MOHALI, India, (Reuters) – The sleepy town of Mohali erupted with joy today as India reigned supreme over fierce rivals Pakistan to reach the World Cup final.
The 28,000-strong crowd swayed to the tunes of popular Bollywood numbers and waved thousands of Indian tri-colour flags as the co-hosts trumped Pakistan by 29 runs in a contest billed as “the mother of all World Cup clashes”.
With the prime ministers of both countries watching on, fireworks lit up the night sky while the Indian players celebrated by jumping on each other and exchanging high fives.
The high-octane match turned into the centre of “cricket diplomacy” the moment India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistan counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani walked out to shake hands with the players before the start of the match.
Eight hours later, when Pakistan batsman Misbah-ul-Haq was last man out after heaving a shot into the hands of Virat Kohli, Prime Minister Singh politely applauded the men in blue while Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi punched the air in delight.
The contest between the neighbours, who have fought three wars since their 1947 independence, also attracted a multitude of Indian business tycoons and Bollywood razzmatazz at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium.
“We have two common religions — cricket and cinema. Why then fight?” read a banner in the crowd.
Liquor and aviation mogul Vijay Mallya, accompanied by his son, joined a host of film actors to cheer on Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men as they tried to take a step closer to winning a second World Cup title.
“Billion Indian hearts beating for 11 boys in blue to make India proud!” actor Vivek Oberoi, who was present at the stadium, said in a tweet.
With such high-profile VIPs in attendance, the town in the northern Indian state of Punjab went into lockdown as an unprecedented security blanket was thrown around the stadium with state and central security agencies joining hands to make sure the match passed without any untoward incident.
But no one was complaining.
“I tell everybody ‘you should not fight at the border, rather the battles should be fought on the cricket grounds.’ That’s what people from both countries love to see,” Mohammad Bashir Khan, a Pakistani supporter from Chicago, told Reuters after flying into India for the showpiece event.
Khan was so desperate to watch the match first hand, he even defied his wife to be in Mohali.
“My wife told me that I will get beaten up and land up in trouble if I support Pakistan here in India. But I told her ‘you can’t stop me. Forget me for the next one month’,” said Khan, who has lived in the States for the last 35 years.
“Victory and defeat are part of the game. I am here to enjoy the atmosphere.”
In the hours leading up to the match, Khan had freely mingled with the hoards of fans who had lined up outside the stadium gates more than seven hours before the start, blowing mini vuvuzelas and whistles.
Some of them stopped to get the Indian flag painted on their cheeks and barely seemed to notice the dozens of police vans and beaconed vehicles patrolling the roads.
The roads which are usually jam packed with cars were virtually deserted barring the security vehicles which circulated the perimeters of the stadium.
“With so many detours (because of road closures), who would want to take out the car?” Amarjeet Singh, a cab driver, told Reuters.