LAHORE     -        The most-awaited HBL Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2020 will roll into action today (Thursday), with defending champions Quetta Gladiators will be taking on two-time champions Islamabad United in the opener, followed by a grand opening ceremony at Karachi’s National Stadium.

The cricket-crazy nation will be served with thrilling encounters across the country as all six captains aim for berths in the 22nd March final at the Gaddafi Stadium, for a shot at the US$500,000, the winning prize money, and the brand new glittering trophy.

The entire PSL-5 is taking place in Pakistan for the first time in its young history, with Karachi set to host nine fixtures, Lahore fourteen, Rawalpindi eight and Multan three between February 20 to March 22, the concluding day of PSL-5, when its final will be staged at historical Gaddafi Stadium.

Three franchises will take the field with new captains this season after Pakistan internationals Shadab Khan and Shan Masood and hard-hitting batsman Sohail Akhtar were named captains of Islamabad United, Multan Sultans and Lahore Qalandars, respectively, while Imad Wasim (Karachi Kings), Darren Sammy (Peshawar Zalmi) and Sarfaraz Ahmed (Quetta Gladiators) will continue in their roles.

To date, Quetta Gladiators have been the most successful franchise with 61.90 win percentage. The next on the list are Peshawar Zalmi, the champions of the 2017 edition, with 58.69 win percentage. Islamabad United, the champions of the inaugural and 2018 editions, have the third best win percentage with 57.95 and are the only team with two HBL PSL titles.

Karachi Kings’ win percentage of 42.86 is the best amongst the three franchises, who have lost more matches than they have won. Lahore Qalandars (30.55%) and Multan Sultans (36.84%), who entered the HBL PSL in its third edition in 2018, are the only two teams to have not made it beyond the group-stage till now and they will be hoping that this season brings a change in their fortunes.

This fifth edition of the PSL marks the biggest spectacle of cricket in the country since the 2008 Asia Cup as Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi will host the tournament, which goes down as the first instance of an entire edition of the PSL being held in its own country.

The opening ceremony will be held at the National Stadium Karachi prior to the inaugural fixture where as many as 350 artists will perform. The metropolitan city is expected to be set alight as artists from different music genres – sufi, pop, rock, bhangra and folk – will come together to perform at the biggest opening ceremony of PSL history.

Thousands of fans in the stadium will be on the edge of their seats and millions around the globe will be glued to their television sets as world renowned artists like Abrar-ul-Haq, Aima Baig, Abu Mohammad, Fareed Ayaz, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Sajjad Ali, Sanam Marvi and rock band Soch will embellish the ceremony with their breath-taking performances, while Ali Azmat, Arif Lohar, Haroon and Asim Azhar will perform HBL PSL 2020’s anthem Tayyar Hain.

The colourful opening ceremony, which will be approximately an hour long, will kick off at 6:45pm. The toss for the first match will be held at 8:30pm, while the much-anticipated first ball of the PSL 2020 will be delivered at 9:00 pm.

The league follows the double-round robin format with each team playing the other five teams twice each in the league stage. Following the group stage will be the standard playoffs format in which the teams ending first and second get to clash in the Qualifier, while the winner moves straight to the final.

The losing team will get another chance to have a go at the final berth in Eliminator-2, where they will clash against the winner of the Eliminator-1. The team losing the Eliminator-1 will be knocked out of the event. The qualifier will be played on March 17 in Karachi. The eliminator 1, eliminator 2 and the final will take place in Lahore on March 18, 20 and 22 respectively.