Lahore Qalandars and Multan Sultans will lock horns at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore on Friday. The pressure will be on the home side to get off to a good start after ordinary PSL campaigns in all preceding seasons.
Qalandars just got edged out by MCC last week by Kumar Sangakkara's led side and even though there wasn't much context to that game and it was virtually a practice match for Qalandars, but some nerves must have been felt by the Qalandars' management as they stumbled against a club side that visited Pakistan shores after many decades. That said, they didn't have the services of Haris Rauf and Shaheen Afridi in that one of a kind fixture.
Both teams haven't been able to cement the top-berth in the points table in the preceding editions and both teams dearly want to turn their fortunes in HBL PSL V. Qalandars have a massive fan-following and it appears as if they have been crumbling under the weight of expectations from an overzealous fan-following.
They have also been guilty of not giving many opportunities to the young crop of players who emerge from their vociferously marketed talent-hunt-programmes but don't get enough opportunities - the trend might change this season.
Sultans joined PSL league in 2017 and their management got changed just after one season which understandably affected franchise's planning and preparations.
Sultans' new owner, Ali Khan Tareen, has been working hard to promote the game at the grassroots level in a bid to unearth new talent and has been actively involved in the franchise operations.
Multan appointed Shoaib Malik as their skipper in their PSL debut who has now been replaced by Test opener Shan Masood. It remains to be seen how he adapts to the shorter version and handles captaincy at the same time.
Sultans have got a pretty balanced squad with U19 vice-captain Rohail Nazir added to the mix alongside leading scorer Rilee Rossouw, who forms the spine of the batting.
The bowling department features electric Lahore-born Proteas leggie Imran Tahir, T20 leagues mainstay Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan. Now, this is a world-class bowling unit who can dismantle any batting line-up on their day.
On the other hand, Qalandars have a 33% winning percentage in the PSL and have ended at the bottom of the table way too many times. Pressure has been mounting on the long-serving head coach Aaqib Javed to deliver the goods and another underwhelming season might as well result in a change in the support staff.
This time around, Chris Lynn is the biggest overseas signing for Qalandars while Mohammad Hafeez is fully fit and set to play the entire season. Let's hope Hafeez - whose bowling action has just been cleared recently - doesn't get crocked this season. Lahore needs him big time to stabilize the ship in case of a batting collapse.
The bowling arsenal looks solid as inform bowling spearheads Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf are expected to keep things tight in the powerplay and so Multan will have to weather the storm from Qalandars' strike bowlers. The spin trio comprising Hafeez, Seekkuge Prasanna and Samit Patel will aim to stymie the run flow in the middle overs.
Qalandars are going with a brand new strategy and their loyal domestic player Sohail Akhtar has been passed with the baton of captaincy this time around.
Sultans lost a nail-biter in the last season against Qalandars but later in the tournament, in their final match of the season, defeated Qalandars and finished fifth on the points table.
Expect Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore to buzz with energy tomorrow who will be rooting for the home side to come through with flying colours.
Shan Masood (capt), Rilee Rossouw, James Vince, Zeeshan Ashraf, Khshdil Shah, Wayne Madsen, Shahid Afridi, Moeen Ali, Ravi Bopara, Sohail Tanvir, Bilawal Bhatti, Rohail Nazir (wk), Fabian Allen, Mohammad Ilyas, Ali Shafiq, Mohammad Irfan, Junaid Khan, Imran Tahir, Usman Qadir
Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Chris Lynn, Shaheen Afridi, David Wiese, Usman Shinwari, Haris Rauf, Sohail Akhtar (capt), Samit Patel, Salman Butt, Seekkuge Prasanna, Ben Dunk, Farzan Raja, Jaahid Ali, M Faizan, Dane Vilas, Dilbar Hussain