x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Time for some hyperbole as Afridi blames media

Excitement levels around second semi-final reach fever pitch on both sides of border.

Indian commuters drive past as schoolchildren cheer for the India cricket team from a balcony in Ahmedabad yesterday. Ajit Solanki / AP Photo
Indian commuters drive past as schoolchildren cheer for the India cricket team from a balcony in Ahmedabad yesterday. Ajit Solanki / AP Photo

MOHALI // The Greatest Match Ever. That is what some are calling the World Cup semi-final in cyberspace. No pressure on the players then.

Television channels and print publications on either side of the India-Pakistan border have gone toe-to-toe with the warlike rhetoric, with allusions to national pride and honour.

A Hindi newspaper carried a front-page picture of several fans in India shirts performing puja (a religious ritual) while wearing masks that had their favourite players' faces on them.

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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
A two-point agenda for everyone at Mohali
When India v Pakistan matches reached boiling point
Sri Lanka recover to beat New Zealand in Muralitharan's send-off game

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As the two teams walk out for the national anthems, two prime ministers will be watching, the latest politicians to walk down the cricket-diplomacy road. In the midst of all this, there is a cricket match to be won. And MS Dhoni knows it.

"Somebody has to lose the game," the India captain said. "As for the political things, we are unaware of what is happening in the past 30-35 days. Not watching television has been a big part of it.

"It would be a distraction if I was looking forward to that [presence of political dignitaries].

"My responsibility is to play cricket and that is the role I have been handed."

Shahid Afridi, his Pakistan counterpart, saw it slightly differently. "I think I am a cricketer first and then a diplomat," he said. "I am an ambassador of Pakistan and I should know what to say. This is a great sign for both countries. Sport, especially cricket, always brings these two countries together."

That was certainly the case in 2004 when thousands of Indians went across the border for a bilateral series that was headlined Jeet Lo Dil (Win Hearts).

But in recent times, especially after the Mumbai attacks of 2008, there has been little or no cricket engagement, except at neutral venues in International Cricket Council competitions.

Pakistan's players have also been cold shouldered by the Indian Premier League, and their champion teams have not been given Champions League Twenty20 invitations either.

"We've always wanted to come to India to play cricket here, to enjoy it because people here want to see us play, people there want to see India play," Afridi said.

"I hope that in the future, relations between India and Pakistan get better and stay better, whatever the results. There should be good cricket and people should enjoy the game."

His only harsh words were reserved for the increasingly shrill sections of the Indian media, who have made a big story out of an innocuous quote he made about denying Sachin Tendulkar a 100th international century.

"I've been watching the Indian media over the last few days and they make small things into very big things," he said.

"No doubt he is one of the great players. But if someone asks me, why would I say that I will let Sachin score a hundred? A little intelligence can be used."

Intelligence will take a back seat today, with raw emotion to the fore. The team that can manage it best, in front of a capacity crowd and with hundred of millions watching worldwide, will prevail. Diplomacy or not, you would not want to be in the losing dressing room.

INTERESTING TRIVIA

Some interesting statistics ahead of today’s meeting between two great cricketing rivals:

• India have won all four times they have played Pakistan in World Cups, consecutively between 1992 and 2003.

• Pakistan have played six games in Mohali, all under lights, and have won two and lost four. Pakistan have batted second every time. Shahid Afridi has played in all six matches, spanning more than 10 years.

• Virender Sehwag, above, needs to score two for 1,000 runs against Pakistan.

• This is the first head-to-head match since July 2008 which has taken place on the home soil of one of the teams. On that occasion, Pakistan beat India by eight wickets in Karachi in the Asia Cup.

• Although the teams have only met four times in nine previous World Cups, Sachin Tendulkar, the India batsman, has played in all four of these encounters, scoring 54 not out, 31, 45 and 98.

• Afridi is the leading wicket-taker in the tournament with 21 at 10.71, including two five-wicket hauls. He has taken a wicket every 18 balls and his economy rate is 3.49 in his seven matches. Afridi has 313 one-day international wickets and is the third leading wicket-taker for Pakistan.

• India have asked for 11 umpire decision referrals, resulting in two decisions being changed. Pakistan have asked for 19 reviews, seven of which were lbw appeals by Afridi. In total five of the 19 were successful.

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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
A two-point agenda for everyone at Mohali
When India v Pakistan matches reached boiling point
Sri Lanka recover to beat New Zealand in Muralitharan's send-off game

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