Umar FarooqPakistan correspondent, ESPNcricinfo
Their 49-run loss to Islamabad United has left Lahore Qalandars closer to crashing out of PSL 2019. The team, currently placed second-last on the points table, can technically make the playoffs but that will depend on tricky calculations and other results going their way. If Karachi Kings lose both their games then Lahore will have to win their final game against Multan Sultans with a heavy margin to remain relevant.
Arguably, Lahore had one of the best team rosters this season, yet injuries plagued them once again. Over the past seasons, Lahore have had a trend of picking big names and raising expectations only to end up disappointed and that trend continued this time too. AB de Villiers and Mohammad Hafeez were both in the team before injuries cut their tournament short. Hafeez was ruled out due to a hand injury only two games into the tournament, while a back injury ruled de Villiers out of the matches being played in Pakistan.
This season, Lahore have lost six out of their nine matches and their overall record in the past three seasons stands at 17 losses in 29 matches. They have played a different XI in each game this season and the constant changes meant that 24 players turned out for the side, under three captains – Hafeez, de Villiers and Fakhar Zaman.
“A few injuries are beyond our control and we have been really unfortunate,” team manager and Chief Operating Office, Sameen Rana said after the game against Islamabad. “We have played nine games so far and haven’t played our best side yet. Hafeez, who has been a leader for our entire campaign and him leaving due to injury was the biggest setback but then when responsibility was passed on to Fakhar and AB, they did their best.
“It happens in cricket. This time I can say that we have had the best team but we were never able to play our combination on full potential because of things that were not in our hands. We were never able to play our best combination, otherwise on paper we have the best roster. If we had Hafeez and AB with us by now our result could have been different.”
Selection issues with prominent players have affected Lahore through the past PSL seasons, too. In the inaugural edition, they picked Chris Gayle, but the West Indian opening batsman reached Dubai with an injury. He still played five matches for an average 20.60 and was traded to Karachi Kings in the next season. During the same edition, Yasir Shah was handed a three-month suspension by the ICC after testing positive for a banned substance while an injured Mustafizur Rahman did not join the team at all.
In their second season, Lahore were hit by injuries to Shaun Tait, Dwayne Bravo and Anton Devcich. In the third edition, their most high-profile pick, Chris Lynn, dislocated his shoulder in the Big Bash League, and Sohail Khan, whom they roped in after a trade with Karachi Kings suffered a back injury. Brendon McCullum was one of the two regular members of the side and captain for two seasons but he went through those matches without scoring a half-century.
Despite their disappointing performances in the PSL, Lahore remain the a popular team, continuously engaged in the country’s cricket circle all-year-long through their extensive development programme, apart from various social and branding activities. They have in place a country-wide scouting campaign to unearth talent and they then develop players through coaching in the academy and foreign trips. This adds to the expectations from the team, but their results in the PSL have not matched up.
“Performance I agree hasn’t been good at the ground but you have to look beyond the result and table positions. It’s cricket. Things happens and there were closer games this season. You have seen that we played good cricket. Throughout the four seasons, we have had a different set of challenges. We don’t need to confuse our player development programme with PSL, it has nothing to with it. It’s a separate project for our youth and it’s our responsibility as a franchise to do something for youngsters.
“We are not going to shut our programme down after losing our PSL games. If we are spending a lot on our programme that’s our contribution but yes when we are not winning at the ground a lot of questions are asked. Yes, we put in a lot work throughout the year and then [have] these results but look at it objectively. If you look at our roster, we still have the best players but what can we do if our major chunk of players is injured? It’s not in our control.”
The injuries aside, Lahore were scheduled to play two matches of the Pakistan leg of the PSL at their home ground, the Gaddafi Stadium. However, the matches scheduled for Lahore were moved to Karachi due to logistical reasons stemming from political matters, and this has deprived the team of home advantage. All eight matches of the Pakistan leg, including the final, will be played in Karachi.