Explainer - All you need to know about PSL 2019

PSL had made a big difference to Pakistan cricket - Sarfraz (4:45)

The captains of the teams in the league and PCB chairman Ehsan Mani look ahead to the tournament (4:45)

So, the Pakistan Super League?

This might have been an existential question when it began it 2016, with doubts about whether it could even get off the ground. Now, the PSL is just one of the several T20 leagues that have sprung up around the world.

Just one of many, so nothing special then?

Au contraire. Despite its relative newbie status - there have been just three editions thus far - the PSL is often viewed as among the more lucrative and valuable leagues in the world. The IPL and BBL aside, it's in close competition with the CPL and the BPL. Given that it is newer than all of them, its rise has been nothing short of meteoric.

I might have a look then, when's it on?

From February 14 to March 17.

Who's playing, and where?

There are six teams. It began with five , but since last year, they've taken on another one in Multan Sultans. The five teams that have been a part of this since inception are Islamabad United, Peshawar Zalmi, Quetta Gladiators, Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars.

There is no league where the location of games is as anticipated or dramatic as the PSL. Hosting games with international players in Pakistan isn't straightforward, so most of the tournament takes place in the UAE. Towards the business end, the tournament moves to Karachi and Lahore, and this year Pakistani fans will see more games in their stadiums than ever before.There are eight games in Lahore and Karachi with the latter hosting the final on March 17.

International players you say? Proper big names?

Take your pick. AB de Villiers, Darren Sammy, Shane Watson, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Colin Munro to name just a few. In the past, Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum and Kevin Pietersen have all participated.

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, 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?

*0245GMT: Pitbull's name was removed after he tweeted saying he wouldn't make it to Dubai for the opening ceremony