Billed as the ‘mother of all clashes’, bitter rivals India and Pakistan go into the high-voltage World Cup semi-final battle in Mohali on Wednesday in what promises to be an epic tussle of nerves and skills between two teams desperately seeking to regain the coveted trophy.
When the two captains walk out for the toss, two estranged nations who have fought wars in the past but have a common passion for cricket, will virtually come to a standstill with millions glued to the television sets to watch the blockbuster unfold.
Shared history — albeit bitter — only adds to the emotional quotient of Indo-Pak contests where victory and defeat is not just a result but a matter of national pride.
The presence of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani and a host of other dignitaries, the massive hype and build-up and the phenomenal interest the match has generated have set the stage for the 2011 World Cup’s biggest showdown.
Indo-Pak matches, which showcase one of the world’s most intense sporting rivalries, invariably boil down to handling the pressure in crunch situations.
With so much at stake, the team that handles the pressure better will travel to Mumbai for the summit showdown on 2nd April.
The potentially explosive clash on Wednesday is the first match between the two neighbouring countries on Indian soil after the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai which led to the snapping of bilateral cricket ties between the two nations.
They have faced each other in four World Cup matches in the past and India have come out victories on all these occasions even though Pakistan have a clear edge in the overall record, winning 69 of their 119 clashes so far.
Even on Indian soil, Pakistan have the upper-hand in record books, having managed 17 wins in 26 matches.
But all these stats and reputation count for nothing as the team that plays better on the given day will win.
Defending champions Australia and stong contenders South Africa are already knocked out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage which only goes to show that reputation alone does not win matches.
India appears to hold a slight edge over their traditional rivals and will look to capitalise on home advantage and the support of the crowd in pressure situations.
Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has sought to put up a brave face by stating that the Indians will not be under any undue pressure.
“The World Cup is being held in the sub-continent and India and Pakistan are playing in the semifinals. It does not get better. The pressure will be big, but in reality it makes no difference to us. It will be just a game. Indian cricket team has always been under pressure and we have handled it well”, Dhoni said on Tuesday.
Lalit Bhanot, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (CGOC), has said that doping incidents will not affect India”s performance in the upcoming mega-event, after four Indian wrestlers were ruled out of the 2010 Games, failing to pass the doping test.
“It”s not a good thing what has happened, but as far as in terms of performance if you speak about the medals, I don”t think it will bring any impact on the medal winning. The sportspersons are themselves responsible and not the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) or any other governing federation,” told Bhanot to reporters on Friday.
“The Sports Authority of India or any other federation cannot be with them for 24 hours, and to monitor of what they eat, when they move out, is difficult. Therefore, the person who is found guilty is himself responsible,” he added.
Meanwhile, Commonwealth Games Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi
reassured that they are all out to ensure that the games would be dope free and the athletes found guilty would be suspended.
“We want the Commonwealth Games to be dope free and we are going to be very strict about it. Those who are found guilty will be suspended,” said Kalmadi.
Four wrestlers, who were part of the Commonwealth Games squad, have tested positive and the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) provisionally suspended them on Thursday.
This came barely a week after the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) bailed out the weightlifters by giving an interest-free loan to the Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWLF) to pay off fines due to doping sanctions.
The wrestlers tested positive for a banned substance called Methylhexanamine. The tests were part of routine random testing by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) in the run-up to the Games.
The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) suspended freestyle wrestlers Sumit (74 kg), Mausam Khatri (96 kg), Gursharanpreet Kaur (72 kg) and Tomar (120 kg), who were to participate in the Games.
National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) collected their samples during the team selection trials held on August 8.
The wrestlers were undergoing training at camps in Sonepat and Patiala.
The 2010 Commonwealth Games, which kicks off on October 3 is India”s biggest sporting event since the 1982 Asian Games.
India is expecting about two million tourists in New Delhi for the Games, as well as about 10,000 athletes from 71 teams representing 54 Commonwealth member states.
The govt has said it was willing to ask the CBI to look into charges of irregularities by state agencies involved in Commonwealth Games projects and accused the Opposition of projecting incorrect figures on the expenditure incurred for the mega event.
“Rs 11,500 crore is the actual expenditure…The figures of Rs 50,000 crore and Rs one lakh crore are totally incorrect,” Union Minister for Urban Development S Jaipal Reddy told reporters outside Parliament.
On allegations of corruption in the projects related to the Games, Reddy said, “government agencies may have committed some irregularities. Each of the allegations will be looked into. We can even ask the CBI to look into them”.
The issue of alleged large-scale corruption in CWG projects on Friday rocked Lok Sabha with the entire opposition attacking the government, accusing it of allowing “loot” of public money.
The Left demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the charges.
Reddy, who heads the Group of Ministers on the Games, was not allowed to respond to the charges by the opposition, which wanted the reply only after a full-fledged debate.
Reddy said that he was not concerned with the Games directly as the Sports Ministry was looking into it.
“However, I wanted to respond to it as the Chairman of the Group of Ministers. I have been an MLA or an MP for 42 years. Never before has a minister not been allowed to speak when he wanted to,” the Minister said.
Reddy said the CWG Organising Committee, which has been facing allegations of corruption, should not be confused with government agencies.
“The Organising Committee is a totally independent organisation like the BCCI…If there have been problems and allegations about the Organising Committee, the government can initiate enquiry. All investigating agencies – CVC, CAG, Enforcement Directorate, FEMA will act,” he said.
Asked about the delay in completion of the projects related to the Games, the minister said “I would not completely deny it”.
Reddy blamed shortage of labour in Delhi as one of the reasons for the delay. He said the success of MGNREGA — Centre’s flagship employment guarantee programme — was a reason why few workers were available for the projects as they now had work in their villages.
On the opposition questioning the holding of Games in Delhi, the Union Minister said that the decision was taken by the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2003.
“When the UPA came to power, it was out moral and political responsibility to discharge our duty,” he said.
The Urban Development Minister said the issue of giving priority to the Commonwealth Games or the common man was an “idealogical” issue and the decision was taken by the NDA government in 2003.
JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav and his SP counterpart Mulayam Singh Yadav had claimed that the actual cost of hosting the CWG was around Rs one lakh crore, which was being spent in a surreptitious manner.
Insisting that only Rs 11,500 crore was being spent on the holding of CWG, Reddy said there was confusion between projects taken up for infrastructure development in Delhi and the Games. Reddy said the expenditure on extension of Metro to Noida, Gurgaon and the airport cannot be taken as funds spent for Games preparations.
“Opposition members were not fully informed…,” he said on the charges levelled by the leaders in the Lok Sabha.
He said the figure of Rs 35,000 crore was the entire amount spent by agencies like MCD, NDMC, NHAI, DDA and Delhi government for infrastructure related projects and to give a facelift to Delhi.
Reddy said the government was for a full-fledged debate on the Commonwealth Games but claimed the opposition wanted to get away after levelling baseless charges.
He said that the delay is such works was not completely “unavoidable” but exuded confidence that all projects will be ready by the end of August.
“By the end of August, all projects will be completed. There is no doubt about our ability to conduct the Games splendidly,” Reddy added.
He said some of the stadiums like the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Swimming complex are the “best in the world” and also cited the architecture of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Reddy said that as chairman of the GoM, he was only coordinationg between various ministries for “overlapping of work”.
To a query whether action would be taken against officials for delay in Games related projects, Reddy said “delay of two months when so many projects have been taken simultaneously is not a matter of shame”.
FIFA spokesman Nicholas Maingot said Friday that all 23 North Korean players were in the team’s hotel.
Maingot said the FIFA team liaison officer for North Korea had checked out the rumour.
“We called him (the liaison officer) yesterday and he checked with the delegation of Korea DPR and they denied completely these rumours. Same thing this morning.”
After North Korea’s Group G opener on Tuesday, a 2-1 loss to Brazil, several international media outlets speculated that four North Korean players had absconded to apply for political asylum.
Just 19 players from the totalitarian state had been listed on the teamsheet.
The North Korean national football team is participating this year in only its second World Cup ever. The first was in 1966. North Korea
plays Portugal Monday.
Electing to bat, Mumbai Indians recovered from a bad start to post 184 for five in 20 overs. Their in-form skipper Sachin Tendulkar was out early, but Ambati Rayudu (40), Saurabh Tiwary (52) and Kieron Pollard (33 not out of 13 balls) ensured that they set a tough target for Bangalore.
RCB’s chase stuttered from the start and they finished at 149 for nine in 20 overs.
Pollard also performed with the ball, taking three wickets for 17 runs. Harbhajan Singh and Lasith Malinga took two wickets each.
It will be the first final for the Mumbai team and they will play the winner of the second semi-final between Deccan Chargers and Chennai Super Kings.
RCB batsmen got the start but lost wickets at regular intervals. Jacques Kallis (11) was the first wicket to fall, dismissed caught behind by express fast Lasith Malinga. Kevin Pietersen (19) was then stumped as he came down to attack Harbhajan.
Robin Uthappa (26) and Ross Taylor (31) added 34 runs before the former was out to Pollard.
Rahul Dravid (23) fell at the same total of 81. He was run out as he sacrificed his wicket for hard hitting Taylor.
It was a slide for Bangalore from there on as Mumbai bowlers took charge of the situation and did not allow the batsmen to score big shots.
Pollard removed Virat Kohli and Manish Pandey and RCB slumped to 108 for six. The writing was on the wall for Bangalore.
Earlier, Mumbai shrugged off an indifferent start after losing Tendulkar and Shikhar Dhawan with 29 runs on the board.
Abhishek Nayar (22) and Rayudu shared 39 runs to steady the innings.
After the fall of two quick wickets, Rayudu and Tiwary, the two youngsters who have performed impressively in the tournament, scored 67 runs.
Tiwary struck four sixes and three fours in his 31-ball knock.
Pollard hit some lusty blows towards the end. He hit three sixes and one four in 13 balls and together with Tiwary added 40 runs in 14 balls.
However, it is not just cricket”s most flamboyant tournament that has Dharamsala residents excited. Many persons like businessman Gompo are optimist that the IPL matches will benefit the local business and boost tourism in the region.
“It”s quite exciting and we are very happy to see the international cricketers here,” said Gompo.
“This will give a tremendous boost to tourism. Besides, international players have been to many places around the world but this has a different atmosphere,” he added.
Situated at nearly 4,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by the Dhauladhar mountains, the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium is one of the country”s newest venues with a seating capacity of 20,000.
The first match will see the Kings XI Punjab take on the Deccan Chargers on Friday.
The second match will be between the Chennai Super Kings and Kings XI Punjab on Sunday.
Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama is scheduled to be present during the match.
Dharamsala is one of the country”s most popular tourist destinations and is fondly known as the Scotland of India.
Thousands of tourists flock to the town every year to take in the breathtaking landscapes and to visit its numerous monasteries and temples.
Last year’s finalists Royal Challengers Bangalore sailed into the semi-finals of the Indian Premier League (IPL) with a convincing five-wicket win over the Rajasthan Royals at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium here Wednesday.
Kevin Pietersen made a breezy 29-ball 62 runs as Royal Challengers, set a target of 131, made 132 for five in 15.4 overs.
With the loss, only a miracle can now help Rajasthan Royals qualify for the last four as they have 12 points from 13 matches and a negative run rate of -0.421.
It was an all-round show by the Royal Challengers as put into field, they first restricted the Rajasthan team to 130 for six in 20 overs. And then the batsmen went on knocking off the runs quickly with Man of the Match Pietersen scoring his second IPL fifty.
Royal Challengers suffered an early blow as veteran Jacques Kallis failed to open his account and departed in the second over after being bowled out by Kamran Khan.
But Pietersen along with young opener Manish Pandey (14) added 36 runs for the second wicket to bring some stability to the innings.
Pietersen and Uthappa (26) added another valuable 60 runs for the third wicket to take Royal Challengers on the threshold of a deserving victory. Pietersen hit 10 fours and two sixes during his flashy innings while Uthappa smashed two fours and a six in his 21-ball stay.
Pietersen, Uthappa and Virat Kohli (14) departed in quick succession as Royal Challengers slumped from 102 for two to 119 for five.
Ross Taylor (10 not out) and Rahul Dravid (5 not out) took Royal Challengers to home safely.
Earlier in the day, Rajasthan Royals failed to recover from a top-order collapse and got just 130 runs on board.
Fast bowler Panjak Singh struck twice as half the side was back in the pavilion for just 58 runs in the 12th over.
Abhishek Raut (32 not out) and Adam Voges (28 not out) came up with some sterling display down the order as Rajasthan managed to cross the 100-run mark. Shane Watson also scored a valuable 22.