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The Qurse of the Qalandars?

The Pakistan Super League (PSL) never quite reached its finale for season 5, but the mega cricket event is the highlight of the Pakistani cricket calendar, with the entirety of the tournament being hosted in Pakistan for the first time, recently.

As expected the crowds in Pakistan came out in droves to support their local teams and finally get a taste of international cricket in their own backyard.

The PSL cricket tournament has come a long way since its first incarnation in Dubai, back in 2016, with the introduction of a better telecast apparatus, to showcase the event from new angles, to the doing away of the gaudy cheerleaders. The one constant across the five seasons, however, has been the performance of the Lahore based franchise, Lahore Qalandars.

The Qalandars have had no shortage of followers, with the team based in Pakistan’s second-largest city and the capital of the Punjab province, Lahore. Yet the men in lime (or sometimes red) have become the perennial whipping dogs of the tournament, with even newcomers, Multan Sultans, pipping them to the finish line in their two years, with an arguably weaker team.

Lahore Qalandars PSL
Samit Patel celebrates a wicket for the Lahore Qalandars (Courtesy: SportsFever 360)

If one were to take stock of what was currently being discussed around the vast wheat paddocks and sugar plantations of Punjab, one would think the Qalandars are cursed. Heck, even a former cricket captain went on air to say the team should never have been named Qalandars in the PSL. The claim is that the title solely belongs to two venerable Sufi saints; one based in Panipat, in India, with the other, interred in Sehwan Sharif in Pakistan.

Whether or not the christening of the franchise was sacrilegious, the Qalandars’ on-field performance has been one to forget, with heavy reliance on big-name acts, who have failed to perform on the big stage.

But can we truly write off the Lahore based side altogether? With their tendency to make “illogical picks” and choice of overseas players, can we claim the failed management of the Rana family to have sullied the famed reputation of the proud Lahori cricketer?

Can we finally settle the Lahore vs. Karachi debate, awarding the port city as the superior cricketing city? Scratch the surface, however, and you will find a story of a cricket franchise, just embarking on a journey that will have an impact on the very fabric of Pakistan for generations to come.

Lahore Qalandars celebrate a wicket with high-fives in the PSL
Lahore Qalandars celebrate a wicket (Courtesy: SportsFever 360)

When the Qatar Lubricants Company Ltd. (QALCO) were successful in their bid for the Lahore based franchise in the PSL, acquiring the team for a cool US$25.1 million, they set in motion a detailed plan to support the game of cricket at a grassroots level. Their performances notwithstanding, the Qalandars are the only cricket franchise to have a clear, concise and well-articulated corporate vision and mission.

They define their mission to “encourage the … progress of cricket all over Pakistan, by facilitating cricket enthusiasts of all age groups to avail the opportunities to train and play in a professional set-up.” To this end, the Lahore Qalandars established the Players Development Program (PDP) in 2016, which was a province-wide manhunt for the best amateur cricket players who can demonstrate the potential for future growth in the sport.

The best 16 players were to be sent to Australia, to play matches against Big Bash sides, Sydney Thunder and the Sydney Sixers. In its first year, 113,000 people participated in the PDP across the Punjab province. By the third year, more than 500,000 people participated in the PDP across the country!

The PDP did not limit themselves to the urban centres of Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Rawalpindi, but went to far-flung areas such as Jamrud in FATA, Gilgit in Gilgit-Baltistan and even organised trials in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur in Azad Kashmir for the first time.

The PDP trials were supervised under the likes of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Aaqib Javed and Shoaib Akhtar. For the first time, young men in Sargodha, Mirpur, Attock and Layyah were able to witness their legends engaging with them and aiding their development.

After the success of their much-vaunted PDP program, the Qalandars launched a dedicated campus to house these amateur players. The Qalandars High-Performance Centre (QHPC) provides the amateur players with world-class facilities and all the auxiliary services that one can expect in a state-of-the-art sports centre, such as nutritionists, dieticians and physiotherapists.

The centre has a comprehensive syllabus that includes character building, media handling, anti-doping principles and life skills. All the necessary ingredients for starting one’s journey as a professional athlete.

So what does all this mean for the club? Can the goodwill created by the success of the PDP and the High-Performance Centre translate to success on the field?

An analysis of the list of Pakistani T20 International players show that the Qalandars have already produced three players for the national side; Fakhar Zaman, Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf. Of the three, Shaheen had already established a name for himself in the domestic circuit and the national side.

Zaman was an actual find, who under the tutelage of Brendon McCullum truly shined. Haris Rauf however, is a product of the PDP, unearthed from the trials in Gujranwala out of 25,000 people, a gem who recently lit up the Big Bash in Australia, with his lethal 150kph+ balls. Of all the PSL sides, only dual championship-winning Islamabad United have produced more players who have gone on to represent the national side.

Lahore Qalandars celebrate a wicket in PSL
Courtesy: SportsFever 360

With all of its emerging and silver category players sourced from its PDP program in the current 2020 season, the Qalandars are setting themselves apart from the other franchises as one building indigenous talent as opposed to drawing from the first-class pool. The likes of Haris Rauf, Farzan Raja, Maaz Khan, Muhammad Faizan Khan and Dilbar Hussain have bright futures ahead of them.

If the Qalandars continue to find impressive talent in the PDP and polish them in the QHPC, very soon it might become a high producing factory of Pakistani cricketers donning the gold star of their country blazoned on their chests.

In conclusion, the Qalandars may be the laggards in the win/loss ratio column for the past five seasons of the PSL, however, going by how they are achieving their corporate vision and their mission statement; they are definitely a class apart from their rivals, and one we should all get behind.

List of Players who made their international debut after performing well in the PSL:

Islamabad UnitedKarachi KingsLahore QalandarsMultan SultansPeshawar ZalmiQuetta Gladiators
Shadab KhanIftikhar AhmedFakhar ZamanHasan AliMuhammad Nawaz
Asif AliShaheen AfridiImam-ul-HaqAhsan Ali
Hussain TalatHaris RaufKhushdil Shah
Rumman Raees
Faheem Ashraf
Mohammad Hasnain
Sahibzada Farhan
Muhammad Musa

 

Shoaib Bilal is a cricket tragic who enjoys a bit of motorsports, NBA and Aussie Rules on the side. He spends his days working as an analyst, but would rather spend them hiking the Inca trail.

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