India-Pakistan cricket rivalry follows life


Associated Press

Posted on March 25, 2011 at 9:02 AM

Updated Friday, Mar 25 at 9:08 AM

NEW DELHI (AP) — Simmering tension and three bitter wars between India and Pakistan always give a volatile and passionate edge to cricket contests between the neighboring countries.

Passions are already building in the two cricket-crazy nations and will reach a crescendo on Wednesday during the World Cup semifinal between the two countries at Mohali in the state of Punjab, where a territorial division resulted in horrifying bloodshed 63 years ago.

Multicultural and secular India, which has a majority Hindu population, and Muslim-dominated Pakistan share common languages and cultures, including a devotion to the game of cricket that can bring normal daily life to a standstill.

One ultra right-wing political party is reportedly considering trying to disrupt the April 2 final in Mumbai if Pakistan wins the semifinal and advances.

India and Pakistan have played at neutral venues over the past few years, but not visited each other. The most recent suspension of ties came after 10 militants from Pakistan laid siege to the financial capital of Mumbai in November 2008, killing 166 people.

World Cup organizers confirmed the final will be played in Mumbai regardless of the outcome in Mohali.

"It's a match fans, organisers and advertisers have been fantasizing about, and the fact that it will be Pakistan's first on Indian soil since 26/11 (Mumbai attacks) lends an extra edge," The Times of India newspaper wrote on Friday.

"Fasten your seat belts."

Historically, the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan is the state of Kashmir, which is held in part but claimed in full by both countries. Two of the three wars between the two countries have been fought over Kashmir. India claims that Pakistan helps separatists in the Muslim-dominated state, a claim denied by Pakistan.

Cricket has always suffered from a souring of relations between the two countries, most notably through an 18-year period starting in 1960 during which the countries fought two wars.

Players suffered if they lost to an opponent from the neighboring country. Indian bowler Chetan Sharma became a villain overnight in India when Javed Miandad clobbered him for a last-ball six in Sharjah, while Sachin Tendulkar's reputation was further enhanced when he had the better of Shoaib Akhtar to set the tempo in a 2003 World Cup match.

Pace bowler Wasim Akram's house was stoned after he could not play because of injury in a World Cup quarterfinal that Pakistan lost to India at Bangalore in 1996.

Those involved in next week's game can't wait.

Yuvraj Singh, the star of Thursday's quarterfinal victory over Australia, said the semifinal would be "a dream game."

"It will not matter much that we have not met in recent times," said Yuvraj, who has himself figured in several high-voltage clashes between the two teams including in the 2003 World Cup and the 2007 Twenty20 World Championship.

India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said Pakistan were the ultimate opponents. "India v Pakistan in the semifinals - it doesn't get better," he said. "A World Cup hosted by the subcontinental nations and India and Pakistan making it to the semis."

Pakistan coach Waqar Younis said there was no bigger rivalry in cricket, while captain Shahid Afridi expressed hope that the match would improve relations between the two countries.

India granted up to 5,000 visas to Pakistanis holding tickets for the World Cup quarterfinal, semifinal or final.

The Pakistan squad arrived early Friday, flying in from Dhaka, Bangladesh, where it beat West Indies easily to reach the final four.

High-ranking diplomats from Pakistan will travel to India for meetings which Pakistan's High Commissioner to India hopes will "all bode well for our bilateral relations."