qalandars were limping along at 73/3 having already lost their first three games of the season; it seemed the same old story for Qalandars’ fans. Ben Dunk and Samit Patel were at the crease, trying to recover the innings and get their team to a par total. Dunk was on 13 off 16 when Sarfaraz Ahmed turned to his best spinner to try and run through the lineup. His best spinner was launched into the stands the first ball to begin an onslaught which would see one hundred and thirty-six runs scored in the space of nine overs at a run rate of over 15 runs per over!
That would be the trigger that kick-started Lahore’s season; they would ride that momentum all the way through to the playoffs and beyond, despite a pandemic. Alas, they fell at the final hurdle, but this season, their fans may start with a spring in their step and a feeling of hopefulness. Perhaps even, a feeling of destiny?
For a team that has often gone after the shiniest rock in the collection, it’s heartening to see that some of their overseas slots are filled by journey-men – utility cricketers who are greater than the sum of their parts, those whose roles perfectly meet the team’s requirements.
The squad constructed seems to be well thought out with backups for nearly every player, from opener to middle-order batsmen to more specific traits like nurdlers and spin-hitters. Perhaps they may be lacking a backup for their pace-hitter, but these are difficult to find in Pakistan nowadays.
Salman Ali Agha has been coming off an extremely impressive domestic season in all formats, with plenty of runs at an enviable strike rate. He is an excellent back up for most batsmen in the line up with the ability to play both spin and pace. It will be interesting to see if Lahore manages to squeeze him into their packed batting line-up.
Maaz Khan bowled 7 overs across 3 matches in PSL 5. He gave away 76 runs at the cost of 2 wickets. That doesn’t sound very good, but there are extenuating circumstances. 2 overs were bowled in a rain-curtailed game with a wet ball; he conceded 31. In another game, he bowled one over for 14 and was not bowled again. The game against Karachi was the only time he bowled his whole quota of 4 overs and once again he started badly, conceding 17 in his first. But he hit back, conceding only 14 in his next 3 overs and picking up the prized wickets of Babar Azam and Cameron Delport. He will be hoping the captain is more trusting of him this season when he gets a game.
Mohammad Zaid Alam
Mohammad Zaid Alam’s story warms the heart of all those who hear it. How the son of a tea stall owner in Anarkali Bazaar, Lahore went on to represent Pakistan at the U19 WC in New Zealand back in 2018. He first rose to prominence when he dispatched the Australia U19 attack to all parts on their home ground, on his way to a swashbuckling century that would seal a series win for Pakistan. Unfortunately, he will enter the tournament in a trough of bad form with only 245 runs in 16 inns across all formats in the 2nd XI domestic cricket tournaments.
Ahmad Danyal is yet another one of Lahore’s tape-ball recruits. He has already represented the Qalandars in the recently concluded Abu Dhabi T10 League. He bowled better than his figures may suggest – 8 matches, 5 wickets at 32.8, economy 10.25, in a competition that is pretty unforgiving on most bowlers, let alone inexperienced ones who are still learning their trade.
- Middle-Overs Bowling – On paper, Lahore has all the players to dominate the middle-overs and death. Two hit-the-deck pacers who can bowl upwards of 145 kph, the best T20 spinner in the world, and finally the naggy left-arm spinner who becomes a demon when the pitch takes some turn.
- The form of Mohammad Hafeez and Sohail Akhtar – both were a figure of ridicule a year ago – much like the Lahore Qalandars – but have earned some of their respect back with impressive performances. Hafeez is coming off a banner year where he averaged 83 and struck at 152.3 in T20Is. Meanwhile, Akhtar had an incredible Abu Dhabi T10 where he finished as the highest run-scorer with his 248 runs coming at an average of 62 and an SR of 187.8.
- Team balance – Lahore will be playing both Samit Patel and David Weise in their top 7, and while they probably make it into the team on batting alone, their bowling gives the team great flexibility. While both aren’t bowlers who will give you 4 overs every day, them combining to fulfill the 5th bowler’s quota allows the Qalandars to strengthen their bowling without weakening their batting.
- The form of some of their key players, namely Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, and Ben Dunk.
- After finishing as the highest run-scorer in the NT20, Fakhar has endured a disappointing run in the Zimbabwe series, the PSL playoffs, the QeA Trophy, and finally the Pakistan Cup.
- Haris Rauf had an underwhelming NZ tour, both with the national team and the Shaheens. He then had two horror matches for the national side against South Africa, after which he was dropped.
- Since the group stage of the PSL ended, Ben Dunk has 245 runs across 19 matches in franchise T20 cricket. He didn’t set the stage alight at the Abu Dhabi T10 either.
- The emerging slot – Lahore would like to play both Haris Rauf and Dilbar Hussain, but the need to fill the emerging slot may force them to drop one of them for Ahmed Danyal or Maaz Khan. Alternatively, they could try fitting Zaid Alam in their line up, but Zaid is an opener by trade; it is unlikely they will decide to open with him over either Fakhar Zaman or Sohail Akhtar. He might just be hidden down at 7 or 8 with David Wiese and Rashid Khan promoted ahead of him.
- What happens if Rashid Khan goes? - With Afghanistan scheduled to play a series in Zimbabwe, it is a possibility that Rashid may not be available for a large portion of the tournament – though rumors suggest Afghanistan may opt for some new players. With his departure, Lahore will not only lose a world-class leg-spinner but also a handy batsman, throwing their team balance out of sync. They may have to either decide on playing another batsman or trusting Dilbar to take up the #8 spot in the batting line-up.
- David Wiese has been with the Lahore Qalandars since 2019. He provides Lahore with an option that none of their local players can give – pace-hitting. He has proven to be a dependable batsman to have in the end overs and a handy bowler who is harder than expected to hit out of the attack. Lahore will be hoping for another season of lusty blows and cheap wickets.
- Haris Rauf has endured a difficult couple of months after the highs of 2019 and 2020. He has found himself turned into a top-tail bowler for no reason, other than that’s what’s expected of anybody who bowls fast. One would hope the LQ management has taken a look at his poor stats when bowling in the powerplay (econ. 9.25), as opposed to the middle (7.23) and death (8.63), and use him according to his strengths.
With Rashid Khan fully available, this side can finish in the top two and may even go on to win it. However, if he does become unavailable for a large chunk of the PSL, we may see them scrap to the playoffs but go out in the eliminator, i.e., a fourth-place finish.