It’s more than a game

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It’s more than a game

The India vs Pakistan World Cup match on Wednesday is being billed as the final before the final, having gained elevated status among the billion-plus people in these cricket-obsessed countries.

By (Agencies)

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Published: Tue 29 Mar 2011, 12:36 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 6:34 PM

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani will be among the many high-profile people who will be watching when the fierce rivals meet in the semi-final to determine who advances to the championship match on April 2 in Mumbai.

Nobody in India or Pakistan is looking any further than that.

The Indo-Pak matches are always more than the sum of its cricket ingredients. The premiers of both countries know that, and have jumped on the diplomatic opportunities. Come Wednesday, anything happening on the sideline will barely register with cricket fans.

“Everyone knows that a match against Pakistan is as good as a final,” Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has said. “It will be a high pressure game and we will be hoping to do our best against them.”

India has beaten Pakistan in all four previous meetings at the World Cup, including in the 1996 quarter-final at Bangalore, the last time the tournament was staged on the subcontinent.

The co-host will be hoping that the support of a packed house at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium will be a boost in its bid to win the World Cup for the first time since Kapil Dev’s squad upset the all-powerful West Indies in the 1983 final.

Some tickets are reported to be selling at 100 times their face values on the black market, with hundreds of people still persisting in lining up at ticket windows in the desperate hope that some more tickets will be released.

India was considered the top favourite in this tournament until some batting collapses in group stage. India’s bowling and fielding had also not been up to the expectations until the fabulous all-around effort for a five-wicket victory over Australia in the quarterfinals. The Sachin Tendulkar-led batting lineup, though, remains India’s key strength.

Tendulkar has slammed two centuries for an aggregate of 379 runs in this tournament, with Virender Sehwag (342), Yuvraj Singh (341) Gautam Gambhir (269) and Virat Kohli (238) also among the runs.

But the pick of the lot has been Yuvraj, who returns to his home ground at the Punjab Cricket Association after winning four ‘man of the match’ awards including against Australia.

Apart from a century and four half-centuries, he has also snared 11 wickets with his left-arm spin, second only to paceman Zaheer Khan (19) among India’s bowlers.

Pakistan’s batsmen, meanwhile, haven’t produced a century.

Umar Akmal has the highest aggregate of 211 runs, which is below that of the top five Indian batsmen.

Pakistan has won six of its seven matches, largely on the strength of its bowling. Captain Shahid Afridi has been leading the attack with 21 wickets while new-ball bowler Umar Gul has taken 14.

Gul, who is expected to play a larger role since Indian batsmen are likely more adept of handling Afridi’s style of quick leg-spin bowling, says the team is confident. “We know that we have never beaten them in a World Cup match but this is a good chance for us because our bowling and batting has been doing well,” Gul said.

Pakistan, winner of the World Cup in 1992 under Imran Khan, beat the West Indies by 10 wickets in the quarter-final after skittling the Caribbean lineup for 112.

“Our top order ensured a big win for us, which was important for us,” Gul said. “There is some grass on the pitch and I hope it remains there because this pitch has had some bounce in the past. Though we have chased 320-odd against India here once, I reckon a total of 270-280 should be good.”

The Pakistan squad trained twice on Monday at the PCA ground, once in the morning and, after an evening prayer session on the outfield, again at night.

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