11:30 GMT, 24 February 2019


Should sports and politics mix?
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The Qalandars from Lahore will need to do something very special to defy odds and make it to the semi-finals stage in PSL 3.

By Saj Sadiq (11th February, 2018)

The 2 editions of the Pakistan Super League could well be described as a bit of a nightmare for the Lahore Qalandars. Finishing bottom in both tournaments was a shock to not only the Lahori fans but also to the owners. The Rana brothers have invested heavily in the Qalandars franchise and will have expected better results from the team and the coaching staff.

As a result of the poor displays in the first two competitions, Paddy Upton the head coach has been shown the door and replaced with a familiar face to Lahore cricket, Aaqib Javed. The former Pakistan pace bowler will be expected to produce immediate results given the passion and expectations of cricket-lovers in Lahore.

The Lahore Qalandars squad will once again be led by Brendon McCullum. The former New Zealand skipper has at his disposal an array of stars and match-winners, but he needs to find the right combination, something they struggled to do last time around. The top of the order combination of McCullum, Chris Lynn and Fakhar Zaman looks as good as any in the tournament, but they will need better support from the middle order. Umar Akmal has throughout his career promised much, but delivered rarely; this edition of the PSL gives him the ideal platform to once again win over Pakistani cricket fans and selectors alike. The rest of the middle order will not give too many sleepless nights to the opposition bowlers and can best be described as steady rather than spectacular. 

To say the Lahore Qalandars batting will rely on their top 3 is an understatement. The selection policy of the Lahore management and think-tank seems to have gone array with the emphasis seeming to be on the bowling attack rather than an effective batting group. Bilal Asif and Cameron Delport could have their work cut out if early wickets fall. Sohail Akhtar could be a plus for the Qalandars if given a fair share of opportunities. He has already shown in domestic circles that he has the ability to clear the boundary on a regular basis and could impress if he can find his best form.

The all-rounders for Lahore Qalandars see Aamer Yamin who showed glimpses of his ability for Pakistan in New Zealand recently and Bilawal Bhatti who is out of favour for Pakistan but will be keen to show the national selectors he can still mix it with the best. Yamin will need to have a big tournament if Lahore are to reach the latter stages of the tournament. His ability with the bat and ball cannot be doubted but the pressure of being one of Lahore's key players may be a very tough burden for him.

The strength of this Lahore Qalandars squad is undoubtedly its bowling line-up. In Sunil Narine and Mustafizur Rahman, the Qalandars have two bowlers who can single-handedly win a match. Add to these two internationals, the likes of Sohail Khan, Yasir Shah and Imran Khan jr. and one can see why the opposition batting line-ups may struggle to score heavily against McCullum's team. In addition, the return to cricket of the excellent Raza Hasan after a drugs ban, gives Lahore another match-winning bowler and if conditions favour spin, then there is no better combination of spinners in the third PSL than the trio of Narine, Shah and Hasan.

Perhaps the cricketer who will attract the most attention in the Pakistan Super League and whose performances will be the most eagerly anticipated is the tall pace bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi. The teenager is an impressive acquisition by Lahore and Afridi even impressed Indian great Rahul Dravid recently at the Under 19 World Cup. To get the chance to play under the watchful eye of a wily old professional like Brendon McCullum will be a huge boost to Afridi, who many believe is not too far away from an international call-up. The PSL will present Afridi with an opportunity to further enhance a growing reputation, although expectations should be realistic. 

Prediction: An improvement from the previous 2 tournaments but unlikely to reach the semi-finals. 

Player to watch: Shaheen Shah Afridi - a good showing for Shaheen and the selectors may call him up to the national squad quicker than expected. Pace, hostility and the ability to swing the ball sees fans licking their lips at this young man's ability. 

Lahore Qalandars Squad for PSL 2018: Umar Akmal, Sunil Narine, Chris Lynn, Brendon McCullum (c), Fakhar Zaman, Mustafizur Rahman, Yasir Shah, Sohail Khan, Bilal Asif, Cameron Deport, Aamer Yamin, Bilawal Bhatti, Raza Hasan, Sohail Akhtar, Imran Khan jr., Shaheen Shah Afridi, Ghulam Mudassar, Salman Irshad.

Supplementary: Anton Devcich, Mitch McClenaghan, Gulraiz Sadaf.

Cover: Dinesh Ramdin for Mustafizur Rahman.