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Lahore Qalandars look for maiden title in sixth edition of PSL

KARACHI (PPI): Although the second most expensive team from the initial five franchises – slightly lesser than Karachi Kings – Lahore Qalandars are yet to lay claim to Pakistan’s biggest sports spectacle Pakistan Super League title.

In the first four editions, the team ended at the bottom-rock places but last year it reached the final.

The team is now the franchise is trying to get on the podium. For any franchise to be successful, they need to do a few things right. Qalandars seem to have ticked all the boxes with their elaborate talent development programme, which has enabled them to unearth some quality talent, such as Haris Rauf, Dilbar Hussain and Salman Irshad. They have been painstakingly meticulous in their approach in putting their development programme to good use and also pick their players with a lot of thought into it. They now even have a High Performance Centre of their own. But still the trophy cupboard at the Qalandars’ office is barren.

During the first four editions, Qalandars finished at the bottom. There were a number of slips between cup and lip throughout those four editions as the Qalandars found different ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The 2020 edition, in going with the theme of the year of freakish results, changed their fortunes to some extent. The Qalandars were among the favoured side as they managed to gallop into the play-off stage in March 2020 until Covid-19 put paid to the chances of the side then. They were firm favourites when the final phase was scheduled on their home ground.

But, then the play-offs had to be rescheduled. Qalandars were drawn to play Karachi Kings in the final. They met their waterloo, thanks to the form of the prolific Babar Azam, and lost the title bout by five wickets. Now with the side getting close to the title, finally Lady Luck seems to be smiling on Qalandars. This time they seem to have picked a lot of players who can help get their hands on the trophy.

This year, they seem to have the best bowling attack in the tournament. In Rashid Khan – the wily leg-spinner from Afghanistan, they have a wicket-taking bowler who can change the game in a mere four overs, depending on the period of his availability.

Shaheen Shah Afridi, Pakistan’s all-format spearhead, is Lahore’s best bet in the pace department. The lanky Pathan can rattle the best batting line-ups with his swing and pace. Lahore’s own discovery Rauf is also a go-to-bowler in T20Is even for Pakistan team, a trait that came to be proved right during the 2020 edition of the Big Bash League (BBL) when he took 20 wickets for Melbourne Stars. Bespectacled fast bowler Dilbar is another discovery of Qalandars development programme who has also surprised many a batsman with his pace and variety.

Then, there are the T20I specialists Samit Patel and David Wiese, who are going to prove quite vital in their ability to provide depth to the line-up. Wiese clinched victory from difficult positions in the last edition with his lusty hitting. The biggest worry for the Qalandars is the dipping form of dashing opener Fakhar Zaman. He scored 420 runs in the National T20 Cup earlier in the season and he seemed to have silenced his critics. The Qalandars are keen for Zaman to continue his form. Even if Zaman does not stand up to be counted, there is the veteran Mohammed Hafeez who is in the form of his career.

Hafeez scored 415 runs in T20I in 2020 at an average of 83 and a stupendous strike-rate of 152.57 – the most by any batsman in the world last year. Lahore would love for Hafeez could translate that form into a massive number of runs in the 2021 edition. Australian Ben Dunk is another favourite in the Qalandars line-up and played a big part in Lahore marching into the play-offs last year.

However, when he returned for the play-offs, Dunk dunked in his form. For the Qalandars, a rejuvenated Dunk is going to be a key for their fortunes. Lahore have the most unassuming choice as captain in Sohail Akhtar who has been an unsung hero with his performances. His leadership skills have also come in for praise from many.

Lahore have made a lot of unconventional choices and nothing signifies it more than spinner Maaz Khan. It is this curious mix of breaking the mould under the leadership of an unusual leader, which makes Qalandars as the side to watch out for.

Squad: Sohail Akhtar (captain), Ahmed Danyal, Ben Dunk, David Wiese, Dilbar Hussain, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Joe Denly, Maaz Khan, Mohammad Faizan, Mohammad Hafeez, Rashid Khan, Salman Ali Agha, Samit Patel, Shaheen Afridi, Tom Abell, Zaid Alam and Zeeshan Ashraf.

The sixth edition is all set to explode into action coming Saturday in Karachi with to be played in Lahore