High-voltage clash at Mohali….Excitement is high but higher still are the stakes.

It is “mother of all battles”, not in the battlefield but at the cricket field. Small wonder that it is a game which is billed as “gentleman’s game”. But the excitement is running so high as if it is not a game. It has become a matter of national pride for both India and Pakistan which has put both the teams under a tremendous pressure. No side can afford to lose the game and mind you it is not World Cup Final; it is merely a semi-final but it is the biggest show-down of the tournament. Both 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.

According a report in NDTV Sports, 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 as part of cricket diplomacy, the massive hype and build-up and the phenomenal interest the match has generated has 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 April 2.

The potentially explosive clash on Wednesday is the first match between the two neighboring 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 winner 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 strong 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 capitalize on home advantage and the support of the crowd in pressure situations. Indian captain has sought to put up a brave face by stating that the Indians will not be under any undue pressure.

But the fact of the matter is that pressure is not only from the crowd, it also comes from the Indian equivalent of Taliban who threatened that they would do everything to stop Pakistan from reaching the final which will be played in Mumbai. The veiled threat says that if Pakistan manages to win the semi-final, then Shiv Sena will decide to allow it to play in Mumbai. This terrorist group is known for fanning hatred against Pakistani players and artists. In fact, they always pressurize the government not to let Pakistan squad visit India. No such threat was reportedly issued by Pakistani extremists.

Unlike the Pakistanis, who have largely relied on their spinners to advance to the semi-finals, the Indians depend much on their batsmen to deliver the goods as the bowling has lacked the firepower. The hosts will look to Tendulkar and the flamboyant Virender Sehwag to provide a rollicking start and set the platform for the middle-order to take India to a decent total on the PCA stadium track, which is expected to aid the seamers to some extent. India have the depth in their batting but they need to ensure that they don’t collapse in a heap in the batting power-play as they had done against South Africa and the West Indies.
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