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March 29, 2011
Star Sport


India-Pakistan clash more than a Cup semi-final

Left: A security officer stands guard outside the cricket stadium as Pakistan's team takes part in a training session in Mohali, India, yesterday. Pakistan will play India in a Cricket World Cup semi-final in Mohali tomorrow. Right: India's Yuvraj Singh poses for a photograph after batting in the nets, as Indian police stand guard during a training session in Mohali, India, yesterday. AP

MOHALI, India, (AP):

The India vs Pakistan World Cup match tomorrow is being billed as the final before the final, having gained elevated status among the billion-plus people in these cricket-obsessed countries.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani will be among the many high-profile people who will be watching when the fierce rivals meet in the semi-final to determine who advances to the championship match on April 2, in Mumbai.

Nobody in India or Pakistan is looking any further than that. The Indo-Pak matches are always more than the sum of their cricket ingredients.

The premieres of both countries know that, and have jumped on the diplomatic opportunities. Come tomorrow, anything happening on the sideline will barely register with cricket fans.

"Everyone knows that a match against Pakistan is as good as a final,'' Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has said. "It will be a high-pressure game and we will be hoping to do our best against them.''

India have beaten Pakistan in all four previous meetings at the World Cup, including in the 1996 quarter-final at Bangalore, the last time the tournament was staged on the subcontinent.

The co-hosts will be hoping that the support of a packed house at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium will be a boost in their bid to win the World Cup for the first time since Kapil Dev's squad upset the all-powerful West Indies in the 1983 final.

India were considered the favourites in this tournament until some batting collapses in the group stage. India's bowling and fielding had also not been up to the expectations until the fabulous all-around effort for a five-wicket victory over Australia in the quarter-finals.

The Sachin Tendulkar-led batting line-up, though, remains India's key strength. Tendulkar has slammed two centuries for an aggregate of 379 runs in this tournament, with Virender Sehwag (342), Yuvraj Singh (341), Gautam Gambhir (269) and Virat Kohli (238) also among the runs. But the pick of the lot has been Yuvraj, who returns to his home ground at the Punjab Cricket Association after winning four 'man of the match' awards including against Australia.

Apart from a century and four half-centuries, he has also snared 11 wickets with his left-arm spin, second only to paceman Zaheer Khan (19) among India's bowlers. Pakistan's batsmen, meanwhile, haven't produced a century. Umar Akmal has the highest aggregate of 211 runs, which is below that of the top five Indian batsmen.

Pakistan have won six of their seven matches, largely on the strength of their bowling. Captain Shahid Afridi has been leading the attack with 21 wickets. while new-ball bowler Umar Gul has taken 14.

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