Mohali: Fierce rivals India and Pakistan will have to deal with huge expectations from their cricket-crazy fans when they clash on Wednesday for a place in the World Cup final.
Anything but a win will be a shock for either set of supporters when the neighbours, who have fought three wars since their 1947 independence, meet in Mohali under a heavy security blanket.
The presence of the prime ministers of both countries in the stands will also add a political fervour to the match.
“The biggest, distinguished guests will be there to see the game, but they are here to enjoy cricket, so we have to be at our best,” India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni told reporters on the eve of the match.
India will bank on their powerful batting line-up while Pakistan will pin hopes on their bowling variety in the match which has gripped the sub-continent’s imagination.
Batting mainstay Sachin Tendulkar will have another shot at glory when he walks to the crease needing one more century to complete a hundred international tons.
With the flamboyant Virender Sehwag as his partner, Tendulkar will look to wrest early control for India at the top.
Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, in-form Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni and Suresh Raina will complete a strong batting line-up and Pakistan would need to make the new ball count.
Speedster Umar Gul and captain Shahid Afridi have been the main strike-force for Pakistan and they might be tempted to play Shoaib Akhtar, who will retire after the World Cup, as another wicket-taking option.
Shoaib, 35, who is known for his raw pace, is struggling to get fit for the high-profile match.
Pakistan’s batting, on the other hand, has failed to set the tournament alight as none of the batsmen have registered a century yet.
But despite that, the team notched up confidence-boosting victories against Sri Lanka and Australia in the group stages and went on to maul West Indies by 10 wickets in the quarter-finals.
Afridi, the highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 21, is confident the team is not solely reliant on its bowling attack.
“My team is very balanced. I got some very good experienced players alongside the youngsters and our bowlers are doing a great job,” Afridi told reporters.
Both captains have failed to shine with the bat and would like to set that record straight in Wednesday’s pot-boiler.
Past records, however, suggest that India know what it takes to tame Pakistan in the showpiece event, having defeated them on all four occasions they clashed in the World Cup.
Whoever wins the match will take on Sri Lanka in the final on Saturday in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium.