Shoaib Akhtar's ban on playing for Pakistan has been temporarily suspended by the Lahore High Court pending a full and final judgement, which technically means the fast bowler is eligible to play for Pakistan. The fine imposed on him by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in the original punishment remains however.
Shoaib was banned on April 1 from playing cricket for Pakistan for five years by the board's disciplinary committee, for comments he made to the media about the board earlier in the year. He had criticised the board's policy on central contracts, as well as playing conditions in a domestic tournament.
After the ban was announced, Shoaib went on to level serious allegations against Nasim Ashraf, the board chairman, in a series of TV interviews. The charges led to a defamation lawsuit being slapped against him by Ashraf and the board though the lawsuit was eventually dropped.
A subsequent appellate tribunal reduced his sentence to 18 months but imposed a hefty financial fine on him of Rs 7 million ($105,000 approximately). Unhappy with the judgement of the three-man tribunal, headed by a retired chief justice, Shoaib then filed a writ petition in the Lahore High Court last month.
"Akhtar's appeal of stay against the ban was upheld," Tafazzul Rizvi, the PCB lawyer said. "This means he is temporarily allowed to play until the writ petition is fully heard."
According to a source close to Shoaib's legal team, the judgement is only an interim one until the court hears out the whole case. It is unlikely that the case will proceed at any pace until at least September, after the summer break. "He is technically allowed to play for Pakistan now," said the source.
Understandably, Shoaib was pleased with the decision. "I am relieved. I want to play for my country and my fitness is up to the level," Shoaib said. "I might go to England to play a few county or league games to gain match fitness.
"I want to play in the Champions Trophy and win it for my people. I am thankful to the PCB chairman for his support in the last two months."
Whether or not he will have an opportunity to play is another question. It is unlikely that the selection committee will pick him, despite the paucity of pace resources in the current side, given his recent run-ins with the board. "We respect the court's decision," Salahuddin Ahmed, chief selector, "Shoaib's selection in the future will be based on his fitness and his match fitness." The future of Mohammad Asif, Pakistan's other leading fast bowler, is also unclear: he is the subject of an internal three-man board inquiry after he was detained in Dubai for 20 days for allegedly being caught in possession with a drug at Dubai airport.
In any case, Pakistan have no international assignments until late August, when New Zealand are scheduled to visit for three ODIs, though even that is yet to be confirmed. In September, Pakistan is scheduled to host the ICC Champions Trophy.