LAHORE: Lahore Qalandars had a stunning run in the last edition of the HBL Pakistan Super League, which culminated in the Shaheen Afridi-led team lifting the trophy. It was the first instance of the side winning the coveted HBL PSL title.
The Lahore Qalandars fans have had a rollercoaster ride. Their side failed to qualify for the playoffs in the first four editions before ending up as runner-up in the 2020 edition.
Lahore Qalandars begin their title defence on 13 February in Multan when they play the home side – Multan Sultans – at 20:00.
In a special interview with the PCB Digital, Aaqib Javed, the Lahore Qalandars head coach, spoke about his team’s journey, what turned around their fortunes and their chances in the upcoming edition. Below are the excerpts from the interview.
How would you reflect on Lahore Qalandars’ rollercoaster ride in the HBL PSL?
Pick order in the players draft ahead of the start of an HBL PSL season determines the better pool of players available to you and during the initial seasons, Lahore Qalandars usually have been short of resources due to the pick order in the draft.
When I joined the franchise in the second edition, I faced the problem of forming a core as other teams had already picked the more skillful players in the domestic circuit. This is when I began the Players Development Programme. We were subject to a lot of criticism in my first three years in charge but we realised our strength lay in developing players. When we appointed Sohail Akhtar as our captain in the HBL PSL 5, there was further backlash but he led us to the final.
The setting of the 2022 title win was perfect for us – Shaheen as captain and winning the final in Lahore. We managed to develop our core group in HBL PSL 5. All we were missing was a captain and Shaheen has proved himself a capable leader.
The core members in every franchise are those who started their career with the same team and still play for them. When we talk about Qalandars being a family, we see that Fakhar Zaman has been with us since the second season, Shaheen entered the team as an Emerging Category player and is now our captain, Haris Rauf was found through the Player Development Programme and he is now one of the top bowlers in the format.
And, there is a lot of focus on the youngsters in Lahore Qalandars. Tell us about that.
We believe in giving our emerging players chances and making them superstars. In a similar way, we are focused on our future stars Kamran Ghulam, Abdullah Shafique and Zaman Khan. I remember Abdullah doubting himself after a few matches he failed to perform in but we backed him and reassured him that he will play all matches. When you give confidence to a young player, only then can he realise his true potential.
You have been involved in cricket for a long time – first as a cricketer and then as a coach. Where do you rate the HBL PSL?
If HBL PSL did not exist, Pakistan cricket would have declined. Franchises invest in the best available players in the country and the competition is very tight in HBL PSL. Credit is due to the HBL PSL for the emergence and progression of Shaheen Afridi, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Babar Azam and Shadab Khan. A player is judged by his competitiveness and how well he handles the crowd pressure. The HBL PSL experience is thus akin to international cricket and provides you with the platform where you can stand out with your performances.
And what is your take on the famous Lahore-Karachi rivalry?
The Lahore-Karachi rivalry is similar to Pakistan-India as the stadiums are jam-packed whenever these two sides take on each other. There is no added pressure on the contest but instead the players see it as an opportunity to perform and make their mark.
We might see a different rivalry emerge this season for Lahore Qalandars with Babar [Azam] moving to Peshawar Zalmi and people will be anticipating a thrilling clash between the Zalmi captain and Shaheen Afridi.