Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Dr Singh
INDIA and Pakistan’s looming World Cup semi-final confrontation sparked a cross-border diplomatic initiative and sent ticket prices soaring on the black market on Friday (March 25).
Such was the predictable hype surrounding the match that it reduced South Africa’s last-eight clash against New Zealand in Dhaka to a virtual footnote.
India will face Pakistan in Mohali Wednesday (March 30) in what will be Pakistan’s first match on Indian soil since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
“India v Pakistan in semi-finals - it doesn’t get better. A World Cup hosted by the sub-continental nations and India and Pakistan making it to the semis,” said India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
“There will be more pressure on the Indian side and it will be from outside. People will say ‘win the semis, we don’t care about the final’."
Pakistan coach Waqar Younis has already admitted it would be “awesome” to take on India for a place in the final at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai on April 2.
“There is no bigger rivalry in the game than that. We have not played each other in our own country in recent years,” he said. “So it should be very exciting. The two are cricket-loving countries.”
Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said he intended to attend the match and has invited Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani to also watch the game.
“I propose to be at Mohali to watch the semi-final,” said Dr Singh.
“There is huge excitement over the match and we are all looking forward to a great game of cricket that will be a victory for sport.”
The invitation comes while relations between the two nations are still tense following the attack by Pakistan-based Islamist militants on Mumbai in 2008 that left 166 people dead.
The Punjab Cricket Association ground in Mohali in northern India holds only 28,000 people and the desperate scramble for tickets was already underway.
“The tickets for Rs250 ($5.60/£3.49) are available at Rs2,200 ($49/£30.55) while a Rs1,000 ($22.30/£13.90)-ticket can only be bought for Rs8,000 ($179/£111.62),” Mohali student Sahil Kapoor told reporters.
Around 5,000 visas had already been granted to Pakistan fans who wanted to visit India during the tournament.
Reports also claimed that fleets of buses would take Pakistan fans to Mohali via Wagah, the only land border crossing between the two countries.
India’s demanding media, having celebrated their team’s quarter-final win over defending champions Australia, eagerly anticipated the visit of Shahid Afridi’s team.
“Bring on Pakistan” screamed the front-page headline in the Mail Today.
The Times of India said the match-up against Pakistan should have all the trappings of a blockbuster.
“It’s a match fans, organisers and advertisers have been fantasising about, and the fact that it will be Pakistan’s first on Indian soil since 26/11 (the 2008 Mumbai attacks) lends an extra edge, if any was needed.”
Meanwhile, in Dhaka, New Zealand made 221-8 off their 50 overs against South Africa with Jesse Ryder hitting a fluent 83.
Ryder put on 114 for the third wicket with Ross Taylor (43) after New Zealand, electing to bat in the day-night game, were reduced to 16-2 by the sixth over.
Kane Williamson hit an unbeaten 38 towards the end to ensure South Africa, who have lost in the semi-finals three times, chased a 200-plus target for a place in the last four.
Seamer Morne Morkel finished with 3-46, while fast bowler Dale Steyn and leg-spinner Imran Tahir picked up two wickets each.
The winners of the match will face either Sri Lanka or England for a place in the final.
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