If there is any franchise that deserves to catch a break, it is, without a doubt, Lahore Qalandars. The Fawad Rana-owned franchise’s troubles through the first three seasons are known to all and sundry.
If history is anything to go by, this clash of perennial winners and perennial losers should naturally have the latter worried.
But there are genuine reasons to believe that the Qalandars are in a confident mood and might actually nick this one from the defending champions.
The primary inspiration behind this newfound belief would be none other than Mr 360, the Superman of cricket: AB de Villiers.
As old and way-past-his-prime as he may be, the Proteas legend is still a draw and a potent weapon for the Qalandars to have in their repertoire.
The Qalandars also have a new captain this year in the form of Mohammad Hafeez, whose leadership as well as all-rounder capabilities should, at the very least, enable them to finish anywhere but last.
United, on the other hand, are in a difficult position ─ they’ve lost Misbahul Haq, and while the 44-year-old is no longer a major contributor to the game, he is still useful because of his undeniable leadership qualities.
Enter Mohammad Sami to fill his worn-out shoes. But there is a question mark over how he will lead the side considering he has neither been a captain at major events, nor does he come off as skipper material.
Furthermore, Islamabad’s squad ─ as it is currently composed ─ is the thinnest in the league. With several players on the wrong side of the 30, fatigue could become a factor for them later on in the tournament.
The two teams’ contrasting fortunes have fans believing that their head-to-head will be completely tilted towards United. It is, but it’s not as bad as it could have been.
In six PSL clashes, United have won four times, while the Qalandars just hold two victories. Both those victories came in 2016 when United were suffering from the infamous second season syndrome, and would have finished bottom of the table had it not been for the Qalandars.
In 2018, the Qalandars had whatever is the opposite of the luck of the Irish. In their first encounter, they had United pinned from the start and needed just 122 to win.
In a comical meltdown, they lost their last 8 wickets for just 44 runs and ended up losing the match in the Super Over.
In the second 2018 clash, the Qalandars posted a decent 164-run target. Only this time, Luke Ronchi ─ who was out on duck the last time ─ went on a cruel, merciless rampage the Qalandars couldn’t recover from.
Lahore: Mohammad Hafeez (c), Agha Salman, Aizaz Cheema, Corey Anderson, Carlos Brathwaite AP Devcich, AB de Villiers, Fakhar Zaman, Gauhar Ali, Haris Rauf, Haris Sohail, Hassan Khan, Sandeep Lamichhane, Mohammad Imran, Rahat Ali, Saad Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Sohail Akhtar, Brendon Taylor, Umair Masood, G Viljoen, David Wiese, Yasir Shah
Islamabad: Mohammad Sami (c), Amad Butt, Asif Ali, Ian Bell, Cameron Delport, Faheem Ashraf, Hussain Talat, Muhammad Musa Bowler, Nasir Nawaz, Wayne Parnell, Samit Patel, Rizwan Hussain, Luke Ronchi, Rumman Raees, Sahibzada Farhan, Phil Salt, Shadab Khan, Waqas Maqsood, Zafar Gohar, Zahir Khan
The 2019 Qalandars just have too much firepower up top. They’ll get it done ─ barring a Ronchi rampage, of course.