Despite the talent at their disposal and the excellent support they enjoy from their fans, Lahore Qalandars have failed to crack the Pakistan Super League code so far, with disappointing results through the three seasons. They have finished last each time, having lost 18 of their 29 matches in the competition.
Lahore have a history of stacking their side with big names, but they have usually fallen short of expectations. Luck, somehow, hasn't always gone their way either. In the first season, they had Chris Gayle, but it backfired as the opener reached Dubai with an injury. He went on to play five games, but averaged only 20.60. He was offloaded next season. The same season, Qalandars also had to deal with Yasir Shah's suspension after the legspinnertested positive for a banned substance, besides losing Mustafizur Rahman to injury.
Then, even before the second season began, they lost Shaun Tait, Dwayne Bravo and Anton Devcich to injuries. More recently, their hottest pick, Chris Lynn, dislocated his shoulder in the Big Bash League only days before the start of the third season. That left them heavily dependent on captain Brendon McCullum, who went two seasons without a fifty, scoring his runs at an underwhelming strike rate of 114. This year, they have appointed Mohammad Hafeez as their skipper.
Known to buy big, the Qalandars made a successful play this year for AB de Villiers, arguably the hottest pick of the season. They have also gone back to a local captain in Hafeez, after Azhar Ali led them in the inaugural season, followed by McCullum in the next two seasons. Batting, their biggest problem, looks safe this time, with the likes of Fakhar Zaman, de Villiers and Hafeez the big names, and Devcich providing support. Allrounders Carlos Brathwaite and Corey Anderson should provide some depth too.
With McCullum in charge, the Qalandars struggled with identification and optimum utilisation of local talent, an area that should be well covered this season under Hafeez. The top order looks in good shape, as does the bowling department, led by emerging Pakistan star Shaheen Shah Afridi. They have also picked up Nepal legspinner Sandeep Lamichhanne, who might bowl in tandem with Yasir Shah at some stage, making for a fascinating prospect.
They have a set of great players on paper: local captain, specialist T20 bowlers, power-hitters, anchors, all you need to form a solid T20 side. But they know from lessons learnt over three seasons that tournaments are not won on paper. They need them clicking as a cohesive unit for a change in fortunes, and that might require a bit of work.
Key foreign player
All eyes will naturally be on de Villiers. Retired from international cricket, de Villiers remains a destructive force, exemplified by his strong performances in the BPL recently, where he struck a 50-ball hundred, averaged in excess of 60 and scored his 247 runs at a strike rate close to 170. His presence will be a massive boost for some of the youngsters in the squad as well.
Under-the-radar local player
Haris Rauf, just 23 with no first-class experience, will be unleashed in the PSL for the first time. A product of the Qalandars' player development programme, the right-arm quick was discovered in Gujranwala by Aaqib Javed. He was given a contract and taken in by the franchise for further development. He was trained exclusively by Aaqib in Lahore after that, before being sent to Australia last year to feature in competitive cricket with Hawkesbury Cricket Club.
He made a T20 debut against Hobart Hurricanes in Abu Dhabi last year and picked up one for 23 in the Qalandars' defeat of South African side Titans in the final of that tournament.
Local: Mohammad Hafeez (capt), Fakhar Zaman, Yasir Shah, Rahat Ali, Agha Salman, Sohail Akhtar, Hassan Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Imran, Maaz Khan, Gauhar Ali, Aizaz Cheema, Haris Rauf, Saad Ali.
Overseas: AB de Villiers (South Africa), Carlos Brathwaite (West Indies), Corey Anderson (New Zealand), Sandeep Lamichhanne (Nepal), Anton Devcich (New Zealand), Brendan Taylor (Zimbabwe). Hardus Viljoen and David Wiese (both South Africa) as cover for de Villiers, Anderson and Brathwaite.