A mere three days is not enough to judge one’s popularity. It could be easier had his identity been confined only as a former cricketer. Imran Khan later entered into the world of politics, became the prime minister of Pakistan, and passed his days at prison with bizarre allegations of not depositing funds obtained by selling state gifts, to the national coffers.

His name may pop up straight away when discussing Pakistan cricket. His image with the World Cup trophy may adorn the area by the door of Sultan F Hossain Media Hall of the Gaddafi Stadium. Discussion and debate about the political figure Imran Khan is natural. Incredibly, I did not find a single person during my three-day stay at Lahore who criticised the former skipper. Even with provocation, no one uttered a word against him. For them, the honour of Pakistan’s World Cup winning captain Imran and Imran of Tehreek-e-Insaf is the same- the hero of Pakistan, the Lion with a capital L. Now, the only wait is when the lion comes out of the cage.

Imran Khan went to prison due to difference with the army. He had gone to prison earlier as well and Pakistan erupted with protest and unrest. This time the protest may not have reached that intensity but it was not negligible nevertheless. After being arrested, Imran urged his supporters not to stay at home and protest peacefully. But his followers could not respond to the call largely due to the fear of arrest. Many are in hiding. Imran Khan became prime minister as the leader of Tehreek-e-Insaf. It will naturally have supporters as well as adversaries. But it does not seem that there is any adversary of World Cup winning Imran throughout Pakistan.

Whomever I talked to about him at Lahore it was all about love and reverence. A gentleman, who came to Lahore from Karachi to watch the match, was talking about the arrest of Imran, “Even you people understand why he is arrested.” He is not a sycophant of the military. He has his own vision for the country, love for the country. Probably many do not like that.

The gentleman is a teacher by profession and talks well. But not every layman say speak that way. Many of them are naïve to think Imran cannot remain imprisoned for long. Because, Allah helps good people and Imran is a good man. He is in prison today because he did not want to be an accomplice to an ‘evil motives’’ of someone.

Imran Khan himself hails from Lahore. He was born and brought up in his ancestors’ house at the Zaman Park adjacent to Lahore canal. Dilbar, a middle-aged man, came from outside of Lahore to watch the match between Bangladesh and Pakistan at the Gaddafi Stadium. He is a staunch fan of cricketer and politician Imran. When asked the location of Zaman Park the way he started to describe everything, it seemed Imran, his houses, his life- everything was alive in front of the very eyes of Dilbar.

As if to make the discussion livelier, Dilbar brought out a smartphone from the pocket of his robe. Then he showed many images and video clips one after another. In those, people were showing dissent, protest and chanting amid procession in front of Imran’s residence.

Before the arrest, when many were anxious about the security of Imran, many followers of Tehreek-e-Insaf used to crowd in front of Imran residence 24 hours round the clock to guard him. Dilbar was one of them. He is adamant with the belief that Imran shall be the prime minister once again, “they cannot imprison Khan Saheb for long. And if so, still it won’t be a problem. Everyone knows, if an election takes place Khan Saheb will be the prime minister of Pakistan.”

Before Imran, another legendary cricketer from Lahore, Abdul Hafeez Kardar entered politics following his cricketing career. He was the president of Pakistan Cricket Board from 1972 to 1977.  Along with Kardar, the first captain of the country, another Lahore-born Imtiaz Ahmed were the early legends of Pakistan cricket. From then on Lahore-born players like Selim Altaf, Imran Khan, Abdul Quadir, Wasim Akram, Mohammed Yousuf, Abdur Razzaque, Saqlain Mushtaq shone in the world stage and currently the baton is being carried by players like captain Babar Azam, Fahim Ashraf, Imam-ul-Haq, Agha Salman etc. They are also present in the walls of Gaddafi Stadium like Imran.

However, Imran is an absolute exception among them. It is alleged that he did not deposit the money fetched from selling state level gifts to the national coffer. The court shall give a verdict about the veracity of the accusation. But the gift Imran brought for the people of Pakistan back in 1992, the coveted World Cup trophy, is still kept at the museum of National Cricket Academy, adjacent to the Gaddafi Stadium.

No, the Lion of Pakistan cricket has at least not sold that.