LAHORE: The first match of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2018 will be held on February 22 in Dubai with last year’s champions Peshawar Zalmi facing off against newcomers Multan Sultans, according to a schedule released on Thursday. A total of 34 matches will be played across different venues in Dubai, Sharjah, Lahore and Karachi. The final will be held in Karachi on March 25. “Efforts are underway to stage two play-off games in Lahore followed by what would be a historic PSL final in Karachi,” a Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) spokesman said. The marquee clash of the tournament, Karachi Kings versus Lahore Qalandars, is set to take place on February 26 and March 11; both times in Dubai.The format remains the same – all teams playing each other twice before the top four progress to qualifiers and eliminators. As before, the bulk of the games will be played in the UAE, between Sharjah and Dubai. There had been talk of using Abu Dhabi as a venue, more so after the Zayed Cricket Stadium hosted two T20s and ODIs against Sri Lanka earlier this season, but the city will miss out once again on the PSL. After the group stage matches, the first qualifier is the only one that will be played in the UAE. The two eliminators are set to be played at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, the venue for last season’s final. All eyes, however, will be on Karachi, as it attempts to host its biggest match since it last held an international – a Test against Sri Lanka in February 2009. That was the last completed Test in Pakistan, before the attack on the Sri Lanka team in Lahore.There has been persistent chatter about the National Stadium in Karachi not being ready in time to host the game, though last month PCB chairman Najam Sethi said: “We have made a commitment to try our best to have it in Karachi.” In October, Reg Dickason, the security expert who advises the ICC and works with FICA, visited Karachi and met with senior security and government officials, the first step in assessing whether or not the city is ready to host high-profile games. West Indies are also scheduled to tour Pakistan in March next year for a three-match T20 series, though venues for that commitment have not yet been confirmed.Published in Daily Times, December 8th 2017.