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Lahore Qalandars' reboot dented by Lynn injury

Grant Elliott's "bat drop" celebration after winning by one wicket PCB/PSL

History

The first time could be dismissed as an accident, and Lahore Qalandars could argue that there was a steep learning curve to the art of mastering success in a T20 league. The 2017 season however, still showed Lahore panting at the wrong end of the curve, their race run before the knockout stages began. Simply put, the PSL, in its first two years, could not have gone worse for arguably the PSL's most high-profile team.

They have finished fifth - that's last - in both seasons. In a particularly forgiving format where four teams reach the next round, Lahore Qalandars' fans are the only ones not to have tasted knockout excitement.

The first season was simply a write-off, a wretched year in which they lost six games - five by wide margins - and thus never really got off the bottom. The second season had a much more vibrant buzz about it with T20 royalty in Brendon McCullum taking over as captain. They looked an improved side, but in the end still finished with only three wins in eight games. They missed out on the next round in heart-breaking style, with arch-rivals Karachi Kings knocking them out in a virtual playoff, with the Kings' Kieron Pollard smashing 10 off the last two balls to take his side through instead.

Team overview

After the first season, Qalandars overhauled their entire squad, a blatant acknowledgment that they had got it wrong at the draft. This year, the have retained the core last year's team, and there seems to be a sense that with a bit more luck, they would have had more success last season. They have stuck by Brendon McCullum as captain, and also retained two more of their key foreign players in Sunil Narine and Cameron Delport, as well as locals Umar Akmal and Fakhar Zaman.

Jason Roy has been released to make room for Chris Lynn, and if he does play, Qalandars' opening pair will unquestionably be the most explosive, at least on paper. Mustafizur Rahman, though only partially available, will add further specialist T20 knowhow to the squad.

Strengths

Lahore Qalandars are the Real Madrid of cricket; they don't do subtlety. Part of their strength - or so they'd hope - lies in the sheer glitz and glamour of their team sheet, with more and more "Galacticos" added each season. Lynn and Mustafizur are the freshest hot prospects this year, although the Australian suffered a shoulder injury* and is a potential doubt for the entire tournament. It still has to be said their squad looks far better balanced, both in terms of experience and youth, as well as explosiveness and maturity. McCullum is still one of T20 cricket's most sought-after names and an exceptionally intelligent captain. For big hitting, they have Fakhar Zaman, and Anton Devcich - who was the Super Smash's highest run-scorer this year at a strike rate above 168.

In addition, two of the handiest T20 spinners will be wearing the green of Qalandars this year. Yasir Shah, becoming a better bowler all the time, and Narine, the Qalandars highest wicket=taker with an economy rate of 6.46 last season, are expected to be central to their side's prospects. Mustafizur and Mitchell McClenaghan are shrewd T20 specialists, while the retention of Sohail Khan and Bilawal Bhatti means Qalandars won't be short of local fast-bowling talent to adorn their team sheet.

Weaknesses

The blinding shock and awe of the big names does a fairly cunning job of concealing holes in the Qalandars squad, of which unmistakeably there are some. McCullum, Zaman, Lynn and Devcich don't exactly do safety first, and the names on there to steady the ship should early wickets fall do not convince. Umar Akmal's stock has, you might have noticed, dropped sharply over the past year, with his chart-topping heroics of two years ago a decidedly distant memory. Denesh Ramdin has a T20I average of 16 at a strike rate of 115, and Qalandars would be on shaky ground if he was called upon to perform rescue acts too often. Besides those, there isn't much local batting heft to cushion the blow of a poor start, and the Qalandars will be relying heavily on their top order to repay the faith they placed in them at the draft.

As far as the bowling goes, the fast bowling appear slightly unremarkable. Mustafizur won't be able for the whole season, while McClenaghan had a rather underwhelming Big Bash League, and could be short on form and confidence.

Aamer Yamin, Bilawal and Sohail can all be handy in their own way, but they don't nearly possess the qualities some of their teammates do, and for a country spoilt on freakishly talented fast bowlers, Qalandars' fast bowling department is unlikely to get the blood pumping.

Key foreign player

Despite the presence of new superstars in the squad, this segment simply has to go to McCullum for the second successive year. Not so much because he's his side's best player necessarily. It's simply that there simply isn't another player whose performance will go as far to determine how successful their side is. McCullum at his best is a juggernaut, an unparalleled batsman, a peerless fielder, an unsurpassed captain and a superlative team motivator.

However, that is a big if nowadays. There are signs that the 36-year old is coming precipitously close to the end, and a distinctly average BBL - at least by his standards - only fanned the flames of that opinion. He scored 248 runs at 24.8 and a strike rate of 135, scoring 5 or fewer in four of ten games as his side finished second bottom. His performance at the PSL last year, too, was poor, with just 93 runs at 13.28. Lahore Qalandars will be hoping he can turn it around for what could be one last hurrah, because if he does, it'll be the other side of the table Qalandars will be focused on.

Under the radar

It is unusual to include a former international on this list, but then again, 25-year old Raza Hasan, who has played an ODI and 10 T20Is, has had anything but a usual career. Thrown into the international side at 20, he made his debut against Australia in Dubai, registering figures of 2-15 in four overs in a humbling defeat for the Australians, who were bowled out for 89. He later went to the World T20I, where he similarly impressed, and gushing reviews claimed he had the world at his feet.

However, all those hopes and promises unravelled in sad circumstances. He fell down the pecking order and struggled to keep up his form and fitness, with the nadir being a two-year ban in 2015 for testing positive for cocaine. He was spotted again by Aaqib Javed last year, who said he was struggling to even gain entry to the Gaddafi Stadium and was reduced to playing on the streets. Aaqib promised to get his career back on track, and drafted him into Qalandars squad. Who could begrudge him a successful second innings?

*Feb 21 1150 GMT Preview updated to reflect Chris Lynn's injury