Cricket fans in Qatar can now cheer for Lahore Qalandars!

Can cricket, money and Sufism mix? Yes, according to Fawad Rana, the CEO of Qatar Lubricants Company (QALCO), the firm that has created a buzz around the cricketing world by paying $25mn to buy the Pakistan Super League’s (PSL) Lahore franchise for 10 years.

It’s the first instance of a company boasting full ownership of a Twenty20 team playing in a foreign tournament, and yesterday Rana revealed the name of the franchise, for the first time, to Gulf Times. For him, Lions, Rams and Tigers are passe – the QALCO-owned team will be known as the Lahore Qalandars, the ‘Q’ representing both Qatar and QALCO.

In an exclusive interview with this newspaper, Rana said the name was chosen to highlight the Sufi culture of Lahore which is all about love, understanding and peace. ‘Qalandar’ is a term commonly used in India and Pakistan for Sufi mystics or saints whose shrines attract millions of devotees, regardless of their religious affiliations.

“As you are probably aware, Lahore and indeed other parts of Pakistan have numerous Sufi shrines which are symbols of peace and harmony. We wanted to project this aspect of Lahore and Pakistan’s traditions,” he added.

Lahore, of course, is the second-largest city in Pakistan after Karachi and the capital of the Punjab province from where Rana belongs, and the idea to get involved with the PSL came about when the Pakistan Cricket Board was trying to get Qatar to host the event after the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) had initially refused permission because of logistical problems.

“When the PCB initially got in touch with the Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC) we at QALCO were quite thrilled and decided Qatar should own a team. Thankfully, our chairman HE Sheikh Sultan bin Jassim al-Thani is a great sports lover and he immediately approved of the idea,” said Rana.

However, despite the fact that the PCB later reached an agreement with the ECB about the PSL dates and decided not host the tournament in Qatar, QALCO still went ahead with its bid for the team.

“It’s great for Qatar to own a cricket team. As everyone is aware, South Asians are crazy about the game. The success of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been phenomenal. I am confident that the PSL would also prove a great success.”

The Pakistan board is keen to avoid some of the issues that have plagued the IPL where absolute money power rules. “In the PSL we have a salary cap with no team allowed to spend more than a total of $1.2mn on players, coaches and support staff, with each squad consisting of 16 players selected from five different categories – Platinum, Diamond, Gold, Silver, and Emerging.”

Rana added the move makes sense as because otherwise it would mean the richest owners would get to buy the best players by paying them obscene amounts of money.

“By maintaining a strict salary cap we want to ensure fair competition. Otherwise one or two teams would have the best players while the others would have to make do with players of lesser ability.”

Rana also added that he would be trying his best to host a PSL game in Qatar next year. “Absolutely, we will try to host an exhibition game early next year and one or two actual PSL matches involving Lahore down the line.”

More than 300 players are up for grabs for the PSL. Some of those included in the Platinum category are Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Shane Watson, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Kevin Pietersen, James Anderson, Ian Bell, Alastair Cook Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan. The teams will be finalised shortly.

While Rana is proud of his company, he rues the fact that the PSL won’t be played in Pakistan because of security concerns.

“Pakistan’s security situation has dramatically improved after the military started going after the terrorists. There is also political stability in the country now and I am confident that top international players would start playing in Pakistan in a couple of years. After all, logically it’s a Pakistani tournament and should be played in Pakistan. ”

A staunch advocate of India-Pakistan peace, he is also keeping his hopes high of a resumption of cricketing ties between the two nations.

“After all what is cricket without India and Pakistan playing against each other? I hope both countries sit down calmly and talk cricket instead of always talking politics. Cricket should not be the victim of politics.”

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