PSL 2023: Playoffs Preview

PSL 2023: Playoffs Preview

After a thrilling group stage, the PSL playoffs for 2023 are set. It was a run-feast all the way through and, at the end, the four playoff sides from last season extended their dominance by all making the knockout phase once again in PSL 8.

The top two teams, Lahore Qalandars (1st in the league phase) and Multan Sultans (2nd), will kick off the PSL playoffs in the Qualifier on Wednesday. The winner goes straight through to the final.

On Thursday, Islamabad United (3rd) play Peshawar Zalmi (4th) in Eliminator 1. The winner advances to Eliminator 2 to play the loser of the Qualifier. The winner of Eliminator 2 progresses to the final, where they play the winner of the Qualifier.

All told, Lahore are strong favourites to retain their title.

As the playoff teams gear up for the final dash to the finish line, we take a look at how they went in the league phase of PSL 8 – and what they have to do from here to get their hands on the trophy.

Lahore Qalandars

Holders Lahore Qalandars improved on their league performance from last season.

In 2022, Lahore went 6-4 – impressive rather than dominant. They finished six points behind Multan Sultans in first and were ahead of Peshawar Zalmi only on run rate.

This year, though, they turned that six-point deficit into a two-point lead over Multan, beating their closest competitors twice. The pair are unquestionably the PSL’s two best sides.

Last season, Lahore lost the Qualifier to Multan but beat them in the final. They were 2-2 against the Sultans overall but won the one that really mattered.

This year, Lahore’s league form is improved and Multan’s air of invincibility punctured. The Qalandars will fancy their chances in the PSL playoffs.

So dominant in PSL 2022, the Multan Sultans looked mortal in 2023.

Home Advantage

Moreover, all playoff matches are set to be held at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium. The Qalandars have won four out of five games here this season.

Their only defeat at Lahore was to Karachi Kings in the last game of the league phase, after they’d already qualified.

Lahore’s main concern from that game is injury status of Rashid Khan. Their top wicket taker with 15 scalps, Rashid was hit on the head while batting and retired hurt.

His availability for Wednesday – or lack thereof – could decisively affect the course of the Qualifier.

Four of the top seven wicket takers in PSL 8 so far are from Lahore, including Rashid. The defending champions have a variety of threats with the ball to cover for Rashid’s absence, should it come to that.

Last season’s top scorer Fakhar Zaman is the standout Qalandars batter again in 2023 with 378 runs in ten games.

Interestingly, fifth in the Hanif Mohammad cap standings for the most runs, he’s the only Qalandars stick visible for miles. The next best is all-rounder Sikandar Raza with 198 runs.

Raza, though, got his runs striking at an eye-popping 188. His success is symbolic of a huge tactical evolution for Lahore this season.

As discussed in our recap of the first week of PSL action, the arrival of Raza and Hussain Talat reshaped Lahore’s middle order.

Alongside David Wiese, a finishing triumvirate was forged, equipping the Qalandars with the firepower to close out games in spectacular style.

How have they gone against the other PSL playoff teams?

All told, Lahore are strong favourites to retain their title.

They have past form for beating Multan in crunch games. They also have an outstanding recent record against another playoff side, Islamabad United. The Qalandars have won the last five games consecutively against the side from the capital.

A potential stumbling block for the holders is the toss outcome. Two-thirds of all wins in the PSL this season – 20 out of 30 – have come batting first, including all Qalandars wins, and all wins at the Gaddafi Stadium.

All other playoff teams, meanwhile, have won at least one game chasing.

Lahore will be confident against both Multan and Islamabad. The only side that’ll worry them a little is Peshawar Zalmi (set to contest Eliminator 1 on Thursday), if they get that far.

Lahore lost to the ‘Yellow Storm’ earlier this season and in a super over in 2022. If the Qalandars chase against Peshawar at some stage, watch out for an upset.

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Multan Sultans

So dominant in PSL 2022, the Multan Sultans looked mortal in 2023.

Six points clear with a 9-1 record last season, they finished 6-4 in the league phase this year.

The Sultans were two points behind first, and ahead of third-placed Islamabad United only on run rate.

And yet, individual Multan players were again outstanding this season. Captain Mohammad Rizwan leads the race for the Hanif Mohammad cap with 483 runs, well clear of nearest rival Babar Azam.

After an excellent year for South Africa in 2022, Rilee Rossouw broke his own record for the fastest PSL century when he tonned up against Peshawar Zalmi in just 41 balls (it was broken a day later by Usman Khan).

The arrival of Tim David couldn’t have been timed better – he’s striking at 190 from three innings so far.

On the bowling side, Abbas Afridi (22 wickets) and Ihsanullah (20) are the top two wicket takers in PSL 8. Usama Mir (12) has the second highest tally of wickets for any spinner behind Rashid Khan.

They’ve not been as consistent as last season, but Multan boast the PSL’s top performers going into the playoffs.

How have they gone against the other PSL playoff teams?

Multan have won four out of their last five PSL games against Islamabad United and are on a five-match winning streak against Peshawar Zalmi.

The last of those five wins was an incredible chase of 244 at Rawalpindi on 10 March.

Last season’s runners-up will fancy themselves to get the job done against either of these two contenders. The thorn in their side, as it is so often, is Lahore – Multan lost both of their games to the holders this season.

Last time out, the Sultans were dismantled by Rashid Khan; Wednesday’s Qualifier will turn on his fitness.

If they get past Peshawar, Islamabad will be hoping for Multan first rather than Lahore.

The other key battle to watch will be the Multan openers Rizwan and Usman Khan against the Lahore opening bowlers – likely some combination of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Zaman Khan, and Haris Rauf.

Rizwan tends to start cautiously before accelerating. With partner Shan Masood struggling to hit the heights of last season, the sluggishness of the opening pair notably ceded the early momentum to the Qalandars at Lahore earlier in PSL 8.

Chasing 181, the two combined for 49 runs off 47 balls and Multan lost by 21 runs. But with this pair now broken up and newly integrated Usman hot off the PSL’s fastest-ever century, the Sultans are equipped to avoid a repeat of the Gaddafi Stadium.

Whether chasing or batting first, Multan cannot afford to fall behind early. A lot depends on how their openers go against Lahore.

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Islamabad United

Undoubtedly the story of the tournament so far. Islamabad United finished with a losing record in the league phase last season and only made the playoffs on run rate.

This season, they only missed out on second place – and thus a spot in the Qualifier – on run rate. They now contest the first Eliminator against Peshawar Zalmi on Thursday.

The PSL’s entertainers have produced the results in 2023.

Chase Masters

The most impressive stat, though, relates to Islamabad’s success batting second. PSL 8 is a bat-first competition but United have won five games chasing – an astonishing 50% of all chasing wins in the PSL this season.

Of the four playoff sides, the team from the capital are most equipped to pull off a chase should the situation demand it.

Islamabad’s three top scorers heading into the playoffs perfectly represent the firepower they have throughout the order. Colin Munro (294 runs) is top of the pile at Islamabad for runs and has batted variously at #4, as an opener, and at #3.

We called for his promotion to the top of the order after the first couple of games, but Munro’s thrived everywhere.

Wicketkeeper Azam Khan (280) keeps the scoring up through the middle while Faheem Ashraf (210) is in sparkling form as a finisher.

One at the top, one in the middle, one at the end – and Islamabad’s incendiary pair of Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Alex Hales have hardly torn up trees yet.

Hasan Ali leads the way for wickets at Islamabad with 12 at an economy of 9.28 – an improvement from his double-digit mark last season.

He was player of the match with 3-35 when Islamabad played Peshawar in match 12 of PSL 8. He’ll be the one to watch against Zalmi on Thursday in Eliminator 1.

How have they gone against the other PSL playoff teams?

On recent head-to-head record, Eliminator 1 is a pick ’em.

Islamabad and Peshawar are dead even in their last 8 meetings, sharing 4 wins apiece, although the side from the capital did beat Zalmi in the first Eliminator last season.

In their two encounters with Peshawar so far this season, the biggest threat to Islamabad was Mohammad Haris.

Striking at an astounding 197 in PSL 8, Haris was especially severe on Islamabad with scores of 40 (21) and 79 (39). United are also yet to dismiss Peshawar captain Babar Azam.

Going 5-5 in the league phase, Peshawar are the most unfancied playoff side on form.

The key battle will be Haris v United captain Shadab Khan. The leg spinner got Haris in both games but only after the damage was done.

An over or two up front at the star of Pakistan’s T20 World Cup campaign could irreversibly shift the momentum in a knockout game.

If they get past Peshawar, Islamabad will be hoping for Multan first rather than Lahore.

They’re 3-4 against the Sultans over the last three seasons – not great, but practically dominant compared to their 1-6 record against the Qalandars in the same time.

The newest incarnation of the PSL’s most successful side is yet unproven against the league’s best. The PSL playoffs this season are their biggest test – and their biggest opportunity.

Peshawar Zalmi

Babar Azam’s move to Peshawar is now just three steps away from being a success in the first season. Qualifying for the playoffs in fourth, Zalmi maintained their streak of making the playoffs in every PSL season.

Going 5-5 in the league phase, Peshawar are the most unfancied playoff side on form.

Their bowling exemplifies this. Top wicket taker Wahab Riaz has a modest 9 scalps to his name and is 14th in the race for the Fazal Mahmood cap for the most wickets.

Every other team in the PSL playoffs this season has at least three in the top ten.

Peshawar’s strength is their batting. Babar is second in the Hanif Mohammad cap standings with 416 runs and is one of only three batters in PSL 8 to breach the 400-run mark.

The ‘Yellow Storm’ also boast one of the most exciting finds of the season in Saim Ayub. With five fifties, he’s level with Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam for the most 50+ scores in PSL 8.

How have they gone against the other PSL playoff teams?

Peshawar are one of only two teams to beat Lahore this season, along with the Karachi Kings. The recent past, meanwhile, suggests that Multan pose the biggest challenge. Zalmi are on a five-match losing streak against the Sultans.

As mentioned earlier, Peshawar’s recent head-to-head record against Islamabad suggests no clear favourite in Eliminator 1.

Despite their modest league performance in 2023, Zalmi will be reasonably confident against Eliminator opponents Islamabad and holders Lahore.

But the million-dollar question circles back to their recent record against Multan. Given the structure of the PSL playoffs, they’ll have to beat last season’s runners-up at some point to win PSL 8.

There’s more than just the motivation of snapping their losing streak against the Sultans on the line.


Header Image: Gihan Jayaweera/CC BY-SA 3.0/via Wikimedia Commons/

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