The season starts and ends in the same way
The eighth edition of the Pakistan Super League began with a thriller - Lahore Qalandars defeated Multan Sultans by one run. It ended similarly in the final, as the Qalandars won by one run against the Sultans. Zaman Khan bowled the 20th over in both matches, having to defend 15 runs in Multan and 13 in Lahore.
Only five runs came in the first four balls of the final over during the season opener before Khushdil Shah hit a four on the penultimate ball and followed it with another four when they needed six. Khushdil was in a similar situation in the final, where only five runs came on the first four balls again before he found a boundary on the fifth ball. However, on the last ball, he was run out trying to level the scores.
Qalandars' epic turnaround
Four years into the PSL, Qalandars stood at the bottom of the table in every edition, not winning more than three games. Things changed for Qalandars in 2020 as they made the playoffs for the first time and finished as the runners-up. In 2021, they could not finish in the top four due to the net-run rate. By the end of the edition, all five franchises except Qalandars bagged the PSL title at least once.
Fortunes really turned for the Qalandars since the appointment of Shaheen Shah Afridi as their captain in 2022, who led them to their maiden title that year. Qalandars replicated their success in 2023, defeating Sultans in the final for the second time in as many years. They thus became the first team to defend their title in the PSL and only the second team after Islamabad United to win the title multiple times. Shaheen also became the first captain in PSL history to win the title twice.
Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium stood host for 11 matches in this edition of PSL, and almost every game was an event in the record books. The high-scoring nature of the venue made any total tough to defend - Targets of 240-plus runs were chased down twice in three days. There have been only three such chases in nearly 12000 T20 games before the madcap week in Rawalpindi. During the same week, the venue witnessed 515 runs aggregated by Sultans and Quetta Gladiators, a world record in T20 cricket.
That fixture had seen 262 for 3 and 253 for 8, the top two totals in the league's history. The ground had a run rate of 10.28 in this PSL, which is by far the highest for a venue in a T20 tournament, bettering Edgbaston's 9.17 during the 2018 T20 Blast. The team batting first made 200-plus runs in seven of the 11 matches in Pindi, and five times the chasing team got over that mark. The 12 totals of 200-plus runs are the highest for any venue in a T20 tournament, surpassing the eight totals for Multan Cricket Stadium across 14 matches in the National T20 Cup in 2020.
The highest-scoring T20 tournament
Rawalpindi's high-scoring matches contributed to lifting the tournament run rate to 9.2, the highest for any T20 tournament consisting of 20-plus games. The previous highest was 8.99 across the 34 matches in The Hundred Men's Competition in 2022. While the run rate in Rawalpindi in 11 matches was 10.28, the remaining three venues - that hosted 23 games - had an average run rate of 8.67.
Seven individual centuries were scored through the tournament, including five in Rawalpindi, by far the highest in an edition of PSL. In fact, only 13 hundreds were scored across the previous seven editions, with no more than three in any of those. This tournament also set a new record for most sixes (498) and fours (1094) in a PSL season, surpassing the 1012 fours and 440 sixes hit in the 2021 edition.
Shaheen Shah Afridi - the allrounder
Shaheen Shah Afridi had just one score of 20-plus runs in his T20 career coming into PSL 2023. But in this tournament, he bettered his highest T20 score twice - 52 against Peshawar Zalmi during the league phase and an unbeaten 44 off 15 balls in the final against the Sultans. Shaheen also claimed a four-wicket haul in both of those games. Only one other player had achieved the double of 40-plus runs and four-wicket haul twice in the same T20 tournament - Brad Hodge in the Twenty20 Cup in 2005 for Lancashire.
Before Shaheen, there have been only two instances of 40-plus runs and four-plus wickets double in the PSL - Ravi Bopara (71* and 6 for 16) in 2016 and Shadab Khan (52 and 4 for 20) in 2022. Shaheen's 44* and 4-wicket haul against Sultans was only the fifth instance of a player scoring 40-plus runs and taking 4-plus wickets in a T20 final. None of the previous four all-round efforts came for a franchise team, and none while leading the team.
Abbas Afridi and Ihsanullah make a mark
In a tournament where run-scoring seemed easy, the Sultans' young pacers - Abbas Afridi and Ihsanullah, stood out with the ball. Abbas finished as the highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 23 wickets and bagged a hat-trick during the 515-run aggregate match. Ihsanullah finished with 22 wickets and had an economy rate of only 7.59, where bowlers conceded more than nine an over.
The 20-year-old was named the Player of the Tournament, becoming the first specialist bowler with this award in the PSL. Only one bowler took more wickets in a PSL edition than Abbas Afridi (23) and Ihsanullah (22) in 2023 - 25 by Hasan Ali for Peshawar Zalmi in 2019.