Imran Khan gives assurances about Rawalpindi Test ahead of planned protest march

The PCB and the UK high commissioner to Pakistan met with Imran Khan, the country’s former prime minister, in Lahore on Tuesday in a meeting that is believed to have given the Pakistan board assurances that a planned political rally will not disrupt the Rawalpindi Test between Pakistan and England.
The venue of the series opener, due to get underway at Pindi Stadium on December 1, has been the subject of uncertainty ever since Imran’s political party, the Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), made clear its intentions to organise a long protest march with its supporters onto Islamabad.
The march is due to go through Rawalpindi, approximately 20km from Islamabad, later this week, having been postponed earlier this month following the attempted assassination of Imran in Wazirabad on November 3.

Over the weekend, Imran announced he would join the march in Rawalpindi on Saturday, November 26, from where they will eventually move to the capital. England are scheduled to fly out from Abu Dhabi to Islamabad the same evening.

The PCB do have a back-up itinerary in place, which would see the first Test taking place in Karachi. However, they did reaffirm their intentions to go ahead with Rawalpindi over the weekend.

Ramiz Raja, the PCB chairman, and Christian Turner, the high commissioner, met Imran at his Lahore residence in Zaman Park, where the former PM is recovering from right leg injuries sustained in the assassination attempt.

Although he is no longer in power, Imran remains one of the most influential figures on Pakistan’s current political scene – the meeting itself is an indication of that influence. He has been calling for fresh general elections ever since his ouster in April this year and has galvanised his support base behind him in a series of protest rallies. This long march is expected to attract large crowds and though security around Imran will be beefed up, he told the Telegraph last week that he expects another assassination attempt on his life.

As a former Pakistan captain – the country’s most successful – Imran was the PCB’s board patron until his removal from office, and he will be keenly aware of the timing of his rally and its potential implications on England’s series, their first Test tour of the country since 2005.

It is believed that Imran assured Ramiz and Turner that the Rawalpindi Test, due to get underway in just over a week’s time, will not be affected by the long march. Fawad Chaudhry, a PTI leader and former information minister, tweeted a video of the meeting and said bilateral relations and issues of mutual interest were discussed.

After Rawalpindi, the series moves to Multan (December 9-13) and then Karachi (December 17-21) for the final Test.

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