That’s the question almost everyone following the HBL Pakistan Super League is asking.Lahore’s performance in two-and-a-quarter editions of the PSL has been a source of heartbreak for their fans. They finished last in the first two editions and are moving in a similar direction this year as well.
It shouldn’t have been this way. After all, they are one of the most expensive franchises, boasting the services of some of the T20 league’s biggest stars. They represent a city that is regarded as the epicenter of Pakistan cricket and always land in Dubai with perhaps the best pre-PSL hype.
But they have proved to be all talk. Lahore crumbled in the inaugural edition in 2016 and flopped again last year. Despite taking a series of steps that included new replacements in the team and bringing in Aaqib Javed as head coach in place on Paddy Upton, the script hasn’t changed for the Qalandars in PSL 3, at least not yet.
On Monday night, they crashed to their third successive defeat in the contest, this time against arch-rivals Karachi. They lost by 27 runs but there were so many situations where Lahore had the opportunity to end their winless run in the event. The way they threw yet another match forced Aaqib Javed to take a swipe at his boys as he stressed that the Qalandars played “stupid cricket” in their game against Karachi Kings.
“With only 160 runs to chase, one can only lose the match with utmost effort or by playing very stupid cricket. Common sense is very important, no matter how good your game plan is, the individual presence of mind on the pitch makes the difference against opponents when it comes to execution. When singles, doubles are needed, you can’t go on trying to hit sixes,” the former Pakistan Test pacer commented after his team’s defeat.
Aaqib’s frustration is understandable. After losing pinch-hitter Sunil Narine early, Lahore were put on track by an explosive partnership between skipper Brendon McCullum (44) and his vice-captain Fakhar Zaman (19). They took Lahore to 70-1 in 6.3 overs. “We had to play six in an over. Things can’t get easier than that,” Aaqib said. “Batsmen made choices which were not necessary. Game awareness was the factor we were lacking.”Once McCullum and Fakhar departed, the onus was on Umar Akmal, who is supposed to be the rock in Lahore’s middle-order. That rock crumbled like a cookie, yet again.
“I will ask Umar Akmal what was his batting plan. I told him to go and stay there and take the game forward but on the crease, if you don’t go and play in that style then there is something wrong,” Aaqib said. Perhaps Aaqib will have to do much more than just ask Umar, who was the highest run-getter of the inaugural PSL. The 27-year-old was fired by Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur for a reason. The guy doesn’t have the fitness needed to shine in international cricket. On top of that, he also has an attitude problem. If Lahore will continue to rely on him then they will do so at their own peril.
So far Lahore has come across as a team waiting for their opponents to make mistakes. Aaqib admitted it ain’t a good strategy.“The winning team is one which determines the match on its own, controls and drives it in their favor. I don’t think that my team couldn’t have won all the three matches we lost.”
Instead of ruining lost opportunities, Aaqib and his team should focus more on the next seven PSL games. They will have to win most of those games to avoid the wooden spoon for the third year running. Lahore will have to find some quick fixes because it could be game over for them if they are unable to end their losing spree in back-to-back matches against Islamabad United (March 2) and Peshawar Zalmi (March 3).
Lahore will have to get over the fact that they suffered a big blow even before the start of the contest when their Australian signing Chris Lynn, who was supposed to be one of the biggest stars of PSL this year, was ruled out of the league because of a shoulder injury. Well, Lynn is not coming and the Qalandars know it.
McCullum will have to lead from the front. His performance for Qalandars, who have so far won just five of the 19 PSL matches they have played since 2016, has been ordinary at best. His daredevil approach doesn’t inspire much trust either. Lahore’s insistence on star power always leaves them low on workhorses. And there are also other issues like a lack of balance.
For instance, they have two of the world’s best spinners — Yasir Shah and Sunil Narine — but their pace battery is below average. They suffered because of it in Dubai where the wickets had a greener tinge but hopefully, for their fans, things should be different in Sharjah. The low and slow wicket there could assist Lahore’s spin twins.
Lahore is in a jam and needs to start giving their best. Otherwise, they will once again end the PSL season as its biggest losers.