An in-depth review of the eighth season of the Pakistan Super League.
The 2023 PSL season came to its conclusion on Saturday, a day ahead of schedule due to adverse weather conditions predicted in Lahore on Sunday. Thankfully the weather stayed away on Saturday and didn’t get in the way of a thrilling final, contested between Lahore Qalandars and Multan Sultans – the two most consistent sides in recent PSL seasons.
For games since the start of 2020
It was a repeat of last season’s final, with Lahore batting first, and we saw similar lower-order heroics to what we witnessed from Wiese in 2022, repeated by Shaheen Afridi this time around, who scored 44 (15)* and changed the momentum of the game. The Lahore skipper has been involved in plenty of big moments in his career thus far, but this was perhaps his most defining one yet.
Multan offered more of a threat to Lahore’s total this year and were arguably favorites 7-8 overs into the chase, with Rizwan & Rossouw both set at the crease. Enter Rashid Khan, who once again proved his worth in the PSL. His first three overs went for just 15 runs, in addition to picking up the key wicket of Rossouw, at a time in the game when the other eight overs bowled by Lahore had gone for over 90 runs.
This was followed by Rashid picking up another big wicket (Rizwan) in his final over, thanks to some handy fielding by Wiese on the boundary, before a death overs burst from Shaheen, taking four wickets in quick succession, looked to have secured the win for Lahore. Multan responded with a blow of their own, scoring 22 runs off the 19th over, with some impressive hitting from Khushdil & Abbas Afridi, setting up a stellar finish and a nervy final over for Lahore fans.
Multan required 13 runs off the final over to win it; Lahore were favorites by the skin of their teeth. Zaman Khan – officially still playing as an emerging player, had the unenviable task of bowling the last six deliveries – he was not a newcomer to bowling at this stage of the game, but this would be his toughest examination yet. And like all of his other previous tests, Zaman passed with flying colors. The Qalandars had won by the ‘barest of margins’ in what was undoubtedly the best PSL final we’ve seen.
Lahore became the first PSL franchise to win back-to-back titles, which would’ve been an unthinkable feat a few years ago. It’s a testament to the core they’ve established and the development of the current group of players. They aren’t the perfect side, and batting issues remain, but with that bowling unit – surely one of the best ever assembled in franchise cricket – you’ll always have a chance.
The 2023 Season
This season saw the PSL return to four venues – Karachi, Multan, Rawalpindi & Lahore – for the first time since 2020. Definitely a positive but not an ideal long-term solution; in order to maximize the PSL as a product, each team having a designated home venue, with a home/away format for group stage matches, is required. Even if Quetta & Peshawar aren’t fit to host matches currently, a ‘home’ ground in another city will suffice for the time being. Ensuring the other four franchises play five matches in the league stage at their actual home venue will help with attendance, avoiding lower turnouts for games at neutral venues.
Comparison To Previous Seasons
The PSL is no stranger to higher-scoring seasons. Since returning to Pakistan (for the most part) in 2020, it’s consistently been one of the highest-scoring leagues, and this year was no different:
Data from Cricmetric
There were regular questions about the contest between bat & ball this season, and for good reason, it was comfortably the highest-scoring league we’ve seen in recent years, even outdoing The Hundred. Runs are entertaining, but at some point, you’ve got to help the bowlers. The conditions in Pakistan didn’t really do that, through a combination of flat pitches, smaller boundaries, and the recruitment strategies of franchises.
However, I do think some credit needs to be given to the improving approach of domestic batters in the tournament and the willingness of the teams involved to take more risks when batting first, which certainly played some part in the higher run rates rather than it just being down to conditions.
Prior to the 2022 season, the PSL was a league well-known for having a strong chasing bias; this has flipped on its head in the last couple of seasons:
CG = Completed games, CW = Chasing wins. Tied games removed when calculating chasing win percentage
Average 1st innings scores have gone through the roof in 2022 & 2023, and as a result, the chasing win percentage has fallen off dramatically. Where these runs, leading to higher scores, have been made up is interesting:
A lot of the work has been done in powerplays, further demonstrating the willingness of teams to take a more proactive approach from ball one. Once certain players find confidence in performing that approach, it’ll trickle down to others, leading to higher scores and run rates.
A Pindi Paradise (For Batters)
If there is one venue where the balance between bat & ball needs to be discussed, it’s certainly Rawalpindi:
Of the four venues, it had the highest scoring games by a distance, with an average bowling economy rate of over 10 RPO, whereas the other three venues were all fairly similar. Incredibly, despite being so high scoring, Pindi also had the highest chasing win percentage and had more chasing wins (6) than at the other three venues combined.
The games at Pindi this season really were unlike anything we’ve seen in T20s. Whatever score was set, the chasing team always had a chance, and the limit on this just kept getting pushed as teams realized how aggressively they needed to bat:
After the first few games at Pindi, which were relatively ‘modest,’ 6 of the last 7 matches there had first innings scores of 200+, three of which were chased, including two scores of 240 or higher, and Quetta also got within ten runs of chasing 262.
If there was a graph to highlight just how batting-friendly conditions at Pindi were, it would be this one:
Unlike at other venues, there wasn’t really any sort of consolidation period in the games at Pindi, and all batters were basically forced to play the same way, while the bowlers will probably still be having nightmares about the Pindi leg this season. In isolation, these games can be very entertaining, but as with anything, if you’re fed too much of it, it can become stale, and that was arguably what happened with Pindi, at least for some people.
I guess it demonstrates the need for balance and brings me back to the point about home & away matches. If there were only five matches at Pindi this season, and they were all spread out, no one would’ve moaned about the games being such a run fest. However, because we got a lot of it in quick succession, with 11 out of the last 14 group games held at Pindi, it became a bit repetitive.
A look at the different bowling types and how commonly they were used, compared to previous seasons, is interesting:
There was a notable drop in the percentage of deliveries bowled by LA pace bowlers. Historically, Pakistan & the PSL has been a breeding ground for left armers; however, that wasn’t the case this season. I think injuries would’ve definitely played a part in this, with Josh Little, Wayne Parnell & Mir Hamza all missing the majority of the season.
The deficit was made up for by RA pace bowlers, who bowled a far higher percentage of deliveries than normal. This also came as a result of the % of deliveries bowled by orthodox spin dropping off. With four venues being used this year, pitches didn’t really deteriorate and thus didn’t offer as much for spinners as they did in 2022, especially with so many of the games in 2nd half of the season played at Pindi. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that the usage of orthodox spin dropped back to 2021 levels.
In a way, it was almost T10-like conditions at times, with traditional orthodox spinners becoming fairly redundant. In fact, there’s only been one occasion in a league where less orthodox spin has been bowled since the start of 2020:
Here’s how effective each bowling type was relative to the season average for bowling economy rate:
There wasn’t really a standout bowling type. At times, almost every bowler went the distance, which isn’t surprising in such a high-scoring season. If you’re in doubt, left-arm pace or high-quality wrist spin rarely goes wrong in the PSL.
Earlier, I mentioned the recruitment strategies of the majority of PSL teams potentially playing a part in the higher-scoring seasons; this is because overseas batters tend to face a very high percentage of deliveries in the PSL:
With good reason, they’re generally very successful and outperform the domestic batters quite considerably. However, the difference between the scoring rates of domestic and overseas batters wasn’t as obvious this season. In past seasons, overseas batters have typically dominated across all batting positions:
Data for the last four PSL seasons
This time around, things were slightly different, especially at the top of the order:
The gap between the performance of overseas and domestic openers was smaller than ever before. Of course, it’s only one season so far, so it can’t be taken as gospel. However, there’s plenty of room for encouragement, with the likes of Haris, Ayub, and Shafique all having breakthrough seasons, in addition to Babar & Rizwan upping their scoring rates.
If domestic batters are performing better than ever before, particularly in top-order roles, then it should reduce the need for franchises to target overseas batters so heavily and potentially recruit more bowlers, thus leading to a better balance between bat & ball. This season was fairly promising on all fronts and not just for openers:
There looks to be plenty of players coming through that can score quickly vs. pace. A more limited skill set in Pakistan is perhaps still LH middle-order batters and players that can take on wrist spin effectively. Maybe the usage of overseas picks will become more concentrated to middle-order roles in the coming seasons, freeing up overseas picks for more bowling options.
Standout Individual Performers
Average vs. Strike Rate
Color of the dot indicates % of balls faced between overs 7 & 15. Tahir Baig faced the lowest % of deliveries in the middle overs (26.18) & Azam Khan faced the highest % (74.86). Imad Wasim removed due to having a high average.
Best performers – Rilee Rossouw, Sikandar Raza & Mohammad Haris
Worst performers – Sarfaraz Ahmed
Boundary Percentage vs. Non-Boundary Strike Rate
Color of the dot indicates balls per six hit. Munro hit a six most regularly (every 8.8 balls), Shan Masood the least regularly (every 189 balls).
I hesitated to include this graph because the value of strike rotation in a high-scoring competition is questionable. However, I wanted to highlight Sikandar Raza, who is an excellent strike rotator and runner between the wickets. It’s something that’s very evident when you watch him bat; he almost plays hit & run at times. If paired with an equally athletic batting partner, it’s something that could potentially add value and become extremely frustrating for opposition bowlers. Of course, it’s also worth noting that Raza was a strong boundary hitter this season and was one of a few names in the ideal top-right corner.
Other good performers – Mohammad Haris, Rilee Rossouw & Imad Wasim
Strike Rate & Boundary Percentage Compared to Teammates
Color of dot indicates % of deliveries faced between overs 7 & 15.
Best performers – Sikandar Raza, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Haris, Rilee Rossouw, Azam Khan, Saim Ayub, Colin Munro & Fakhar Zaman
Worst performers – Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shan Masood, Matthew Wade & Shoaib Malik
Strike Rate in First 10 Balls vs. After First 10 Balls
Data tracked manually. Colour of the dot indicates whether the player is domestic or overseas. Size of dot indicates overall runs scored this season.
Mohammad Haris is the obvious standout here; in terms of starting his innings quickly, he was a long way ahead of the rest. A strike rate of over 200 in his first ten balls is insane, it’ll be nigh-on impossible to maintain that, but I’m sure Haris will try his best to do so. His approach is fearless, and he proved that he could also maintain that outside of the powerplay this season.
Azam Khan was one of the slowest starters this season, but once set, he was on a different level from any other batter. Azam has never been the quickest of starters, anyway. However, this season was slower than normal. Personally, I don’t really have an issue with this; not every batter needs to play the same way, and with his improvements vs. pace, Azam is capable of accelerating quickly vs. both pace and spin, which isn’t something that a lot of players have in their lockers. Abdullah Shafique and Kieron Pollard were other players with a similar approach.
We also saw a different side of Babar & Rizwan at times this season; both showed far more willingness to attack in their first ten balls and powerplay in general, with Babar striking at 150 in his first ten balls and Rizwan 138. Conditions obviously helped with this, but credit also has to be given to the individuals. Neither had struck at higher than 125 in their first ten balls previously in the PSL.
Only three domestic players had above-average scoring rates in their first ten balls and after their first ten balls of an innings. It’s encouraging that all three of these players were picked in the Pakistan squad for the upcoming T20I series vs. Afghanistan.