KARACHI, (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Cricket World Cup match against India has been billed as a war without guns so it should come as no surprise that even politicians from the feuding nations are talking about today’s contest.
With political tensions between the South Asian neighbours still high, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued a rallying call to his team to do their utmost against their fierce and, in cricketing terms, more successful rivals.
“The whole nation is praying for the success of the team and expects the boys to do their level best in this crucial fixture,” Sharif said in a statement.
The match is of huge emotional importance to Pakistanis, who have never witnessed a World Cup victory over India in five previous attempts — and India’s media have not wasted the chance to rub it in.
A provocative match teaser in India shows a Pakistani ageing from a teenager to a married man and then a father waiting in frustration from 1992 to 2011 to celebrate a World Cup win over India.
“I thank the Indians for doing this commercial because I am sure it will serve only to motivate our players to win this one,” said former test batsman and pundit Bazid Khan.
Even when Pakistan lifted the World Cup in 1992, Imran Khan’s victorious side could not beat India, while in the last World Cup, India finished off their rivals in the semi-final at Mohali en route to the title.
“I think Pakistan has its best chance to beat India this time. They are without Sachin Tendulkar for the first time in years and are also without key performers like Yuvraj Singh, (Virender) Sehwag and Harbhajan (Singh),” said former captain Rashid Latif.
He added that Tendulkar had always been a big influence against Pakistan.
“India are without him in a World Cup against Pakistan for the first time and that will make a huge difference,” he said.
Pakistan’s top spinner Saeed Ajmal, who missed out on the World Cup squad due to problems with his bowling action, said both teams were facing similar problems.
“The pressure of playing India in a World Cup is unlike playing in any other match and it gets to you on the field as well,” Ajmal said.
“The expectations are so high from your family, friends, relatives and supporters. You can become a hero or a zero.”
Pakistan’s flamboyant all-rounder Shahid Afridi, however, is not letting the emotion of the occasion get the better of him.
“We just want to enjoy ourselves and give our best to win,” he told Geo News.
“But in the end it is a game of cricket.”