Karachi, Ramzan and the Omar Associates Blueprint: Quetta Gladiators’ Familiar Path to a 2nd Coming
Can Quetta Gladiators tap into talent from Ramzan Cricket to turn around their fortunes in the PSL?
Karachi, Omar Associates, and Ramzan Cricket have long been synonymous with Quetta Gladiators’ identity as a franchise and also their success during the formative years of the Pakistan Super League, but Quetta’s dwindling faith in a proven template has yielded low returns. Since winning the title in 2019, Quetta have failed to qualify for the playoffs in the following four seasons. Their win percentage in that time has been 32.5%, and their average net run-rate, -1.071, is comfortably the worst among all franchises. While one would be tempted to draw comparisons between Quetta’s slump to Lahore’s in the earlier seasons when the latter couldn’t buy a win, it would not be a fair one. While Lahore were at the cusp of putting together a two-time winning title squad built on trusting their development process, a young captain, and their home-grown players, Quetta seem to be moving in the opposite direction with little clarity or answers over their team building and managing processes.
Quetta’s Journey and Recent Struggles
During the first few years of the league, Quetta Gladiators were the perennial underdogs – a side that, despite featuring domestic unknowns and ‘washed-up’ players, found a way to win – not only win but dominate. It could be argued that Quetta’s template was a success never rooted in ‘big’ names but rather in creating a specific environment and team culture that thrived on a clarity of their strengths and a deeper sense of familiarity with their players that managed to bring out the best even from the unlikeliest sources, such as Ahsan Ali or Asad Shafiq. This familiarity is a direct result of playing extensive club year-round under the clinical Sarfaraz Ahmed-Moin Khan duo, an important feature of which is Ramzan Cricket.
During the past few Pakistan Super League seasons, however, Quetta Gladiators seem to have shied away from this blueprint and development-cum-recruitment strategy that had brought them plenty of success in the past. The talented duo of Azam Khan, Quetta’s first home-grown player, and Saim Ayub was traded out. Players like Anwar Ali and Hassan Khan, who were synonymous with every Omar Associates and Sarfaraz-led team, were released, only for the former to get picked up by Multan Sultans and go on to enjoy a career renaissance, while Quetta were left licking their wounds, having a picked a seemingly like-for-like, more expensive and less effective overseas option in Odean Smith. Another example is Usman Khan, another one of Karachi and Quetta Gladiators’ own, who was released and picked up by Multan Sultans, only to smash the league’s fastest century record against a deflated Gladiators side that had handed him his debut cap in 2021.
In the 2022 Naya Nazimabad Ramzan Corporate Cup, a strong, Sarfaraz Ahmed-led Omar Associates team finished runners-up, winning five out of their six games leading up to the final. From the lineup that featured in the final and semi-final, only two players made it to Quetta Gladiators’ final squad this year: Umar Akmal and Sarfaraz Ahmed himself. Ironically enough, the lineup that defeated Omar Associates in the final, Alamgir Gymkhana, featured five Quetta Gladiators alumni. Omar Associates’ squad featured many emerging players, like Aarish Ali Khan and Mir Hamza, who had previously shown promise for the Gladiators but were then swiftly released. Most, if not all, of these players continue to regularly represent Omar Associates or Pakistan Cricket Club, also operated under the same management, across various tournaments, but have curiously fallen out of favor with Quetta Gladiators.
Cricket in Ramzan occupies an interesting space in Pakistan cricket’s stratosphere in that it is viewed as more recreational than competitive in spirit. Yet, it is televised nationally and enjoys strong live gates and media viewership. Ramzan cricket tournaments, most notably the Karachi Gymkhana Ramzan Cricket Festival, Naya Nazimabad Ramzan Cup, and the Corporate T20 Cup, have had a rich history of introducing and highlighting wildcard players that could and have in the past, go on to play in the big leagues. Nadeem Omar and Omar Associates continue to serve as a longstanding patron and sponsor of Ramzan Cricket in Karachi. Omar Associates remains the most successful, most dominant club across all Ramzan tournaments, and it could be argued that the potential for it to yield bigger outcomes for Quetta Gladiators is largely untapped. It could be argued that the Ramzan cricket stage could more proactively be used as Quetta Gladiators’ savvier, cost-efficient version of Lahore’s Talent Hunt and Player Development Program (PDP).
Ramzan Cricket is played across multiple tournaments and venues, organized by various corporate patrons, which means teams often end up playing two to three tournaments within a month’s timespan. Not only does that allow Quetta to test their potential talent pool through back-to-back match practice, but it also puts them in front of a national audience while still allowing them to experiment in a protected environment. It also provides them with a unique scouting opportunity to closely watch potential players across other corporate teams who could ultimately play for Omar Associates and, progress-allowing, Quetta Gladiators.
Development Success Stories
Arguably Omar Associates’ and Quetta Gladiators’ biggest player development success story is that of Azam Khan. Azam made his ‘professional’ debut for Quetta Gladiators in 2019, having played no domestic cricket, but followers of Ramzan Cricket had been seeing Azam’s power-hitting prowess gradually develop under Omar Associates since 2016. It was Azam’s first exposure to mainstream, nationally televised cricket. Similar to Azam, Ghulam Mudassar, who also went on to represent the Gladiators, was first spotted dawning the orange of K-Electric at the age of 17, when his toe-crushing yorker to Omar Associates’ Khurram Manzoor during the 5th Ramadan Corporate Cup went viral on social media. In the same edition, Umer Khan, aged 16 then, made his debut and impressed for UBL and was entrusted by captain Sohaib Maqsood with bowling during high-pressure situations in the tournament. Two such Omar Associates players who have impressed during this year’s Ramzan cricket festivities are Khawaja Muhammad Nafay and Arshad Wazir, both of whom provide answers to questions that have stumped Quetta lately.
Khawaja Nafay represents the new-age Karachi batsman, for which Saim Ayub is the poster boy. Nafay’s confident shot-making, particularly his head positioning while playing his trademark no-look shots, has an air of nonchalance to it that makes him an exciting prospect. At 21, Khawaja Nafay is yet to make his domestic debut but has already played in the Bangladesh Premier League. As of this writing, Nafay has scored 408 runs across three different Ramadan tournaments, averaging 37.1 and striking at 150.5. Unsurprisingly, he is also leading the runs charts in two out of those three tournaments. Having continued with Abdul-Wahid Bangalzai for two seasons with middling returns, Quetta Gladiators could look towards Nafay next season to fill in their emerging player spot.
In contrast, Arshad Wazir’s height, brawny look, and strong bowling action emulates the pacers of a previous era. Representing Helados in the Naya Nazimabad Cup, Arshad Wazir (aka Arshadullah) took 7 wickets in 4 games at an average of 14.7 and economy rate of 6.44, finishing as the team’s highest wicket-taker. The 24-year-old Bannu native switched the Helados jersey for Omar Associates’ blue colors for the Corporate Cup, where he has taken 5 wickets in 2 games and remains the only pacer in the top five bowling charts. Arshad has also enjoyed success in domestic cricket’s second tier, having taken 6 wickets at a 19.2 average during this year’s Cricket Associations Challenge and 16 wickets at a 10.3 average during the Cricket Associations T20 Cup. Arshad’s left-arm bowling, reminiscent of another Khyber Pakhtunkhwa pacer, Taj Wali, could add another dimension to an already-strong Quetta pace attack that has Mohammad Hasnain and Naseem Shah. Quetta have not had a successful left-arm pacer to supplement their bowling attack since Rahat Ali’s wildcard season in 2018 and Sohail Tanvir in 2019, both taking 15 wickets each season, and Arshad could be the answer to that.
Search for a Second Coming
Quetta Gladiators’ performance over the past four seasons has been stale and uninspiring. While those issues transcend beyond just player recruitment and development, they are in desperate need of a win. Any win. Even the smaller ones, like Omair bin Yousuf’s counter-attacking 67-run innings, in only his second and Quetta’s last game of the season, against Multan Sultans. Quetta have often been criticized for a Karachi bias in their strategy, which is not nearly as negative as many believe, yet they still seem to be non-committal when it comes to backing and trusting those same players in a different setting, opting, instead, for the popular choice. Quetta’s desperate search for a second coming cannot be led by aging players and ideas; it has to be led by the up-and-coming Omar Associates and Pakistan Cricket Club colts like Omair bin Yousuf, Khawaja Nafay, and Arshad Wazir, alongside a very strong domestic core in Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Hasnain, and Naseem Shah.
The opinions expressed solely belong to the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Grassroots Cricket.
It is likely going to be a tossup between Masood and Abdullah, who are seemingly the front runners. With Masood, Pakistan could opt for experience and calmness. Abdullah, on the contrary, could benefit from the opportunity with an ideal scenario of a change in fortunes. His technical prowess is praiseworthy, and his temperament is top-notch. If Abdullah can make it count at three, Pakistan would ideally have their number three and four sorted for years to come.
Personally, I would love to see Huraira slot in at the top of the order, with Abdullah sliding to number three. The prospect of Huraira being handed a debut sounds exciting, and it would allow Abdullah more breathing space as well. While the idea is certainly tempting, in such a case, Pakistan would end up with a fairly young and inexperienced top three, something they will consider.
At least, for once, Pakistan have a few decent options to pick from. Regardless of who they opt for, they will hope it pays off in the long run and provides the middle order with more respite than in recent times. With Pakistan set to begin their WTC cycle versus Sri Lanka, they will need their batters to step up and earn them prized WTC points.