It's that time of the year when the Pakistani cricket fraternity prepares itself for a month of cricketing madness in the form of its premier Twenty20 league. The third edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) is set to kick off in two days' time.
The PSL, which is Pakistan's foray into the glitzy world of franchise-based T20 cricket and is their answer to the IPL, BBL, etc. enters its third year. It promises a star-studded lineup not only in the opening ceremony that takes place in Dubai on 22 February, but also in the rosters of the participating franchises with some of the leading names in world cricket set to ply their trade in the tournament that will run till 25 March.
The first two editions of the league saw Islamabad United and Peshawar Zalmi respectively emerge as winners, and each of the remaining four franchises would be anxious to get their hands on the glittering trophy themselves.
The league has also been used by the PCB as an opportunity to bring international cricket back to the terror-hit nation, which hasn't witnessed top Test teams tour the nation since the attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009 (although the Lankans braved all odds to play a T20I at Lahore last year).
While all the matches in the inaugural edition were played in the UAE, which has served as Pakistan's adopted home since the fallout of the 2009 terror attack, the PCB successfully managed to host the 2017 final at the iconic Gaddafi Stadium, where Zalmi had the honour of lifting the trophy in front of cheering Lahoris after beating Quetta Gladiators in the summit clash.
The upcoming edition will have two play-off matches at Lahore, with the final being played at the National Stadium in Karachi. As if that's not all, PCB chief Najam Sethi plans to shift the tournament to Pakistan next year, although that is subject to a lot of security clearances.
Following is a list of the six participating franchises, and their squads:
Islamabad United (2016 champions): Mishabh-ul- Haq (c), Rumman Raees, Mohammad Sami, Andre Russell, Shadab Khan, Samuel Badree, Iftikhar Ahmed, Amad Butt, Asif Ali, JP Duminy, Luke Ronchi, Faheem Ashraf, Sam Billings, Zafar Gohar, Sahibzada Farhan, Hussain Talat.
Supplementary players: Alex Hales, David Willey, Mohammad Hasan, Mohammad Hasnain
Peshawar Zalmi (2017 champions): Darren Sammy (c), Mohammad Hafeez, Wahab Riaz, Shakib al Hasan, Kamran Akmal, Hasan Ali, Haris Sohail, Chris Jordan, Mohammad Asghar, Dwayne Bravo, Tamim Iqbal, Hammad Azam, Saad Nasim, Taimoor Sultan, Sameen Gul, Ibtisam Sheikh.
Supplementary players: Andre Fletcher, Evin Lewis, Khalid Usman, Mohammad Arif
Quetta Gladiators (Runners up in 2016 and 2017): Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Kevin Pietersen, Rilee Rossouw, Mohammad Nawaz, Anwar Ali, Mahmudullah, Umar Amin, Mir Hamza, Asad Shafiq, Shane Watson, Carlos Brathwaite, Rahat Ali, Rameez Raja jnr, Saad Ali, Saud Shakeel, Hassan Khan.
Supplementary players: Jason Roy, Rashid Khan, Azam Khan, Faraz Ahmed Khan
Multan Sultans: Shoaib Malik (c), Kieron Pollard, Kumar Sangakkara, Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Irfan, Junaid Khan, Sohaib Maqsood, Irfan Khan, Kashif Bhatti, Imran Tahir, Darren Bravo, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Abbas, Nic Pooran, Abdullah Shafiq, Saif Badar.
Supplementary players: Hardus Viljoen, Umar Gul, Umar Siddiq, Ross Whiteley.
Karachi Kings: Imad Wasim (c), Shahid Afridi, Usman Khan, Usama Mir, Khurram Manzoor, Ravi Bopara, Babar Azam, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Rizwan, Colin Ingram, Mitchell Johnson, Luke Wright, David Wiese, Tabish Khan, Mohammad Irfan Jnr., Hasan Mohsin.
Supplementary players: Colin Munro, Eoin Morgan, Saifullah Bangash.
Lahore Qalandars: Brendon McCullum (c), Umar Akmal, Sunil Narine, Fakhar Zaman, Yasir Shah, Cameron Delport, Aamer Yamin, Bilawal Bhatti, Sohail Khan, Chris Lynn, Mustafizur Rahman, Bilal Asif, Raza Hasan, Sohail Akhtar, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Ghulam Mudassar.
Supplementary players: Angelo Mathews, Mitchell McClenaghan, Gulraiz Sadaf.
Note: Supplementary players are those who are picked as extras in the squad, and whose contracts start only when they make themselves available for the team. Such players are usually available for a few matches in the season, mostly due to their international commitments.
Schedule: Peshawar Zalmi and Multan Sultans face off in the opening game of the tournament, with the league stage set to go on till 16 March. The playoffs, which comprise a qualifier and two eliminators, take place between 18 and 21 March — with Dubai set to host the qualifier, with Lahore getting the eliminators.
The grand finale takes place at the National Stadium in Karachi on 25 March.
Following is the full schedule:
22 February, Dubai
Match 1: Peshawar Zalmi vs Multan Sultans 10:30 PM
23 February, Dubai
Match 2: Karachi Kings vs Quetta Gladiators 5:00 PM
Match 3: Multan Sultans vs Lahore Qalandars 9:30 PM
24 February, Dubai
Match 4: Islamabad United vs Peshawar Zalmi 5:00 PM
Match 5: Quetta Gladiators vs Lahore Qalandars 9:30 PM
25 February, Dubai
Match 6: Multan Sultans vs Islamabad United 5:00 PM
Match 7: Karachi Kings vs Peshawar Zalmi 9:30 PM
26 February, Dubai
Match 8: Karachi Kings vs Lahore Qalandars 9:30 PM
28 February, Sharjah
Match 9: Islamabad United vs Quetta Gladiators 9:30 PM
1 March, Sharjah
Match 10: Quetta Gladiators vs Peshawar Zalmi 9:30 PM
2 March, Sharjah
Match 11: Multan Sultans vs Karachi Kings 5:00 PM
Match 12: Lahore Qalandars vs Islamabad United 9:30 PM
3 March, Sharjah
Match 13: Multan Sultans vs Quetta Gladiators 5:00 PM
Match 14: Peshawar Zalmi vs Lahore Qalandars 9:30 PM
4 March, Sharjah
Match 15: Islamabad United vs Karachi Kings 9:30 PM
6 March, Dubai
Match 16: Peshawar Zalmi vs Multan Sultans 9:30 PM
7 March, Dubai
Match 17: Multan Sultans vs Quetta Gladiators 9:30 PM
8 March, Dubai
Match 18: Islamabad United vs Lahore Qalandars 5:00 PM
Match 19: Karachi Kings vs Quetta Gladiators 9:30 PM
9 March, Dubai
Match 20: Multan Sultans vs Lahore Qalandars 5:00 PM
Match 21: Peshawar Zalmi vs Islamabad United 9:30 PM
10 March, Dubai
Match 22: Multan Sultans vs Karachi Kings 5:00 PM
Match 23: Peshawar Zalmi vs Quetta Gladiators 9:30 PM
11 March, Dubai
Match 24: Karachi Kings vs Lahore Qalandars 5:00 PM
13 March Sharjah
Match 25: Multan Sultans vs Islamabad United 5:00 PM
14 March, Sharjah
Match 26: Quetta Gladiators vs Lahore Qalandars 5:00 PM
15 March, Sharjah
Match 27: Peshawar Zalmi vs Karachi Kings 5:00 PM
Match 28: Quetta Gladiators vs Islamabad United 9:30 PM
16 March, Sharjah
Match 29: Peshawar Zalmi vs Lahore Qalandars 5:00 PM
Match 30: Islamabad United vs Karachi Kings 9:30 PM
18 March, Dubai
Match 31: Qualifier: Team 1 vs Team 2
20 March, Lahore
Match 32: Eliminator 1: Team 3 vs Team 4
21 March, Lahore
Match 33: Eliminator 2: Eliminator 1 Winner vs Qualifier Loser
25 March, Karachi
Match 34: FINAL: Qualifier Winner vs Eliminator 2 Winner
Time: The opening game of the tournament will be telecast live at 10.30 pm IST, with the remainder of the league stage having two time slots — 5 pm and 9.30 pm Indian time. The matches hosted in Pakistan will start at 7.30 PM IST.
Coverage: DSport, Discovery's channel dedicated to sports, has the TV rights for India. DSport had previously telecast the Pakistan vs World XI T20I series in September last year, which was ICC and PCB's initiative to bring cricket back in Pakistan by fielding some of the world's top cricketers against the Pakistani team.