Excitement builds for `mother of all battles` in Pakistan

Karachi: As they eagerly await the "mother of all battles" in the World Cup semifinals, Pakistani fans are hoping that the high-voltage cricket clash against India would also lead to an improvement in bilateral ties between the two countries.

"It is not just about the cricket. The team that plays well will obviously win. But what is more important is that the match produces an overall feel-good effect in both countries so that the distrust and misunderstandings can be reduced," said Iqbal Haider of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission and an active campaigner for better Indo-Pak ties.

Haider pointed out that so far the Pakistan team had got a very good reception in India.

"The cricket will be tense but let us hope it paves the way for better relations. The Indian Prime Minister has taken the first step by inviting our President and Prime Minister to watch the match," Haider said.

Chairman of the Pakistan Senate Farooq Naik apparently, has been nominated by the government to represent them at the match as premier Yousuf Raza Gillani is already committed to a personal issue.

Even on the streets of Karachi, it is apparent that the people don`t just see the semi-final as just a cricket match.

Imran Ayub, a student leader at the Karachi University, points out that everyone wants Pakistan to win but everyone is also praying that the match goes off smoothly and there are no untoward incidents.

"...obviously who doesn`t want Pakistan to win they are playing in India after nearly four years," he said with a smile.

One thing is for sure that come Wednesday and not only Karachi but all major cities and towns will come to a standstill for the match.

Pakistan`s former captain Javed Miandad has already appealed to the people to treat it as a cricket match and not show any negative reactions if Pakistan lose.

"It is a good sign we are playing in India but whatever the result the reaction should not be extreme," Miandad said.

Hotels, clubs, schools and cinema houses in Karachi are all lining up special screenings of the semifinal on big screens and the indications are clear that on Wednesday the government may be forced to declare a public holiday.

"No way I am going to go to office. My friends have planned a joint sitting for the match and we are going to take an off even the government says it is a working day," banker Muhammad Aslam said.

The Karachi Stock Exchange and the major markets in the city are already in the grip of cricket fever with small betting outlets reporting an unprecedented interest in the match.

"The two teams are so evenly matched that the odds are not high for either team but still everyone wants to bet something on the match such is the mood for the semi final," stock broker Ahmed said.

On the cricket front the former players and greats know it is gong to be a close call and no one is willing to make any predictions except for the outspoken former captain Rashid Latif.

"I think Pakistan will win because we while India may be better player to player but as a team Pakistan is more united and motivated to do well," he said.

"Plus our bowling attack is much stronger than India`s we have depth in pace and spin that is why I think we will win this historic encounter," Latif said.

But Miandad cautioned that such would be the pressure of playing the semis in India that Shahid Afridi and his men will have to keep their cool.

"It will be a high pressure match and the role of the senior players in the team and that of the openers will be very important," he noted.

"If our openers can occupy the crease and give a good stand then we have a good chance of posting a big total against India and then our bowling is strong enough to defend it. But we need to follow a proper strategy and not panic," Miandad said.

Former captain Aamir Sohail pointed out that the mighty Indian batting had shown signs of succumbing to pressure in the earlier World Cup matches.

"Their batting is very formidable and Yuvraj Singh is in golden touch but once you get through the top order we have the bowling to run through the lower order but it will all depend on what sort of pitch is prepared for the semi-final," Sohail said.

But former captain Moin Khan said while the force was with Pakistan he was just a bit apprehensive knowing that four or five of the leading players in the side had never played before in India.

"That is something that worries me that Umar Akmal, Asad Shafiq, Wahab Riaz Saeed Ajmal have not played before in India. The seniors must prepare them for the unique pressure they will face on match day," he said.


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