So it starts off where it ended. Lahore Qalandars and their Captain Fantastic Shaheen Shah Afridi defeated Multan Sultans a year ago, and now the two teams begin the celebrations once more. The first game was played in the Gaddafi Stadium, which had the feel of a Lahore cauldron. In contrast, the second game will be played in Multan’s den, where after a lighthearted and humorous opening ceremony, the cricket will be anything but.
So it starts where it left off. The celebrations begin once more one year after Multan Sultans were defeated by Lahore Qalandars and their Captain Fantastic Shaheen Shah Afridi. The first game was played in the Gaddafi Stadium, which had the feel of a Lahore cauldron, while the second game will be played in Multan’s den, where the cricket will be anything but after a lighthearted and playful opening ceremony.
But cricket, to use one of the most overused clichés, unites Pakistan, and nowhere does that feel more true than in the PSL 2023. People will use it as amusement and a much-needed distraction for the upcoming month. The majority of Pakistani TV networks now broadcast political content 24 hours a day, but up until March 19 they were more likely to cover Lahore Qalandar actions than Lahore High Court ones. If they start discussing a Nawaz Sharif-Imran Khan rivalry, it will be in the framework of Mayfair vs. Bani Gala and Quetta Gladiators vs. Karachi Kings.
The PSL has also highlighted the fact that cricket is possibly the last true meritocracy in Pakistan, despite the myriad flaws that still exist in the system. There aren’t many other institutions where a player like Zaman Khan, a young man who was raised in a camp for internally displaced people in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, can succeed alongside teammates whose living conditions were significantly less oppressive. The launch of a women’s PSL, which is scheduled for later this year, just serves to highlight how influential the PSL has been and will continue to be.
Additionally, recruitment has advanced in sophistication. Early draughts had a propensity to highlight well-known foreign superstars. Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, and Chris Lynn were the top selections in the first three draughts, and all three were duds. With player availability and match-ups frequently taking precedence over star power, statistics and research have now largely defeated gut instinct and intuition.
Despite the large annual roster movement, the majority of teams have maintained a consistent identity. Islamabad United are the innovators, despite the fact that other teams have since essentially copied their Moneyball-style recruitment strategy. With players like Paul Stirling, Alex Hales, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Colin Munro, Shadab Khan, Moeen Ali, and Azam Khan in the lineup, they frequently rank as the most exciting ticket in town thanks to their shock-and-awe hitting style.
Before last year, when they went out and won the entire thing as compensation for a player development programme that produced Haris Rauf and Zaman Khan, Qalandars were the cutest goofballs. Even though kings are frequently portrayed as the bad guy in plays, this just makes their victories more satisfying. There is no love lost between the leaving Babar Azam and Kings’ skipper Imad Wasim, who made a less-than-subtle jab at him in the lead-up, making for a mouthwatering Valentine’s Day match with Peshawar Zalmi.
Sarfaraz Ahmed, the only player to have captained the same team each season since the league’s establishment, is back and playing well for the Gladiators. They have the princelings of Pakistan’s fast bowling in Naseem Shah and Mohammad Hasnain. They will aim to make up for a few unsuccessful years because they were the most reliable team for the first four years before becoming the worst team for the previous three.
Last year, Sultans produced the most outstanding group-stage season in PSL history, making them the team without a peer. Because of this, it was particularly difficult for them to lose to the Qalandars in the championship game, yet no team had a better record over the preceding three years.
While Pakistan continues to draw some of the greatest, partial unavailability due to players’ other obligations may cause team plans to be disrupted. The overseas players are what define any league from a domestic T20 Cup. Over a dozen players, including Rashid Khan, Gurbaz, Harry Brook, Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Kusal Mendis, and David Miller, will miss portions of the competition. This is inevitable in any league without a dedicated cricketing window. But the PSL’s greatest asset continues to be the calibre of domestic cricketers year after year. Whereas it used to only be the bowling section, domestic batters now contribute a lot of the intrigue, even those without a strong international background. Usman Khan, Kamran Ghulam, Hassan Nawaz, Haseebullah Khan, Abdul Bangalzai, Saim Ayub, and
The PSL is now the most exciting cricket tournament in Pakistan. As a cricketing nation, it is Pakistan’s jewel, and as a people, it is their solace. They require the latter more than ever this time around, and the PSL is establishing itself as an institution that defies the norm in a nation where institutions frequently let people down.