MUMBAI — On Wednesday, fierce rivals India and Pakistan will battle it out in the semifinals of the 2011 Cricket World Cup. Pakistan has never defeated India in a Cricket World Cup match, and the energy and anticipation is palpable here as a strong Indian side readies itself to fight the next barrier between itself and the trophy.
With so much going on off the cricket pitch between these two countries (see related links below for context), it's hard for politics to stay out of the competition. The Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist political party, has said that its chief will "decide" whether Pakistan will be allowed to play the finals in Mumbai if it wins the next game, given the rocky history between the two countries.
However, our interviews with people on the streets of Mumbai revealed that lighter spirits are prevailing (see video embedded above). Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also invited his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, to watch the semifinal in India with him, and Gilani has accepted.
India has granted visas to 5,000 Pakistanis to watch the games — a significant gesture considering the usual challenge for Pakistanis in obtaining visas to India. In a similar goodwill gesture, Pakistan released an Indian prisoner, Gopal Das, who was accused of spying in Pakistan in 1984. Many hope that such "cricket diplomacy" will help boost ties after the setbacks of the "26/11" terror attacks in Mumbai.
Security concerns have shrouded the entire tournament, and Wednesday's match has merited particularly stringent measures. It will be played in Mohali, Punjab, which has been turned into a no-fly zone. Air force helicopters and fighter jets stand watch, as the Special Protection Group, National Security Guard, National Technical Research Organization, and other central and state forces coordinate efforts.
Some have noted the irony of this match being played in Punjab — a region that was hotly contested during Partition, and ended up being divided between the two. Others look beyond this to celebrate a shared passion for cricket and sportsmanship. Either way, across the sub-continent on March 30, whether they are at home glued to TV sets or at work sneaking a peak at the live stream, millions will be tuned into what promises to be a hotly contested match.
Related videos and stories:
Historian Ramachandra Guha on the India-Pakistan semifinals, 3/25/11
India and Pakistan: Back from the Brink?
South Asia’s Uneasy Neighbors
India-Pakistan Relations: A 50-Year History