x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

A two-point agenda for everyone at Mohali

Just two questions on the fans' lips — 'can India win?' and 'do you have a spare ticket?'

Indian youngsters with their faces painted with the Indian tricolour, left, and Pakistan's national flag, right, and one with his hair cut in the style and shape of the Cricket World Cup, pose for photographs in Bhopal yesterday. India are scheduled to play Pakistan in the semi-final today.
Indian youngsters with their faces painted with the Indian tricolour, left, and Pakistan's national flag, right, and one with his hair cut in the style and shape of the Cricket World Cup, pose for photographs in Bhopal yesterday. India are scheduled to play Pakistan in the semi-final today.

When Chirag Makwana and Purav Jilka take their seats at the stadium in Mohali this afternoon, it will be the culmination of a dream more than a year in the making.

"I have an ordinary government job and I cannot afford to travel abroad, but my cousin and I have saved each day of the year just to watch India and Sachin Tendulkar," said Makwana, who works in London.

When tournament tickets went on sale online months ago, Makwana took a day off work to book them, and the cousins have spent the past month following the India team from match to match.

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India and Pakistan have been two nations with one soul
India captain Dhoni wary of Pakistan counterpart Afridi's spin
When India v Pakistan matches reached boiling point
Time for some hyperbole as Afridi blames media
Sri Lanka recover to beat New Zealand in Muralitharan's send-off game

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Having fallen in love with the game during the 1996 World Cup, when India beat Pakistan in a tense Bangalore quarter-final, he and Jilka can scarcely wait for the semi-final.

"I have only previously seen one India-Pakistan match, a warm-up for the World Twenty20 [England, 2009] that India won comfortably," he said. "The atmosphere was the best that I have seen up to date in any match."

Another fan, Sharan Pahlajani of Dubai, was on holiday in Miami when the India-Pakistan match-up was confirmed.

A journey via Chicago and Abu Dhabi got him to Dubai by last night. A flight to Delhi and a connection to Chandigarh later, he has to drive 40km to pick up his ticket and rush to the stadium in Mohali's Sector 10. Phileas Fogg would be proud.

Pahlajani was watching at the same venue last October when VVS Laxman masterminded India's epic one-wicket victory over Australia, and he is hoping that he can be similarly lucky for the team today.

A large group of Pakistani fans have come as a "peace delegation" with banners in tow, though only about a dozen of them are likely to find their way inside the ground. One fan without a ticket patrolled the area near the stadium like a nightclub bouncer, shouting slogans and entreating in equal measure.

Three young women from Karachi - Saba, Sana and Sukaina - hope to cross the border this morning, having spent days planning their journey.

Finding three tickets together was next to impossible, so they have sourced them in different ways, using Facebook and Twitter to "get the girls to Mohali".

With one ticket coming through diplomatic circles and visas finally arranged yesterday afternoon, they should reach Mohali just in time to see Shahid "Boom Boom" Afridi and his teammates in action.

According to Said Chaudhry, who watched Pakistan beat India in a high-scoring game at Mohali in 2007, they will have a great time.

"We crossed the Wagah Border by foot, a monumental step in my life," he said.

"I was struck with mixed emotions, the joy of visiting India and extending our message of peace and love.

"At the same time, remembering the stories of the hardships my ancestors faced while migrating to Pakistan in 1947."

What he recalls most vividly is what happened at the end.

"It was a great game of cricket and we thoroughly enjoyed Pakistan winning in Mohali," he said. "But for me the most priceless moment was when I walked away from the Pakistani contingent and jumped in the crowd of the loud Indian fans, mostly younger guys and girls.

"We all took turns taking pictures together, we sang and danced to the sound of the 'dhol' until eventually one of the police officers took me back."

Given the nervous faces all round, it is hard to say whether such bonhomie will be evident tomorrow.

Two questions dominate every conversation: "Can India win?" and "Do you have a ticket to spare?"

Those who do and are willing to sell are probably planning a Tahitian holiday, with tickets with a face value of Rs5,000 (Dh410) changing hands for as much as 100,000.

Fans are flocking to the city, but most steer clear of the team hotels. The security detail borders on suffocating, with even local players such as Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh needing police permission to go and spend time with their families.

"It's for the rich people and politicians," said Gyan Singh, a disgruntled rickshaw driver. "No tickets for us locals."

The Punjab Cricket Association claims to have distributed 16,000 tickets through general sale, but stories of umpteen private jets - the cream of Indian industry and Bollywood could be in attendance - not being allowed to park at Chandigarh's tiny airport has clearly influenced the local mood.

"Ever since my school days, I have never missed an India-Pakistan game, whether it be live on TV, online streaming or watching it on my phone," Makwana said.

Today, it will be up close and personal.

For him, Pahlajani, the three young women from across the border and thousands of others, it really will be the game of their lives.

sports@thenational.ae

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More on India v Pakistan

Dravid: India are favourites against Pakistan in today's World Cup semi
India and Pakistan have been two nations with one soul
India captain Dhoni wary of Pakistan counterpart Afridi's spin
When India v Pakistan matches reached boiling point
Time for some hyperbole as Afridi blames media
Sri Lanka recover to beat New Zealand in Muralitharan's send-off game

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