Lahore Lions came to India for the Oppo Champions League 2014 as underdogs. In the Qualifier stage, they defeated the mighty Mumbai Indians and staked their claim for a spot in the main league.
Now, as they prepare to play their first game of the Group phase, the side from Pakistan faces the challenge of overcoming the defending IPL champions, Kolkata Knight Riders.
On the eve of their match at the Rajiv Gandhi Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad, Lions skipper Mohammad Hafeez said the good show in the Qualifiers has instilled a new self-belief in his boys.
“As a team we played good cricket in the qualifiers and the most deserving teams have qualified,” he said. “We have momentum and confidence going into the league group. We now believe in ourselves more than we did when we came here. Everyone is ready and excited to perform.”
Hafeez was particularly pleased with the way his young players are handling the pressure of such a high-profile tournament and are standing up against some of the renowned international stars.
“There are big names in the IPL teams and we are a regional team with only Pakistani players. For seven-eight of our players, this is the first chance to participate on such a big stage. As a captain I am very happy with the way they are handling the pressure,” Hafeez said.
The KKR top-order struggled to peak against the CSK pacers in the powerplay overs in their last match. Hafeez believes that could be a crucial factor for them too, given his pacers’ impressive performance in the first six overs so far.
“Picking wickets in the initial overs is crucial and our bowlers have been doing that. Aizaz Cheema has led the way on that front and other bowlers like Wahab Riaz, Imran Ali and Asif Raza are also chipping in. We have a good bowling attack overall. We know doing well with the new ball is important and I hope our bowlers continue to do so,” the skipper said.
Hafeez was pleased with the support his team have received from the Indian fans and is confident his inexperienced side has what it takes to beat the best of teams.
“It’s a great experience to come and perform in India. When you play well, people here support you and the support is getting bigger for Lahore Lions. We promise exciting cricket to them.”
“All the teams are champion teams. They have big names and experience. We have talent. If we play well, we can beat any team,” the skipper added.