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Cricket comes to Imran Khan’s rescue as police halt operation

The police retreat from the home of the cricketer turned politician to allow a cricket match to be played as scheduled.

When an intense two-day police operation to arrest former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan came to a halt in the eastern city of Lahore, it was cricket that came to the rescue of the former cricketer.

Police had surrounded Khan’s residence in the provincial capital of Punjab province since Monday to arrest him for failing to appear in court on corruption charges, but they withdrew Wednesday afternoon by court order to continue the operation until the following day to suspend.

Before entering politics, Khan’s popularity was based on his illustrious cricketing career, which ended after he led Pakistan to its only International Cricket Council (ICC) Men’s World Cup title in 1992.

A senior police official told Al Jazeera earlier on Wednesday that troops deployed outside the home of the cricketer-turned-politician were withdrawing to allow the knockout matches of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) cricket tournament to be played on schedule.

“Since the teams have to reach the stadium a few hours before the game and the routes have to be cleared, the security personnel of Zaman Park have withdrawn for a while,” said the officer, who did not want to reveal his name. name.

Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium, which hosts a PSL match between the Lahore Qalandars and the Multan Sultans on Wednesday night, is 9 km (5.6 mi) from Khan’s residence at Zaman Park.

Cricket fans in Pakistan took to social media to express their delight as PSL confirmed that Wednesday’s match will be played as scheduled.

“There is nothing wrong, PSL 2023 will be played according to schedule. Police and all other security forces around Zaman Park have withdrawn from the operation to arrest Imran Khan due to the completion of PSL 8 playoffs at Gaddafi Stadium Lahore,” said a Twitter user.

Cricket is the most popular sport in Pakistan and the PSL is the premier domestic cricket competition, which also attracts international cricketers to the country. However, the PSL was played in the United Arab Emirates from 2015 to 2019 due to security concerns in Pakistan.

The administration of the game has traditionally been involved in politics as the top posts of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) undergo a change with each successive regime change in the country.

Current PCB chairman Najam Sethi is one of Khan’s biggest rivals and was appointed by the current government after Khan was ousted from the helm of the country.

Earlier this week, Khan announced a public rally at the Minar-e-Pakistan memorial in Lahore on March 19, the same day as the PSL final.

Sethi has publicly asked the chief minister of the Punjab province to ensure the safety of the final of the tournament.

“@MohsinnaqviC42 HBLPSL8 multi-million dollar final on March 19 will be played in front of 25,000 people at Gadafi Stadium and 100m around the world,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is Pakistan’s finest showcase. The Punjab government must ensure flawless security and smooth traffic flow to facilitate people’s access to the stadium.

According to the court order issued earlier on Wednesday, the operation to arrest Khan will be halted until 10am (05:00 GMT) on Thursday, almost 12 hours after the PSL match in Lahore.