GeneralWhat went wrong for back-to-back PSL champions Lahore Qalandars?

What went wrong for back-to-back PSL champions Lahore Qalandars?

Things went from bad to worse for the 2022 and 2023 PSL champions – Lahore Qalandars – after they lost their fifth game on the trot this season. In an astonishing turn of events, the Shaheen Afridi-led side has failed to get off the mark this year, having lost each of their five games so far.

Nothing seems to be going their way, even though they have had a few positives to take away from each game. Jahandad Khan has been a revelation, Sahibzada Farhan has looked very promising, Zaman Khan has absolutely nailed those yorkers, and Rassie van der Dussen chipped in with a ton in their recently concluded game against Peshawar Zalmi. However, none of these could help an abject Lahore Qalandars yield the precious two points from any of the games. Injuries have also had a deterring impact on their quest to three-peat the PSL.

All things considered, let us look at what went wrong for Lahore Qalandars this time around:

1) Fakhar Zaman not doing what he does best

On numerous occasions, Fakhar Zaman has proven that when he gets going, he is more than capable of taking the game away from the opposition. He is the type of player who would not score a lot of consistent runs, but he would definitely score runs that win his team games.

Fakhar Zaman is currently the second-leading run-getter in the history of the league, sitting only behind Babar Azam. He has also cleared the roped 102 times in the PSL, more than anyone else. The left-handed opener also led the run-scoring charts in 2022, while he finished fourth in the 2023 season.

His start to the 2024 edition, though, has been nowhere close to the potential he possesses. He has not been his unshackled self who used to take the attack to the opposition after getting his eye in, and this has not helped the injury-stricken Lahore Qalandars one bit. In a side that lacks firepower in their middle order, Fakhar Zaman’s form was going to be of massive significance. Unfortunately for them, he has not fired so far this season. He has struggled on the slightly sluggish tracks, and the one time he got off to a good start against Multan Sultans, he did not rotate the strike well enough.

His technique has never been the best, so blaming that would not make much sense at this point. He is still capable of tonking those big ones against spinners, which he has shown over the past few months during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup and Pakistan’s tour to New Zealand earlier in January. Fakhar Zaman, who is usually a gun fielder, has also been slightly sloppy in the field, which indicates it may have something to do with what is going on in his head.

Statistically, the Lahore Qalandars have gone on to win 75% of their games whenever Fakhar Zaman has breached the 50-run mark. If the swashbuckling batter manages to pick form soon enough, maybe he can inspire a special comeback for the defending champions. However, with the kind of start they have gotten off to, it may be too late for that.

2) Lack of breakthroughs in the middle overs

The middle overs so often decide which way the game goes. Restricting runs in this phase will build pressure, and naturally, after a point, the batters will go hard after everything they get, which in turn will get the bowling side wickets. On the contrary, taking wickets will stop the flow of runs. In any case, one will eventually lead to the other.

Different teams approach the middle overs differently. Some of them prefer sticking to the attacking approach, while others try to build partnerships. But, the batting depth most teams possess today makes it absolutely essential for the bowlers to strike regularly in the middle overs. Almost all teams have specialist pinch hitters lower down the order with the designated role of finishing the innings well.

To Lahore Qalandars’ misfortune, they have completely failed to boss this phase of the game with the ball this season. In 4 out of their first 5 games, they managed to take just a solitary wicket each between the 7th and 16th overs. In the process, they also gave away runs at almost 10 per over during the middle overs across the five games.

They have allowed partnerships to flourish during this phase, and one could say that Shaheen Afridi has not been very proactive with his captaincy in these overs. Easy singles have been allowed, which is exactly what a batter wants.

3) The absence of Rashid Khan

This does not need a lot of explanation. Over the years, Rashid Khan has turned out to be a proper force to reckon with in T20 cricket. The star all-rounder from Afghanistan, at the age of 25, already has 530 T20 wickets to his name.

Hailed by many as the greatest bowler to have played the format already, Rashid Khan was never going to be replaced easily. Those are massive boots to fill – not just for Lahore Qalandars, but for any side in the world.

Rashid Khan, over the last three seasons, took a total of 44 wickets in the PSL, striking every 15 deliveries and going at only 6.14 runs per over. In the 2022 and 2023 seasons, he notched up 33 wickets in 20 innings.

However, there was more to his bowling than just the wickets. He choked the opposition during the middle overs and dried up the flow of runs. In the last two title-winning campaigns for Lahore Qalandars, Rashid went at just a little over 6.2 runs per over between the 7th and 16th overs, with close to 45% of his deliveries in that phase being dot balls.

If anything, this goes on to prove what a huge miss Rashid Khan has been for the Lahore Qalandars in their attempt to complete a hattrick of PSL titles this season. Expecting anyone to come in and replicate what Rashid Khan does so often would be a sheer injustice to them, and this is without taking into consideration his ability to pick the bones out of ordinary deliveries with the bat.

4) Haris Rauf letting his side down and then falling prey to a shoulder injury

With all the beating Haris Rauf has received lately, people probably forget what an incredible T20 bowler he is. He was instrumental to Lahore Qalandars’ success over the last two seasons, having taken 33 wickets. In the 2023 edition, Haris Rauf played the role of a middle-over enforcer to perfection, bagging 9 wickets for Lahore Qalandars between the 7th and 16th overs, striking every 11 deliveries.

In terms of death bowling, one still cannot think of many better than Haris Rauf despite the kind of form he has been in. However, he has consistently failed to make an impact with his first spells. On most occasions, he has been too full, too short, or too wide. The edges flying for boundaries did not help Rauf’s case either.

In the one game against Karachi Kings where he looked like he was back to his best, he picked up an injury in the field, which ruled him out from the remainder of the season, adding salt to Lahore Qalandars’ wounds.

The 30-year-old pacer has always been a match-winner, a bowler who has the capability to produce a moment of magic even in the worst of forms. With the amount of T20 cricket he has played over the last few years, his return to being among the wickets was surely just going to be a matter of time, especially with the kind of rhythm he appeared to have against Karachi Kings.

What next for Lahore Qalandars?

With 5 losses in as many games, it is very unlikely that Lahore Qalandars finish in the top 4 at the end of the group stage. However, as defending champions and a side who won back-to-back PSL titles, they must show character. They have had their moments, and Shaheen Afridi’s men won’t go down this easy. They would want to put up a fight, and who knows, they might just go on to script a comeback for the ages. It is tough, but it is not impossible.

The opinions expressed solely belong to the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Grassroots Cricket.

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