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Mother of all clashes

Billed as the 'mother of all clashes', bitter rivals India and Pakistan go into the high-voltage World Cup semi-final battle in Mohali on Wednesday in what promises to be an epic tussle of nerves and skills between two teams desperately seeking to regain the coveted trophy.

When the two captains walk out for the toss, two estranged nations who have fought wars in the past but have a common passion for cricket, will virtually come to a standstill with millions glued to the television sets to watch the blockbuster unfold.

Shared history -- albeit bitter -- only adds to the emotional quotient of Indo-Pak contests where victory and defeat is not just a result but a matter of national pride.

The presence of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani and a host of other dignitaries, the massive hype and build-up and the phenomenal interest the match has generated have set the stage for the 2011 World Cup's biggest showdown.

Indo-Pak matches, which showcase one of the world's most intense sporting rivalries, invariably boil down to handling the pressure in crunch situations.

With so much at stake, the team that handles the pressure better will travel to Mumbai for the summit showdown on 2nd April.

The potentially explosive clash on Wednesday is the first match between the two neighbouring countries on Indian soil after the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai which led to the snapping of bilateral cricket ties between the two nations.

They have faced each other in four World Cup matches in the past and India have come out victories on all these occasions even though Pakistan have a clear edge in the overall record, winning 69 of their 119 clashes so far.

Even on Indian soil, Pakistan have the upper-hand in record books, having managed 17 wins in 26 matches.

But all these stats and reputation count for nothing as the team that plays better on the given day will win.

Defending champions Australia and stong contenders South Africa are already knocked out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage which only goes to show that reputation alone does not win matches.

India appears to hold a slight edge over their traditional rivals and will look to capitalise on home advantage and the support of the crowd in pressure situations.

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has sought to put up a brave face by stating that the Indians will not be under any undue pressure.

"The World Cup is being held in the sub-continent and India and Pakistan are playing in the semifinals. It does not get better. The pressure will be big, but in reality it makes no difference to us. It will be just a game. Indian cricket team has always been under pressure and we have handled it well", Dhoni said on Tuesday.

Dhoni urges team-mates not to get distracted by media hype

All the members of the Indian team are fit for World Cup semi-final clash against Pakistan, according to captain MS Dhoni who on Tuesday strongly urged his teammates not to get distracted by the hype surrounding the high-voltage clash and just focus on the game.

Dhoni said Indo-Pak cricket matches tend to generate such media hype and it was important for the players not to get sucked into the frenzy and lose focus of the task at hand.

"Well, we know the kind of hype media India-Pakistan matches generate. We are not getting involved in all this. We need to know what we are expected to do and focus on that," Dhoni said at the pre-match media conference in Mohali.

"All this is part of cricket and we have to accept it. But the key is not to get involved. We will have the biggest distinguished guests (referring to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan PM Yousuf Raza Gilani) to see the match, we have to be at our best," Dhoni said.

Asked whether the excessive hype would affect the Indians who are playing at home, the Indian skipper said, "It is not really affecting us. We all know it is a big tournament and we have prepared a lot. Our preparations have been the same like what we have done in the past few days."

Dhoni was not unduly worried about his batting form and reckoned that he had just not got opportunities to score big though he has been striking the ball well.

Asked specifically if pressure of captaincy was taking a toll on his batting, Dhoni responded: "It is only a cricketing aspect, nothing to do with form. I have been batting quite well. Sometimes the situations are not great to play flamboyant cricket. In the Bangladesh match, such a situation was there but I didn't get to bat."

"If you are batting at No 5, 6, or 7, you don't get to bat much if the top order scores. I think the last game (against Australia) was ideal but it went straight to a fielder. It does not go your way always. Form has not been a worry," he added.

Asked whether all the players in the squad were fit, Dhoni said "as of now, everybody seem to be fit. Hopefully they will be fit."

On whether this was his biggest match as captain, Dhoni said he did not believe in comparisons.

"In a cricketer's life there will be many instances, this is no doubt an important match. After some time you forget. I have forgotten how we were feeling before the semi-final and final in 2007. Three years down the line, every game is different.”

"At the end of the day, it remains a 50 overs game, you have to be at your best. You have to maintain the intensity for 100 overs to win the game," the Indian skipper said.

Dhoni admitted that the presence of the Prime Ministers of both India and Pakistan and cricket being used as a tool for politics could serve as distraction.

"That will be a distraction if I think of how we can help in bringing about a political change. I have been given job to lead the side and I have to do that to the best of my ability," he said.

The Indian captain said one team had to lose in the end and fans have to take the result of the match in the right spirit.

"Somebody has to lose, irrespective of all the political talk and cricketing hype. At the end of 30th March, one team loses. It does not happen in cricket along, it happens in all sports," Dhoni pointed out.

"The good thing is we are all unaware of what is happening. Not watching the television is helping. It's a honour to lead the side. If you take it as a pressure job, you will find yourself in a pressure cooker," he said.

On the Pakistan team, Dhoni said they have a good bowling attack with their seamers and spinners doing a good job in the tournament.

"They have a good bowling attack. Their seamers and spinners are doing a good job, the part-timers are also doing well. In sub-continental conditions, these players play a role. All-rounders like Abdul Razzak and (Shahid) Afridi give them the liberty to play extra bowlers," he said.

On the Mohali track, the Indian captain said he could not comment on the wicket as he has not seen the track yet.

"Not seen the wicket, so I can't comment. In Mohali, most of the time it is in favour of batsmen," Dhoni said.

Dhoni also said that his Pakistan counterpart Afridi has been bowling really well in the tournament.

"He has been bowling really well and has been the pick of their bowlers...But irrespective of the bowler, we have to treat the ball on merit and respect the good deliveries, he said.

Security around PCA stadium tested ahead of Indo-Pak clash

The security apparatus of the PCA stadium, scheduled to host the World Cup semifinal, was tested in Mohali on Monday as pharmacists from the state staged a vociferous protest when the Pakistani team was practicing inside the stadium.

The agitating pharmacists, working on contract, were demanding regularisation of their jobs and had gathered here from various parts of Punjab, police sources said.

The Police used tear gas shells and water canons to control the protestors. One media-person, who was caught in the melee, was hurt.

Dozens of OB vans and camera crew are currently stationed outside the stadium. Prime Ministers of both India and Pakistan and a host of VVIPs are scheduled to come here on Wednesday to watch the match between the traditional rivals.

Police said protestors pelted stones at the cops and damaged some private vehicles.

However, the agitators alleged police high handedness, saying they were holding a peaceful protest in support of their demands.

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