Lahore Qalandars, led by AB de Villiers and Sandeep Lamichhane, enter PSL 2019 with renewed optimism
Pakistan Super League franchise have been perpetual strugglers, but are boosted ahead of the new season by a South African superstar and a Nepalese spin-bowling sensation
How to solve a problem like Lahore Qalandars? Three seasons in existence. Three times they have finished last in the HBL Pakistan Super League.
Of all the Twenty20 franchises in the world, they are the worst performing. It is fair to suggest the only way is up.
What is the solution? An obvious one they have plumped for ahead of the fourth season of the league is to go big with their recruitment, namely by drafting in the services of one of the biggest stars of the world game.
AB de Villiers is not a regular on the global circuit of franchise cricket, keeping himself to a select few teams. He will be debuting in the PSL this year, as the headline pick to cure Lahore’s ills.
But the South African great will be unable to do it single-handedly, according to Aaqib Javed, the Qalandars head coach.
“You can’t depend on one star player,” Aaqib said. “He can score runs for you, but alone he can’t win games.”
Despite the persistent disappointment of recent years, Aaqib remains confident. And not because of the arrival of players of the global standing of the likes of De Villiers and Mohammed Hafeez, the team’s new captain.
Instead, he is buoyed by the promise of an 18-year-old leg-spinner from Nepal, and a raw fast-bowler who converted from playing tape-ball cricket, and was discovered during a talent hunt involving more than half a million aspirants.
Sandeep Lamichhane, who was playing in Dubai for Nepal against UAE last week, but is currently in Australia for the final throes of the Big Bash League, could play a key role in the new Qalandars, according to the coach.
“The way Lami is performing, he is a leading bowler in the world already, at this young age,” Aaqib said.
“Leg-spinners are the key factor in T20 leagues, especially ones who can bowl googlies, and flippers. He is a very exciting youngster, who can bring a lot of energy, and is brave, not afraid to be hit.
“In this tournament, there are players who could become stars. Lami would be one of them, and Haris Rauf, an emerging player. He is fast.”
If the evidence of the centre-wicket practice Qalandars had at the ICC Academy on Monday is anything to go by, Aaqib’s optimism over Rauf is well placed.
The young right-arm fast-bowler bowled with real venom against his new teammates, and extracted sharp bounce from a usually docile wicket on the smaller of the two academy ovals at Dubai Sports City.
Aaqib has history himself in discovering players from street cricket, and giving them their chance in the more formal game. One notable former protégé is Mohammed Naveed, the leader of the UAE bowling attack.
Naveed had only played tape-ball cricket, in this case in Khorfakkan on the north-eastern coast of the UAE, before Aaqib gave him his bow in international cricket. On Monday, Naveed ascended to No 12 in the world rankings for T20 international bowlers.
Aaqib believes Rauf could be set for a sharp rise to prominence, too, suggesting he might even be a late candidate for Pakistan’s World Cup side.
“When we spotted him, that was the first time he had played with a hard ball,” Aaqib said. “He is a pure tape-ball product. We have trained him for the past one and a half years, and now he is mature.
“He is ready to play proper cricket. You will find they [players with a background in tape-ball cricket] will be good with their yorkers and bouncers. He will be a player to watch.”
Despite his confidence over the new discoveries, the coach knows his side will likely be reliant on their experienced campaigners for reversing the side's fortunes.
Brendon McCullum, who suffered an ill-starred spell as captain, has gone, but there are plenty of international caps arriving in his stead.
“Hafeez will bring a lot of local knowledge,” Aaqib said. “He knows everyone who is playing domestic cricket in Pakistan, so he will bring a lot of knowledge into the team.
“And AB is AB. You can expect anything from him, but we don’t want to put a load of pressure on him, that we are only depending on him."
“He is a star player. He will definitely win you games.”
Updated: February 12, 2019 05:07 PM