The World Cup just got more exciting with India playing Pakistan.
In the post-match presentation ceremony after India beat Australia, Yuvraj Singh said he expected Indian cricket fans to keep pointing out that what mattered was not the finals but the semi-finals against Pakistan. It is unfortunate that cricket should evoke that kind of jingoism.
“War is a continuation of politics by other means,” the military strategist Clausewitz famously observed. Sports, however, need not be a continuation of hostility by other means. Even in purely cricketing terms, an Indo-Pak match can generate genuine excitement.
India is the best batting side in this World Cup. And Pakistan, which started off as underdogs after its two best opening bowlers were disqualified for spot-fixing, has suddenly found a new lease of life under the captaincy of all-rounder Shahid Afridi who has become the most successful bowler in this World Cup. Pakistan appears to have a far more balanced attack than India which is relying heavily on Zaheer for pace.
Traditionally, the Mohali pitch is fast and bouncy and should favour Pakistan, which has Shoaib Akhtar and Wahab Riaz to back Umar Gul. However, as the temperature rises towards the end of March, the wicket could slow down. The Mohali match has even catalysed cricket diplomacy, with India’s PM inviting his Pakistani counterpart for the semi-finals. Hopefully, the presence of the VVIPs will not require enhanced security of the kind that inconveniences the paying spectators or pressurises the players.
This, after all, is a World Cup semi-final and not a bilateral Indo-Pak series. Just two decades ago, British PM John Major would stroll into the Lord’s cricket ground even at a time of terrorist threats by the Provisional IRA. Major was interested in cricket and never saw it as a theatre to stage bilateral bonhomie.
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