LAHORE: Finally, the most anticipated tournament in domestic calendar is upon us. The HBL Pakistan Super League kicks off tonight, 13 February, with Multan Sultans, the winners of the 2021 edition and the finalists of the last, hosting title defenders Lahore Qalandars at the Multan Cricket Stadium.
Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi will also host the matches of the eighth edition of the HBL PSL, which promises to be as exciting as the last seven.
Karachi’s National Bank Cricket Arena will play host to the second match of the tournament when the hosts, Karachi Kings, lock horns with Peshawar Zalmi. This match and the tournament opener will begin at 20:00 with the toss at 19:30.
Quetta Gladiators begin their campaign in Multan on 15 February and Islamabad United play their first match of the season on 16 February in Karachi.
Action will move to northern half of the country from 26 February with Lahore and Rawalpindi hosting the latter part of the tournament. Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium, Pakistan’s home of cricket, will host the four playoffs and the final, besides five league stage games and Rawalpindi will stage 11 matches.
The winner of the 19 March final at the Gaddafi Stadium will not only lift the Supernova Trophy but will also collect a cheque of PKR120m, while the runners-up will receive a cheque of PKR48m.
The HBL PSL impact
The HBL PSL was conceived with the idea of providing platform to the young and emerging cricketers who can have a flavour of international cricket – by playing high quality cricket under pressure environment –before graduating to the apex level.
The league continues to deliver on that front as many players who shone in the HBL PSL went on to play international cricket. In a few years after the introduction of the league, Pakistan won the ICC Champions Trophy and emerged as one of the most successful and consistent T20 sides.
It also paved way for the successful return of the international cricket in the country. The first-ever HBL PSL match in Pakistan – the final of the 2017 edition in Lahore – brought World XI for a three-match T20I series before Sri Lanka played a solitary T20I in Lahore.
The 2018 edition reopened the doors of international cricket for Karachi as the final between Islamabad United and Peshawar Zalmi, after the two playoffs in Lahore, was followed by the West Indies’ tour of the city for three T2oIs.
The 2019 edition, when Karachi hosted eight matches, further boosted the confidence of international sides, and the 2020 edition, the first time Pakistan hosted the tournament in its entirety, established Pakistan’s credentials as a destination that could host complete international tours.
A look at the winners
All six franchises have won the HBL PSL title at least once, which underscores the quality of all six sides and the higher level of competition in the tournament.
Islamabad United, the inaugural champions, are the only side to win the HBL PSL title twice (the second time in 2018). Peshawar Zalmi won the 2017 edition. Quetta Gladiators, who were the finalists in the first two editions, won the 2019 competition. Karachi Kings were the first side to win to lift the trophy at their home when they rolled over Lahore Qalandars in Karachi in 2020. Multan Sultans bagged their maiden title in 2021. Last year, Lahore Qalandars lifted the HBL PSL trophy in Lahore.
Before the HBL PSL 8 action kicks off, the Pakistan Cricket Board, in a continuation of its tradition, has lined up a glittering opening ceremony.
The cricket fans in Multan and all around the world will see spectacular performances by different artists and one of the major attractions would be the performances of the singers of the HBL PSL 8 anthem – Abdullah Siddiqui, Asim Azhar, Faris Shafi and Shae Gill.
The fans will also be treated to performances by the renowned music composer Sahir Ali Bagga and talented singer Aima Baig as the two add to the star-studded line-up, which will make the opening ceremony an unforgettable experience.
Captains gear up for HBL PSL 8
Islamabad United captain Shadab Khan: “What I am today is solely due to HBL PSL. I entered in this competition as an Emerging Category player, but this tournament gave me the opportunity, belief and confidence to grow and develop as a cricketer and I am pleased that I am now a Platinum Category player.
“When I started my cricket, I thought I could be a good U19 or domestic cricketer, but then I got the opportunity in HBL PSL where I was able to deceive and trouble the then world’s best batter Kumar Sangakkara with my wrong’un or leg-spin. This turned things around for me as I started believing in myself and now I can play in any competition, against any opponent and in any tournament with the conviction that I can perform.
“The quality and standard of bowling is far superior than any other league. And it is not me who is saying this, but it is shared publically by the top players who have played in HBL PSL. Personally, it gives me a lot of happiness when world’s best cricketers praise our league and its standard.”
Karachi Kings captain Imad Wasim: “HBL PSL is one of the best leagues in the world, which is very close to our hearts. We wait for this league for 10 months during which we prepare, plan and set goals. Then, we enter into this great event to achieve our collective objectives, help our sides win and this cycle continues.
“Last year, Karachi Kings were hampered with injuries, but for 2023, we have all bases covered with high-quality players who all are match-winners. The most important thing for us is to play T20 the way it should be played, which is with a positive attitude and aggressive intent.
“We will go step-by-step and match-by-match in this tournament with our first target being to secure a place in the play-offs. One of the best things about this HBL PSL is we will have home matches. So, we are aiming to make the best use of our first five matches at home and build the momentum that can carry us into the play-offs.”
Lahore Qalandars captain Shaheen Afridi: “I cannot wait for the HBL PSL to begin. It is a great tournament that throws up some brilliant cricketers each year and we, the international players, get to play some very exciting and competitive cricket.
“We had an incredible run last year and it is our strong bonding as a family that helped us win the HBL PSL. A lot of effort and hard work went behind the scenes that culminated in us lifting the trophy in 2022. We have worked even more hard and we come with much better preparation in this season as retaining the title is a tough job, but with the team that I have got, I am confident that the HBL PSL trophy will stay in Lahore.”
Multan Sultans captain Mohammad Rizwan: “The philosophy of Multan Sultans is simple: play as champions irrespective of the opposition or the outcome. Consequently, we are not afraid of the results.
“We have been able to induce this approach in the side because we are a closely-knit side and the credit for this cohesion must be given to the team management. Also, we have a good mix and combination of coaches, which also helps me to captain the side.”
Peshawar Zalmi captain Babar Azam: “Every HBL PSL edition is super exciting for me because of its competitive nature. There is a different challenge each year as the players with whom you share the Pakistan dressing room all year become your opponents.
“A new franchise, and a new season, this HBL PSL edition holds added significance for me and I am looking forward to making a good start in this journey.”
Quetta Gladiators captain Sarfaraz Ahmed: “The HBL PSL has played a very important role in the development of cricket in Pakistan. It has provided exposure to our players and they have learned how to handle the camera and crowd pressure, which is very important to grow as an international cricketer.
“We have not been able to perform up to our potential in the last two to three editions, but I am sure that 2023 is the year when we will bounce back and make the fans of Quetta Gladiators proud. We have a solid team which has all the ability to win, and I am excited to be back in the purple and gold and lead this great side.”