PSL 2023: Good, bad, worse, and everything in-between

Let’s take a look at tournament’s key takeaways, storylines, and talking points

Zahoor Reza

After 34 matches spanning over a month, in the end, it all came down to the last ball of the game. With three runs required off the last ball, Lahore’s tournament ended just the way it began: a one-run win over Multan Sultans

In front of a boisterous crowd at the sellout Gaddafi Stadium, 21-year-old Zaman Khan held his nerve against Khushdil Shah to pull off a riveting win by the slimmest of margins and help Lahore Qalandars clinch back-to-back titles.

Lahore Qalandars skipper Shaheen Shah Afridi holds the coveted Supernova trophy after winning the PSL 2023. — Twitter/@lahoreqalandars
Lahore Qalandars skipper Shaheen Shah Afridi holds the coveted Supernova trophy after winning the PSL 2023. — Twitter/@lahoreqalandars

Now that the eighth edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) has come to a close, let’s take a look at the tournament’s key takeaways, storylines, and talking points.

Similar to what 'Bazball' has done to England’s Test cricket, Lahore’s decision to appoint Shaheen Shah Afridi seems to have paid dividends and has transfigured the franchise’s fortunes. Bottom-feeders for the first four seasons, they are now a force to be reckoned with.

Their dominance isn’t a surprise given how well they have all their bases covered. Not only do they have two world-class fast bowlers in the form of Haris Rauf and Shaheen Afridi, but their frontline spinner Rashid Khan is also one of the best in contemporary cricket. 

In addition to two quality all-rounders like Sikandar Raza and David Wiese, the trio of Fakhar Zaman, Sam Billings, and Abdullah Shafique is a potent crop of batters to have on the roster.

A single run eluded Mohammad Rizwan-led Multan Sultans, which also ended as runners-up in the last edition, the coveted trophy this time around but they can certainly bag one if they continue playing the way they have been. Multan Sultans. Their captain, winner of this season's green cap and Hanif Mohammad award for best batsman of the season led from the front and scored 550 runs at an impressive average of 55 and strike rate of 142.86.

The belligerent trio of David Miller, Keiron Pollard and Rilee Rossouw, who can single-handedly tear apart any bowling attack on any day, provided Multan Sultans an enviable power-hitting depth. Their talent scout also deserves credit for their emerging pick Ihsanullah who justified his inclusion by being one of the breakout stars of the campaign.

Islamabad United’s campaign began with a bang but ended with an embarrassing thud. In an all-important eliminator against Peshawar Zalmi, making two nonsensical decisions like fielding first after winning the toss first where teams batting first have won and then deciding to demote Colin Munro in the batting order, it would not be harsh to say that they have only their questionable decision-making to blame. 

Reflecting on their campaign, Azam Khan’s exploits against Gladiators and Kings, Faheem Ashraf’s heroics, and Munro’s knock against Gladiators against Multan Sultans would be some of the fond memories from this event for Shadab Khan-led men.

Under their new captain, Peshawar Zalmi fared reasonably well in the group stages but couldn’t carry that momentum into the knockout stages. They might want to bolster their bowling attack a bit going into the next season but it would not be hyperbolic by any means to say that their batting was up there with one of the best batting lineups of the tournament.

Now let's pick the bones out of the two underachieving teams of this season who were just not up to scratch: Karachi Kings and Quetta Gladiators. For both Kings and Gladiators, it was yet another season that they'd like to forget as both managed to get off just three wins from ten games.

Once the contenders, a dip in results for Quetta Gladiators has made them look like mere pretenders. PSL 4 champions and two times runners-up, they’ve been poor for a while and their old formula of success seems to have gone stale. Having not been able to qualify for the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, the uppermost task on their plate should be to re-evaluate whether they need to stick with the same core group of guys and just change their strategies or if retooling the whole composition of the franchise's staff is the need of the hour for them.

Karachi Kings celebrate after claiming a wicket of the Quetta Gladiators. — PSL
Karachi Kings celebrate after claiming a wicket of the Quetta Gladiators. — PSL

Karachi Kings face a similar dilemma. Although their captain being in an imperious nick throughout the tournament should ease their worries a bit, they also need to get their act together going ahead into the next season.

Having said that, it should not go unremarked that like every cloud has a silver lining, there was a flurry of individual heroics from players of both sides which they can take as one of the few positives from this chastening campaign.

PSL 8's Wunderkinds

One of the most exciting things in the PSL was the new talent that emerged from each edition of the tournament. This season was no exception, as several young players made their presence felt and stole the limelight by stepping up to the plate with impressive performances.

Saim Ayub (left), Abbas Afridi and Azam Khan. — AFP/Twitter/@iAbbasAfridi55
Saim Ayub (left), Abbas Afridi and Azam Khan. — AFP/Twitter/@iAbbasAfridi55

Among them, six young phenoms who shone the brightest and stood out as the cream of the crop for me are Peshawar Zalmi's Saim Ayub and Mohammad Haris who have been currently the talk of the town for their mesmerising arsenal of shots, Islamabad United’s Azam Khan who appeared to be at his ruthless best and electrified fans with ferocious big-hitting against Karachi Kings and Quetta Gladiators, Karachi Kings' Tayyab Tahir who was one of the few positives Karachi can take from their otherwise underwhelming campaign, Multan Sultans' Ihsanullah who was mighty impressive with the ball during the Multan leg of the tournament, and 21-year-old Abbas Afridi who did a serviceable job on a Rawalpindi track where wickets were as hard to come by as hen’s teeth and bowlers were carted around the park.

Since its inaugural edition in 2016, PSL has been a springboard for youngsters to make it into the national team. This time around, the quartet of Ihsanullah, Saim Ayub, Tayyab Tahir and Zaman Khan have been rewarded for their performances with a place in the national team for the three-match T20I series against Afghanistan.

Will they be able to translate their brilliant PSL form for Pakistan on the international stage? Only time will tell.

PSL 8 — a season of many firsts

With each passing season, PSL is going from strength to strength. The recently-concluded eighth iteration of Pakistan's flagship franchise T20 tournament saw games held across four venues for the first time, with Multan and Rawalpindi joining Karachi and Lahore as host cities.

The wonderfully atmospheric Rawalpindi leg of the tournament, in particular, provided non-stop entertainment as records were broken left, right, and centre.

The Gladiators-Sultans game had the highest aggregate runs for a T20 match while the Sultans-Zalmi encounter saw Multan making the joint second-highest successful run chase in T20 cricket history. There were individual records galore too with Rilee Rossouw scoring a swashbuckling 41-ball hundred against Peshawar Zalmi, Usman Khan smashing the fastest century in the league's history and Jason Roy scoring the highest individual score in a PSL innings and also outscoring the opponents in the process.

In the grand scheme of things, besides providing the luxury of home advantage to two more franchises, this expansion to include two additional cities is also a reflection of how the PSL is expanding and reaching out to more enthusiastic fans across the country who are excited to see their favourite teams play in their city.

From a financial standpoint, the league’s revenue, winning prizes and value of broadcasting rights is also increasing over the years. Here's hoping that its next editions are even bigger and better and that the league continues to have more success.

Zahoor Reza writes about sports, psychology, politics, and social issues. His work has been published in various national publications. He tweets @XahoorRaza