World Cup fever strikes India before key clash

MUMBAI, (Reuters) – World Cup fever struck India  seriously the moment it became apparent that the co-hosts would  meet Pakistan in the second semi-final in Mohali this Wednesday.
Yuvraj Singh’s boundary off Brett Lee to win India’s  quarter-final against defending champions Australia last  Thursday sparked national euphoria.
It also relegated Tuesday’s first semi-final between 1996  champions Sri Lanka and New Zealand in Colombo to the status of  a sideshow.
For the first time three Asian teams will contest the  semi-finals while the India-Pakistan clash will be the first in  India since 166 people were killed in Mumbai in 2008. India has  blamed Pakistan-based militants for the attacks.
The two countries have fought three wars since independence  from Britain in 1947 and relations have been tense since the  Mumbai carnage.
They have subsequently agreed to resume formal peace talks  and on Sunday it was announced that Pakistan Prime Minister  Yusuf Raza Gilani had accepted an invitation from his Indian  counterpart Manmohan Singh to attend Wednesday’s match in the  northern Indian town of Mohali.
On the cricket pitch the rivalry has been intense and,  according to the Indian historian and cricket writer Ramchandra  Guha, the television audience when India’s Sachin Tendulkar  faced the former Pakistan bowler Wasim Akram exceeded the entire  population of Europe.
Tendulkar, one century away from a scarcely believable 100  international hundreds, will face the new ball again on  Wednesday before 30,000 spectators in the Chandigarh stadium.
He has already scored centuries against England and South  Africa in the tournament, although India took only one point  away from both those matches.
Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, who scored 175 in the opening  match against Bangladesh, head a batting line-up of awesome  potential which will face a versatile and successful Pakistan  attack in a classic one-day confrontation.
Much of the credit for Pakistan’s progress in the tournament  goes to captain Shahid Afridi, who has created unity from  discord while bowling his brisk wrist spin to devastating  effect.

CONFIDENT SRI LANKANS
Pakistan no longer play matches at home since the armed  attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in 2009 and a corruption  scandal overshadowed their tour of England last year.
Afridi and his team have responded by displaying a  discipline rare in Pakistan cricket and the captain heads the  list of tournament wicket takers with 21 victims.
“Shahid Afridi has done something quite remarkable in this  tournament,” said former captain Imran Khan, who led Pakistan to  their only World Cup triumph in 1992. “Shahid has done  brilliantly.”   India have not lost to Pakistan in four World Cup matches  and if they are to qualify for the Mumbai final on April 2 two  players seem critical to their success.
Zaheer Khan has bowled beautifully with both old and new  ball throughout and Yuvraj’s prowess with bat and ball has won  him a record equalling four man-of-the-match awards in the  tournament.
As one Indian journalist delicately put it, Yuvraj’s  “prosperous waist” and slow reflexes had been a subject of  debate before the tournament. One century, four half-centuries,  an average of 113.66 and 11 wickets with his slow left-arm spin  have silenced the doubters.
While the Mohali match has attracted all the publicity in  India at least, the eventual champions may well emerge from  Colombo.
New Zealand are playing in their sixth World Cup semi-final,  an outstanding achievement from a small country with a limited  playing base.
But the heat and humidity of Colombo, the pace of Lasith  Malinga and the magical variations of Muttiah Muralitharan and  Arjantha Mendis proved too much in the group stages.
Captain Kumar Sangakkara, who scored 111 in that match, did  not even get to the crease on Saturday against England as  Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga struck centuries in an  unbeaten opening partnership of 231.
Sri Lanka are consequently overwhelming favourites and  Sangakkara believes a first all-Asian final featuring Sri Lanka  is likely if “we keep our heads down and make sure we cover all  the bases we have to cover”.

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