The eighth edition of the HBL Pakistan Super League (PSL) will kick-off on Monday in Multan, an unusual venue selected by the PCB, with six franchises fighting for the newly-minted Supernova Trophy during a month-long event.
Defending champions Lahore Qalandars will face Multan Sultans in the opening match at the Multan Cricket Stadium, eyeing to start off from where they left the last campaign, with the 2022 HBL PSL trophy in the bag.
This year’s HBL PSL promises high-octane action during the 34-match domestic T20 event, which will be played across four venues, namely Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi.
The final will be hosted at the picturesque Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
New promise from old faces
The HBL PSL kicked-off its first season under the then chairman Najam Sethi, even though the idea to organise it was initiated by former chairman Zaka Ashraf.
Sethi, however, is credited with turning the idea into a reality, since the concept of a T20 league was already implemented by India and Australia in the form of the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash League, respectively.
HBL PSL was being considered a latecomer to the party, but the quality of cricket throughout its seven editions has earned it the right to be named in one of the best T20 league around the globe.
And Sethi will be happy to see it grow stronger with every edition, since he has been once again asked to hold the reins of the PCB and his first big task is to deliver the HBL PSL, with no compromise on the quality.
But as numbers and popularity goes, T20 leagues have shown that they’re independent of the influence of the management and are more reliant on the quality of players and the number of star players who participate in it.
The introduction of a new trophy for the eighth edition may have been a move by Sethi to mark his return to the helm, trying to revamp his image together with that of the event. But what will ultimately decide how HBL PSL did this year are the close finishes, the nail-biting contests and the performances of the stars for their respective franchises.
With former captain brought back to lead the team, all-rounder Imad Wasim, Karachi Kings will be hoping to revive their fortunes in the season eight. Imad will be confident as he lead Karachi to their only HBL PSL title in 2020.
After Babar Azam left the team for Peshawar Zalmi, Imad’s return to the helm will mean he has to find an opener to join Sharjeel Khan. James Vince is a candidate, but his limited availability will be a concern.
Karachi will lack in batting firepower this season for sure, but their picks in bowling department also don’t promise much.
Prediction: Lower mid-table finish.
Left-arm pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi is fit and firing, at least that is what he has told everyone. If that is the case, Lahore Qalandars are one the favourites to lift the trophy this year, as all former champions are.
It was the pacer and captain who made all the difference for Lahore throughout the event in 2022. It will once again be him that they team will always look towards when in need of inspiration, wickets and also some lower-order big-hitting.
He will have his national teammates Fakhar Zaman and Haris Rauf to help, but don’t forget Lahore have Rashid Khan too.
Prediction: Title favourites
The first two editions of the HBL PSL showed that selecting players who complement each other are more important than picking star players. Quetta was the embodiment of that philosophy under captain Sarfaraz Ahmed.
But as Sarfaraz’s fortunes changed, so did Quetta’s. Since 2020, Quetta haven’t qualified for the play-offs and most of it is because they couldn’t pick a stable playing eleven. They will be looking to resurface as title favourites this year after Sarfaraz also resurged back in the Pakistan national team.
A well-balance team, boasting the in-form Iftikhar Ahmed and the express pace duo of Naseem Shah and Mohammad Hasnain can do the trick for them this year.
Prediction: Will enter play-off stage
If Quetta have been consistent with their captain throughout the seven editions of the HBL PSL, Islamabad United have been consistent with their performances, and their ability to identify and pick big-hitters.
Shadab Khan, Paul Stirling, Alex Hales, Sohaib Maqsood, Asif Ali, Rassie van der Dussen, Colin Munro, Azam Khan, Moeen Ali and Faheem Ashraf. All these names are enough to put Islamabad at a psychological advantage against any opposition. However, like last time, where they had the same core of batters, both international and local, Islamabad will have to be better at winning the close encounters.
Shadab is turning an able captain and all-rounder at the same time, his credentials for future Pakistan captaincy will be tested this year.
Prediction: Top table finish/ title favourites
Keeper-batter Mohammad Rizwan-led Multan Sultans have been the most consistent and most dominant side in the last two editions of the HBL PSL.
Last year, Multan Sultans only lost two games throughout their 12-game season. One of them was the defeat against Lahore in the final.
Multan are in line with Lahore this year as the favourites to lift the Supernova Trophy, and the fact that they’ve retained the same core of players, as in 2022, furthers their chance.
With the best batter in T20s against spin, David Miller, in their side and a newly discovered Irish pacer Josh Little to bolster their pace attack, Multan are once again in for an amazing tournament.
Peshawar haven’t given any player as much importance as they gave the twice World T20-winning West Indies captain Darren Sammy. However, this year around, Peshawar have landed a gem in the form of ICC Player of the Year 2022, and ICC 2022 ODI XI captain, Babar Azam.
Babar’s disastrous run as captain with Karachi last year, where they won only one league match and lost a record nine, was destined to end with him leaving the franchise. With any and every team open to accepting the batting superstar in their ranks, Babar chose Peshawar and replaced Wahab Riaz as the skipper.
Peshawar may or may not win the title this year, but they’ll be happy to get Babar’s services for this year and the a few next ones too.
Prediction: Mid-table finish.