The curtains fell on the third edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) with a spectacular final in front of a capacity crowd at the National Stadium in Karachi last Sunday.
As the month-long tournament — contested by six teams with games played in Dubai, Sharjah, Lahore and Karachi — comes to a close, let's look at how each team fared.
Lahore Qalandars (Team grade: F)
What can be said about the Qalandars that hasn't already been said. The Lahore-based franchise, for the third straight year, was a mess. Messier, in fact.
After finishing at the bottom of the table in the inaugural tournament, the Qalandars had shown some improvement in their second season — although they finished last that year as well.
It was expected of them to build on that this time around but it didn't happen. The Qalandars regressed. So much so that they lost all six of their opening matches.
They did win three of their final four matches and briefly threatened to not finish last but those wins were mere consolations and came too little too late.
Their main problem was not having a middle-order batsman who could just stay at the crease, not lose his head, and keep the scoreboard ticking. Think of a Babar Azam type.
T20 is about hitting the ball out of the park as often as possible but it is also about maintaining a level of calm and not panicking every time a few wickets fall.
Sadly, the Qalandars did not have a single player cut out for that role. They chopped, they changed, they tried everything but nothing worked.
It's highly unlikely they will retain captain Brendon McCullum, for they need to go back to the drawing board and reboot.
Multan Sultans (Team grade: C)
The league's newest franchise played safe during player recruitment, stockpiling veterans rather than youth. And their strategy reflected in the kind of debut season they had.
The Sultans started off brilliantly, winning four of their opening six games before their challenge fizzled out. Halfway through their campaign, the same experience that was considered their strength turned into a weakness.
A side chock-full of 30-something veterans and devoid of any notable young blood had fatigued. They lost each of their last four league games, eventually settling for second-last in the league standings.
The Sultans' campaign wasn't a complete failure but they must learn that T20, unlike the other two formats of the game, is more about raw talent rather than technique. Next time, they recruit, they must take risks and accommodate a few youngsters as well rather than opting for safe options with known ceilings.
Quetta Gladiators (Team grade: B)
Like the Qalandars, the Gladiators too were plagued by the same problems. They were impressive during the league stage but what's new there.
They always do well in the games held in the UAE. It's the Pakistan leg where their inability to convince their foreign talent to travel leaves them exposed.
So, like the year before, the Gladiators were without Kevin Pietersen, Shane Watson and several others as the PSL 2018 moved to Pakistan for final two play-off matches and the final.
On paper and with their international stars, the Gladiators were clearly the better side than Peshawar Zalmi. Even without key players, they lost to Zalmi by just one run.
Had they had the players who had no qualms in travelling to Pakistan, it would almost certainly have been the Gladiators playing Islamabad United in the final. This team had all the talent and grit but no luck.
Karachi Kings (Team grade: B)
The Kings were the team to beat at the start of this year's PSL, winning three straight matches and soaring to the top of the table.
They eventually finished the league stage in second spot before being knocked out by Zalmi in the second eliminator.
They were unlucky with ill-timed injuries to their captain Imad Wasim and star man Shahid Afridi, and their stand-in captain Mohammad Amir perhaps didn't have the experience to make the right calls during that high-pressure chase.
With the final held in the City of Lights, Kings' fans would have loved to see their home team play at the National Stadium. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
The Kings, disappointing in the first two PSLs, were much better this time around but were found wanting during the play-offs, losing both their games.
A bit more composure in crucial games will help them take that final leap next year.
Peshawar Zalmi (Team grade: A)
The 2017 champions were clearly not themselves in the 2018 campaign. They lost Shahid Afridi to Karachi Kings during off-season and were troubled by injuries to star players when the tournament began.
Yet, they managed to drag themselves to the final — a testament to their luck and big-game nous.
However, had things not gone in their way, Zalmi could easily not have even qualified for the play-offs, let alone make the final.
Deep into the league stage, they were second-last in the standings and better only than the horrible Qalandars.
Had they not won their last two league matches, there was a genuine possibility that they, and not Lahore, could've finished last.
But their problems stemmed from injuries, which cannot be prevented. Even then, they made it to the finals and could've won the tourney had Kamran Akmal not pulled a classic Kamran Akmal.
In all, this was a decent campaign. Zalmi should still be proud of themselves.
Islamabad United (Team grade: A+)
The champions. Correction: two-time champions.
Islamabad United have become a benchmark and an example to follow for their PSL rivals. They're an incredibly well-run franchise that goes about its business and has quickly developed a tradition of winning, just like so many other sports franchises with United as their moniker have around the world.
They managed a perfect mixture of experience and youth, with the likes of Mohammad Sami, JP Duminy, Faheem Ashraf and Asif Ali.
They barely had a tale, thanks to a long list of all-rounders they had in their ranks. They also boasted the tournament's hottest batsman: Luke Ronchi.
United were so strong, even injuries to their captain and vice-captain couldn't derail their campaign. They were a little slow off the blocks — two of their three defeats came in their opening three matches — but once they were warmed up, they steamrolled every team that came in their way.
Barring a defeat in a dead-rubber to Karachi when they rested several key players, United won eight of their last nine matches. They were by far the best side in the competition and completely deserved their second title.
Pakistan Super League 2018 (Grade: A++)
The third edition of the tournament was thrice the fun. With the addition of a sixth team, the competition was tougher and entertainment was aplenty.
While the PSL 2018 did not see a 200-run game, it had more cliffhangers, super overs and nail-biters than we've seen any cricket league produce in recent times.
One cause of concern for the organisers could be the low attendances at the stadia in Dubai and Sharjah, but with the tournament planned to be phased out of the UAE and moved entirely to Pakistan in the next few years, that one blip will go away too.
All in all, the PSL 2018 exceeded the fans' expectations and we cannot wait for it to come back next year.
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