The biggest festival in Pakistan Cricket, the HBL PSL is coming back with a bang with Peshawar Zalmi set to start their title defence from the 22nd. Here is all you need to know about the tournament and the teams involved:

What is the PSL?
The Pakistan Super League is a six-team franchise Twenty20 League run by the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Why is it held in the UAE?
Because of security concerns back home in Pakistan, the league has been held in the UAE since its inception in 2016. The final of last year’s competition was held in Lahore and plans are afoot to hold 2 knockout games and the final in Lahore and Karachi respectively.

What’s new?
For the first time in PSL’s brief history, a 6th team will be participating. The first 2 seasons were held with 5 teams but this season is set to feature the Sultans of Multan, PSL’s newest entrants.

What has it given to Pakistan cricket?
Some of Pakistan’s newest stars have come through the PSL. Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Hassan Ali and Rumman Raees etc are players who’ve earned their stripes after plying their trade in the PSL.

Here is a brief insight into the teams participating as we preview their strengths and weaknesses.

PSL 3: Now bigger and better..
Islamabad United were the winners of the inaugural edition.

Islamabad United:
Islamabad United have consistently been in the news during the first 2 seasons of the PSL. While they won the inaugural edition of the PSL despite being underdogs, the infamous spot-fixing scandal during the second season saw their players Mohammad Irfan, Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif being banned from the game. This affected their performance big time and the defending champions bowed out at the knockout stage.
This season, however, they’ve made some good signings. Sharjeel and Khalid were the pinch hitters at the top of the order and replacing them was always going to be a tall task. But the blend of youth and experience signed by United could prove to be a handful and they’re surely much better placed as compared to last season.

Islamabad has found a bargain in Luke Ronchi. He’ll be available for the whole tournament. In addition to this, Islamabad desperately required a power hitter at the top of the order and a wicketkeeper too. With Ronchi, they’ve killed 2 birds with a single stone.
Andre Russell will be making his much-anticipated return back to cricket as a doping ban ruled him out of contention for the last season. With him being an integral part of their triumphant campaign in the inaugural season, Islamabad will be glad to welcome back the big West Indian.
Iftikhar Ahmad, Hussain Talat, Sahibzada Farhan and Amad Butt might not be household names yet but Islamabad sure did their homework before the draft as they picked these domestic players who were in red-hot form. With Shadab and Rumman Raees debuting for Pakistan during the last year or so, don’t be surprised if another Islamabad youngster breaks into the national team.
The UAE pitches have traditionally offered a lot of spin. United have their hands full as Badree and Shadab will aim to spin their webs around the batsmen.

Apparently, Islamabad have no real weakness on paper. However, if you look deep into their squad, JP Duminy is a player who raises a few eyebrows. He has woefully been out of form for the South African team and is not a permanent fixture in the T20 leagues around the world too. United will be hoping he comes off good, but don’t be surprised if he has an average tournament.

PSL 3: Now bigger and better..
Grant Elliot’s bat drop celebration was one of the most iconic images of the PSL 2.

Lahore Qalandars:
Lahore Qalandars have so far been all talk and no walk. Their promotions and publicity are unparalleled but when it gets to the stage where it matters the most, they’ve cut a sorry figure. They’ve grabbed the wooden spoon in both editions and pressure must surely be mounting on them to deliver the goods.

The sheer batting firepower the Qalandars possess is daunting, to say the least. They’ve roped in Chris Lynn, one of the best T20 players of this era and Lahore’s opening pair of the Bash brothers (Lynn and McCullum) can tear apart any bowling attack on their day.
In addition to this, they have the mercurial Umar Akmal and in recent times, Sunil Narine has also shown his batting prowess. With Fakhar Zaman and the all-rounders to follow, Lahore’s batting looks very strong on paper.
Yasir Shah, Sunil Narine and Raza Hassan make up Lahore’s troika of spinners and they’ll be expected to do the bulk of the work on the flat UAE pitches.

Like last year, bowling can be Lahore’s problem this time too. Though they’ve signed Mustafizur Rehman but he’ll only be available for a few matches. Sohail Khan and Mitchell McClenaghan will be expected to spearhead the bowling attack but don’t be surprised to see Lahore leaking lots of runs.

PSL 3: Now bigger and better..
Multan Sultans have with themselves the ultimate Sultan, Wasim Akram!

Multan Sultans:
Multan Sultans are the newest entrants in the PSL and if the player draft is anything to go by, then we’re in for a treat as far as Multan are concerned. They came out all guns blazing as they chose the perfect blend of youth and experience and on paper, the Sultans’ squad probably looks the best. With Malik, Pollard and Sangakkara etc, Multan have some of the biggest names of modern day cricket and it’ll be interesting to see how quickly they gel together.

Batting is clearly the Sultans’ strongest suit. With players like Ahmad Shahzad, Darren Bravo, Shan Masood, Sangakkara assisted by power hitters like Shoaib Malik, Kieron Pollard and Sohaib Maqsood etc, Multan have all the ingredients to post scores in excess of 180-200.

Multan have invested heavily in the fast bowling department with Junaid Khan, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul and Mohammad Abbas the Pakistani pacers and Hardus Viljoen complimenting them. While one may argue that this is a good bowling attack, but one has to keep in mind the UAE conditions too. With Imran Tahir, the lone spinner in their squad, controlling the flow of runs in the middle overs might be a problem for Multan due to the absence of another spinner.

PSL 3: Now bigger and better..
Karachi will have to do without Pollard this season, who took them into the playoffs last season.

Karachi Kings:
Karachi had a very lacklustre campaign during the 1st season, finishing 4th. They went one better during the next season, finishing 3rd but for a city as big, as symbolic and as historic as Karachi, the Kings will surely be aiming for the championship this season. They traded Shahid Afridi, the poster boy of Pakistan cricket with Peshawar Zalmi. But Afridi’s signing can be termed more for commercial purposes than anything else as his heydays are way behind him. Imad Wasim was surprisingly made Captain of the Kings ahead of other senior players but this appointment can be beneficial for Pakistan cricket too as Imad Wasim can be groomed for the coveted captaincy spot.

Bowling is clearly Karachi’s strongest forte. Mohammad Amir will spearhead the attack and he’ll be supported by Tabish Khan, Usman Shinwari, English tearaway quickie Tymal Mills and Imad Wasim and Shahid Afridi. On paper, this looks the best bowling attack and if Imad Wasim can marshall his troops the right way, this bowling attack can become too hot to handle.

Karachi have gone for too many all-rounders and the absence of genuine batsmen could hurt them. Morgan, Simmons, Ingram, Babar Azam and Khurram Manzoor are Karachi’s only specialist batsmen and keeping the overseas quota in mind, they’ll have to drop at least 1 of the 3 overseas players. That could prove to be a real conundrum on who to play and who to drop.
Karachi’s overseas signings aren’t very impressive either. They chose Colin Ingram in the Platinum category who is out of form, then signed David Wiese who has withered away from the limelight quickly and then Joe Denly, who is an unknown commodity. They did sign Mitchell Johnson though but Johnson decided to skip the tournament for reasons best known to him. Had he been here, his presence would’ve bolstered Karachi’s bowling line up so they’ll surely miss him.

PSL 3: Now bigger and better..
The legend, SIR VIV RICHARDS himself is Quetta’s mentor!

Quetta Gladiators:
Quetta Gladiators are the Tottenham Hotspurs of Pakistan: Hated by none, adored by all. Owned by the very humble Nadeem Omar, they have emerged as the most consistent team in PSL’s history: having made the final on both occasions. They were the favourites heading into last year’s final but their overseas players’ reluctance to travel to Lahore for the final meant they were humbled by Peshawar Zalmi in the final.
Quetta have taken a leaf out of Mumbai Indians’ book, keeping together the core of the team and signing new players only where necessary. They kept Sarfraz, Kevin Pietersen and Rilee Rossouw and signed Australian all-rounder Shane Watson from Islamabad United. If Quetta’s history is anything to go by, then their fans should expect another stellar performance from them this season too.

Quetta’s top 5 will potentially be Umar Amin, Shane Watson, Kevin Pietersen, Rilee Rossouw and Sarfraz Ahmad. KP, Sarfraz and Rossouw have been in red-hot form in the PSL and Umar Amin is coming off a very successful domestic season. Like the previous 2 seasons, Quetta’s top 4/5 will be expected to do the bulk of the scoring.
Rashid Khan has been a real revelation during the past year or so. He ended 2017 with the 2nd most wickets in the year, behind Hassan Ali only. Though he’ll be available only for a few matches it’ll be interesting to see how the wily Afghan lights up the PSL.
Hassaan Khan and Mohammad Nawaz are Quetta’s 2 left arm spinners. Having 2 left arm spinners in the same team is a luxury not many teams have and Quetta will look to make the most out of these two’s quota of 8 overs.

While there is enough firepower in Quetta’s top order to blow away any team, their lower middle order is a worry. There is almost nobody to talk about and if teams can make early inroads into Quetta’s top 5, they’ll be in with a chance to restrict the Gladiators to a paltry score.
Quetta’s local fast bowlers lack the venom to succeed on the flat UAE pitches. Though they do have the West Indian Jofra Archer, but their Pakistani fast bowlers include Anwar Ali, Mir Hamza and Rahat Ali: none of whom are express fast or possess variations in bowling so them disappearing for runs won’t come as a surprise.

PSL 3: Now bigger and better..
Darren Sammy will be leading Peshawar Zalmi this season.


Peshawar Zalmi:
Winning a tournament is hard enough. But if past records of previous T20 tournaments are anything to go by, defending a tournament win is even harder. Peshawar Zalmi won the 2017 PSL in grand style, outclassing Quetta Gladiators in front of a sell-out Qaddafi crowd. However, they have their work cut out this season with the addition of the 6th team and the other teams bolstering their ranks.
Peshawar themselves traded their captain Shahid Afridi with the Karachi Kings after reports of disagreements between Afridi and the team owner Javed Afridi.

Peshawar have a lot of explosive options at the top of the order with Kamran Akmal, Tamim Iqbal and Andre Fletcher their openers. They’ll have a selection dilemma but teams always welcome this luxury of having a replacement for every spot.
Hafeez, Shakib, Haris Sohail and Saad Naseem make up Peshawar’s middle order. With a good mix of youth and experience and plenty of runs under their belt, they should see out the middle overs easily.
Khushdil Shah and Sameen Gul are Peshawar’s emerging players but seeing their recent domestic performances, they’re mature beyond their years and Peshawar have got bargains out of the emerging deals.

Death bowling can prove to be Peshawar’s Achilles heel. Hassan Ali and Jordan are the only death overs specialists and with Hassan reportedly nursing an injury, Peshawar could lose the plot in the death overs.

PSL 3: Now bigger and better..
The glittering HBL PSL trophy the teams will be fighting for!

Final verdict:
The beauty of the PSL is that all teams are almost on even footing after the draft. While the IPL is undoubtedly the biggest league in the world, but after IPL’s player draft, there is a big gulf between the top 4 teams and the others and you can almost predict who the top 4 will be. That is not the case with PSL as the underdogs have traditionally done well. No one gave Islamabad a chance in the 1st season but they surprised one and all, winning the inaugural edition in grand style. Quetta Gladiators were the least fancied team in the first 2 seasons but they made the finals of both editions so predicting the winners or the finalists is a tall task.
However, having said that, Islamabad and Quetta would be my picks merely because of the fact that they haven’t tinkered with their lineups too much, only adding players where necessary. But at the end of the day, whoever wins is inconsequential because the real winner would be Pakistan and Pakistan Cricket. All we can do is hope that this season of the PSL gives us more of the Hassan Alis and the Shadabs and the Fakhars and the Rummans. As long as that happens, all will be good in the world of Pakistan Cricket!