Explainer – All you need to know about PSL 2019

So which games should I really watch out for?

Well, three years ago, there was an obvious answer. Karachi Kings vs Lahore Qalandars is probably still the marquee fixture. The two biggest cities in Pakistan with the richest cricketing legacies and heritage ensures there are never more eyeballs than at this particular match-up.

Ironically, these are the two least successful franchises across three seasons. They are the only ones of the original five to never have reached the final. Talk of finals would give Lahore fans a head-rush anyway. The poor Qalandars, owned by the endearingly hapless Fawad Rana, have set up camp at rock bottom, finishing last in each of the three seasons so far.

So those two aren’t that flash, who’s actually good?

Well, on paper no one’s better than Islamabad. They’ve won two out of three seasons, so you can’t argue with that. What they do well is come alive in the knockout stages after slow starts. There’s no beating them then.

Quetta and Peshawar are arguably more consistent in the group stages, often swapping places around the top early on. Quetta have been unfortunate, losing the first two finals, while Peshawar have won once and finished runners-up to Islamabad last year.

That leaves Multan…

It does indeed. Multan are yet to create an identity of their own. They had a good start last year in their maiden run, but after that the team fizzled out, failing to make it to the playoffs. This year, ownership has changed hands, with a consortium led by Ali Tareen, son of prime minister Imran Khan’s close aide Jehangir Tareen, taking over. Perhaps we’ll see more from them this year?

Pakistan fans haven’t seen their players at home much – they must go nuts when the PSL comes around to Pakistan!

Oui, bien sur! It is both a blessing and a curse to be in Lahore and Karachi on match days. The security isn’t commensurate with what is, after all, just a cricket match with thousands – yes, several thousand – police and army personnel patrolling the venue and an area several kilometres surrounding it. Fans are required to arrive hours ahead of the start of the game, often forced to wait under the scorching sun. Undeterred, they arrive in the thousands, always packing stadiums out.

And who’s the most popular cricketer in the PSL?

Well, some of the locals are absolutely worshipped, of course. Babar Azam was just another hopeful when he first played in 2016, but ever since he has become one of the world’s leading batsmen, particularly in T20 cricket. Karachi Kings, the franchise he plays for, will of course have big hopes from him just like Pakistan do. Shadab Khan was brought to prominence by the PSL with his precocious mastery of legspin in Islamabad United colours, and is now a global star.

But the most popular man of all isn’t from these parts at all. Darren Sammy lives far away, across the world on the paradise island of St Lucia. He may be loved by his own countrymen (they named the national stadium after him) but the love is just as intense in Pakistan. Peshawar Zalmi’s captain – the only foreign captain at the PSL this year – has embraced the PSL with that famous generosity of spirit, and was the first player to commit to playing in Pakistan when most had decided to stay away. Following his example, his entire team came to the country, with most players now willing to make the trip. Sammy for his part has been to Pakistan several times, promoting the country with the enthusiasm and pride of a local, and the locals love him for that.

Anything else I should know?

Yeah, tune in for the opening ceremony while you’re at it. It starts at 8.45pm Pakistan time. It features, among others, Pitbull, Marcia Barrett from Boney M, Pakistan rock legends and recently reunited Junoon, and actor and hearthrob Fawad Khan. Where else could you hope for that combination?