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‘We need to focus & rely more on our local players’

Lahore Qalandars owner Fawad Rana on his avowed mantra after the second heartbreak, and the importance of Brendon McCullum

‘We need to focus & rely more on our local players’
Hopeful: Fawad Rana says Lahore Qalandars will regroup and re-strategise

There is one endearing element in the drama that the Pakistan Super League has provided with its high-octane pitch: the ecstasy and the agony of Fawad Rana — depending on the approaching result of the day.

It would not be off the mark to suggest that those made-for-television moments have turned the Lahore Qalandars owner into a bit of an unheralded star even as the fortunes of his franchise appear to have left a ‘nice-guys-finish-last’ kind of truism in its wake.

Regardless, so popular is he with cricket-mad fans wherever he goes that despite his team’s elimination from the play-offs a second successive time — and hence the denial of a shot at winning the trophy before the home crowd at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium — they still kept raising a toast to him while he watched the finals early this month.

In an interview with The News on Sunday, Rana speaks his heart out on the losses and gains; the importance of Brendon McCullum despite his virtually silent bat and that inexplicable over he bowled; as well as the possibility of international cricket returning home.

TNS: It must have been heartbreaking, again. How did the postmortem go?

FR: Definitely. I was part of the lengthy 5-hour plus session; at the time, we still had an outside chance to make the cut based on external permutations. I have no pretensions to being a cricketer, but did pitch a layman’s observations; for instance, I did not comprehend that one over bowled by Brendon McCullum at a crucial stage of their last match (after 14 overs, Karachi Kings were reeling at 89 for 4, needing a further 67 off 37 balls) though, with the benefit of hindsight, one may say (other) options could have been tried.

Pivotal: Despite below-par showing, Brendon McCullum remains central to Qalandars’ scheme of things

Pivotal: Despite below-par showing, Brendon McCullum remains central to Qalandars’ scheme of things

Drawing on the fickle nature of T20 cricket, he posited that if the ball had been 10 inches inwardin flight (referring to Kieron Pollard’s maximums off the last two balls bowled by Aamer Yamin that proved decisive), we would probably have had a different discussion.

Having said that, there was great connectivity among the foreign and local players. Everybody was sad; (Coach) Paddy Upton had tears in his eyes… McCullum, too, was overcome while Aamer Yamin was crying like a baby. I felt pointing fingers would not help; we have to remember this is franchise cricket, after all.

On the face of it, there was little to grumble about; we had witnessed great spirit within the team, which is what enabled us to fight back even after collapsing to 59 all out against the eventual champions in one match and, on the flip side, not even scoring 200 in another encounter was enough!

TNS: Brendan McCullum was a major grab for Qalandars — it probably left a few teams envious. How do you see his failure as a batsman — and perhaps, even captain towards the end phase of the tournament?

RF: I wouldn’t call it a failure, contextually. We cannot dispute his credentials as a great batsman and captain. As a leader, he is aggressive and sharp in the field. As a batsman, he was, well, disappointed with himself…so much so that when I said our late order batsmen should have done more, he interjected to say, that seniors like himself should have performed. McCullum felt that if the four at the top of the order did not perform, the team simply did not deserve to win.

He has been such a valuable choice for us; he has brought clarity to — and effusively built on — our philosophy, which is to play selfless cricket. He’s constantly in touch with the staff and players, be it in person or through other modes of communication, including WhatsApp!

TNS: What will you do differently in the next edition of PSL to target a place in the play-offs?

RF: We will regroup and re-strategise. Obviously, with a new draft coming in, there will be changes. But I think we need to focus and rely more on our local players. We have to repose trust in their ability and that’s something I very much look forward to making a mantra. I’m in very close touch with our local management, particularly Aaqib Javed. Next week, we’ll also be participating in the Emirates T20Cup in Dubai, which pits us against Peshawar Zalmi.

TNS: The Peshawar Zalmi owner was quoted recently as saying that he had drafted foreign players whilst also factoring in the possibility of their playing in Pakistan. Will you pick players differently in the next draft, especially given how Quetta Gladiators folded in the final when they lost their key foreign players?

RF: I’m reminded of Winston Churchill’s famous quote: “History is written by the victors”. To respond to your query, no. We won’t be thinking along those lines. We must remember this is the ‘Pakistan’ Super League. I have been saying this all along and will remain a vocal supporter of developing our own structures, our own teams and our own players. My ultimate goal would be to produce a McCullum, a Jason Roy, a Sunil Narine — all at home.

TNS: A common refrain is that our local players get a great opportunity to learn by sharing the dressing room with international stars. How much of it is really practical given the glaring language barrier?

RF: That’s an interesting poser. Why, I even asked (upcoming Qalandars pacer) Mohammed Irfan Jr how he communicates with Brendon. You know what his response was? He said he communicates with Brendon more than he even does with his local coaches! Irfan’s take was that there is this ‘universal language’ of cricket and he doesn’t fall short of a method when seeking knowledge and skill. I would have to second that because I certainly saw no such barrier within our team. For instance, I heard Grant Elliott asking Irfan why he hadn’t employed the ‘slow bouncer’ that he is so good at when Kevin Pietersen was going hammer and tongs (Elliott made him see the point by imitating Irfan’s full arm action)!

TNS: What was the highlight of PSL-2 from Qalandars’ point of view?

RF: The highlight was our fightback against Peshawar Zalmi in a prelim where even after getting whittled out for 59, we scalped seven and the chase went down to the wire. That showed the character of the team.

TNS: Name three standout emerging players from this year’s edition?

RF: Shadab Khan of Islamabad United; Usama Mir of Karachi Kings; and Fakhar Zaman of Lahore Qalandars impressed me the most.

TNS: Will the PSL final in Lahore pave the way for more PSL matches in the future, and more importantly, international cricket as is being suggested?

RF: I must say, the arrangements (for the PSL final) were superb. We must thank the law enforcement agencies and both the civilian and military leaderships for doing a great job. The military leadership’s full support to the civilian administration was a symbolic message of unity and one which was important to us as a country. At the same time, we must appreciate the Lahori spirit for the kind of discipline, unity of purpose and the flavour they brought to the party.

Nothing would be more pleasing than seeing the return of international cricket back home. With PSL, we have created a successful brand. The final produced a certain feel-good factor:with the likes of Darren Sammy coming here to play, taking selfies with fans inside the stadium and PSL becoming a top trend on twitter on the day of the final, and a global audience that got to see a successful show, it is bound to create a momentum. I hope that we can at least host the play-offs next year, if not a match each at all the franchise capitals.

In my reckoning, if we are able to host the third edition at home, more foreign players will start coming in; may be, we won’t attract superstars immediately, but I do see stars coming in. If all goes well, you can expect superstars eventually. On a personal note, I’m an expatriate, but what I’ve done is invest in Pakistan and its cricket future. I didn’t take my investment anywhere else because I believe in my country, my people and my cricketers.

TNS: What do you make of the controversy surrounding Imran Khan’s remarks about holding the PSL final in Lahore and the quality of foreign players?

RF: I believe it was blown out of proportion because Imran Khan just happens to be a great (former) cricketer and a World Cup-winning captain at that. His every word on the game is a potential headline. The choice of words in this case, I reckon, stemmed from descriptions that our players usually use amongst themselves. The commotion was probably because he is an opposition politician. Having said that, I’d rather the media focused on the positive narrative coming out of the successful hosting of the PSL final.

Kamran Rehmat

Kamran Rehmat
The writer, a former editor of The News, is a political analyst and cricket aficianado. He may be reached at [email protected]

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