LAHORE: If Lahore is the heart of Pakistan, then Lahore Qalandars are the heart of the Pakistan Super League. Qalandars’ success-rate might be lower than other sides in the tournament but their popularity remains as high as any other team.
Some of the most exciting T20 talents have been part of the Qalandars in three editions of the tournament so far. They recruited Chris Gayle as an icon player in the first tournament in 2016 and acquired Brendon McCullum as captain for the next two editions. The results, however, have not gone in their favour.
After having to be content with the wooden spoon in each of the three seasons, Qalandars have undergone changes ahead of the PSL 2019 in which they will feature in the tournament opener against defending champions Islamabad United on 14 February in Dubai.
Mohammad Hafeez, the former Pakistan captain, will lead the team in the upcoming tournament, replacing McCullum. Hafeez, with 33 matches, is the second most capped player in the PSL and Qalandars will be relying on his experience as they look to break the shackles.
Hafeez said: “I have played in three editions of the PSL in the past and I believe it is the most competitive league in the world. It is growing day by day in terms of attraction for cricket lovers.
“I think the upcoming edition will be the best as there are eight matches in Lahore and Karachi. We are excited about playing in front of home crowds. That day is not far when the whole league will be played in Pakistan.
“There is a huge responsibility on me as captain of Lahore Qalandars. It is a franchise that has played a big role in making PSL popular.
“We will try our best to entertain the crowds in the coming season as well. I am very hopeful that we as a team will be successful in the coming tournament.”
The biggest addition in the Qalandars roster is AB de Villiers, the dashing batsman from South Africa, who will also be traveling to Lahore to feature in the two games at the Gaddafi Stadium.
De Villiers has over 7,000 runs in T20 cricket at a strike-rate of close to 150, which makes him one of the most sought-after players in franchise cricket. As recently as last week, he hit a 50-ball hundred in a T20 match in Bangladesh.
With Fakhar Zaman and Hafeez at the top and de Villiers, Anton Devcich, Carlos Brathwaite, Corey Anderson in the middle-order, Qalandars’ explosive batting roster will keep the opponent bowlers on their toes.
Qalandars’ another strength this time will be their spin bowling. The rising T20 sensation from Nepal and leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhanne was one of their major picks in the players draft.
The 18-year-old leggie will form a potent spin force with Yasir Shah and Hasan Khan, who in terms of economy-rates, are among the best spinners of the PSL. With Hafeez also in the team, Qalandars could even test the opponents with 16 overs of spin in an innings.
Although victories have been hard to come by for Qalandars, they have produced some thrilling contests and can claim to be the most exciting team of the PSL.
In the 2018 edition, two of their games, against Islamabad United and Karachi Kings, went into Super Over. They lost to United in Sharjah, but triumphed against arch-rivals Kings in the one-over eliminator in Dubai.
There have been some individual brilliances from their players as well.
In the 2017 tournament, Yasir nearly defended a small total of 59 against Zalmi when he took four wickets for just seven runs, whereas in the 2018 edition, 17-year-old-Shaheen Shah Afridi conjured a dream spell taking five wickets for four runs against Sultans.
The excitement of watching Qalandars will be even higher in the coming PSL knowing that they will be playing at least two games, against United and Sultans, at the historic Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on 9 and 10 March.
Squad (in pick order):
Overseas: AB de Villiers (South Africa), Carlos Brathwaite (West Indies), Corey Anderson (New Zealand), Sandeep Lamichhanne (Nepal), Anton Devcich (New Zealand), Brendan Taylor (Zimbabwe).
Local: Mohammad Hafeez, Fakhar Zaman, Yasir Shah, Rahat Ali, Agha Salman, Sohail Akhtar, Hassan Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Imran, Maaz Khan, Gauhar Ali, Aizaz Cheema, Haris Rauf, Saad Ali.
Hardus Viljoen and David Wiese (both South Africa) as cover for AB de Villiers, Anderson and Brathwaite. —NNI