Cricket diplomacy wins the day as India storm into World Cup
Mohali: India stormed into their third final of the ICC Cricket World Cup yesterday, beating Pakistan by 29 runs in a thrilling semi-final clash at Mohali.
India will take on Sri Lanka in Saturday's final in Mumbai, the first time a World Cup final is being played by two teams from the subcontinent.
The day, however, was won by cricket diplomacy at its best. As the Indian and Pakistani teams were locked in the ‘mother of all battles', the prime ministers of the two countries joined legions of cricket fans to watch the match and renew their efforts to bury a troubled past.
Ever since the semi-final line-up was decided last week, the match was the only news which dominated the headlines in both countries with the media whipping up frenzy to a fever pitch.
The international media also joined the bandwagon in view of the unavoidable political backdrop in which the match was taking place.
Greeting the players on the pitch yesterday, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani shook hands first with the visiting Pakistan team. They then switched positions, with Gilani and Singh shaking hands with the Indian players before the two retreated to their seats in a private box.
Earlier yesterday, Gilani said he hoped his visit would improve bilateral relations and said he looked forward to watching an exciting match as he prepared to fly to India along with a 20-member delegation that included many senior ministers.
"I am going there to show solidarity with our team, with their team and to promote cricket," Gilani told reporters at a military base outside Islamabad as he boarded the plane.
It is Gilani's first visit to India as prime minister, and echoes a similar effort at cricket diplomacy in 2005 when Pervez Musharraf, then president of Pakistan, joined Singh for a match in New Delhi.
Singh hosted a dinner for Gilani and his entourage after the match.
In an earlier letter to Gilani, Singh had said: "We are all looking forward to a great game of cricket that will be a victory for sport."
Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul, also attended the match — a trip underlining the governing party's support for the renewal of dialogue with Pakistan.
The Mohali stadium was also packed with Bollywood celebrities and corporate captains.
Hours before the match started, hundreds of people had already taken their seats in the fortified stadium, where hundreds of police and security staff were conspicuously in place. Nearby roads were also closed off with multiple checkpoints.