TORONTO - There are no rooms at the inn. All tickets are long gone. India`s multi–millionaires and Bollywood stars have bombarded the authorities in the Punjab city of Chandigarh for permission to land their private jets.
Security has been ramped up with anti-aircraft guns and commandos guarding the Mohali stadium, a short distance from Chandigarh. Security for Wednesday’s India-Pakistan showdown at the Cricket World Cup has been described as unprecedented for a sporting event.
It is just a semifinal, but you would never guess it. India and Pakistan are arch-rivals, two countries who have gone to war on three occasions. Apart from the galaxy of stars jetting in will be the two prime ministers — India’s Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s Yusuf Raza Gilani. They have agreed to pad up and resume peace talks, I presume between the fall of wickets. On and off the field the rivalry has been intense and the players on both teams will be under tremendous pressure to deliver as more than a billion cricket fans around the world will be glued to their TV sets.
The Indian fans will be urging Sachin Tendulkar to his 100th century, which would be a first by any batsman. But Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi has gone on record as saying the India icon will have to wait to achieve that milestone.
“He will have to wait until after the World Cup because we are not going to allow him or any other Indian player to play a big innings.’’
As far as strategy goes, India is toying with the idea of bringing in another paceman for a spinner while Pakistan is wrestling with a similar problem.
With the pitch expected to help the seamers should Pakistan recall Shoaib Akhtar, at one time the world’s fastest bowler? A Tendulkar versus Akhtar confrontation would be a thing of beauty.
So much hype has surrounded Wednesday’s encounter that the cricketing world seems to have forgotten there is another semifinal — New Zealand versus Sri Lanka — on Tuesday.
New Zealand pulled off the upset of the tournament by sending Graeme Smith and the highly favoured South Africans home early. Can it play the role of spoilers once again?
The Black Caps will want to go where it has never ventured before and that is the final. This is their sixth trip to the semis in 10 tournaments and that is an enviable record for a small country of some 4.5 million. New Zealand is possibly better known around the world for rugby’s mighty All-Blacks, but cricket is held in high esteem as well.
Apart from that demolition job on South Africa, the Black Caps, behind a thunderous batting display from Ross Taylor destroyed Pakistan as well. Its only blemish to date? It crashed to a 120-run defeat to Sri Lanka in the final group match. Sri Lanka will not make any changes from the team that annihilated England in the quarters unless Muttiah Muralitharan, the world’s greatest spinner, doesn’t recover from a hamstring problem.
The great Muralitharan retires from all forms of cricket at the conclusion of this tournament and his teammates are determined he leaves with the lasting memory of stepping away with the World Cup. The top of Sri Lanka’s batting order and its varied attack should see it through to the final.