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India arrives for semifinal amid tight security

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's India cricket squad arrived in Mohali on Saturday and immediately secluded themselves at a heavily barricaded hotel as security ramped up ahead of the World Cup semifinal against archrival Pakistan.

cricket Updated: Mar 26, 2011 20:34 IST

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's India cricket squad arrived in Mohali on Saturday and immediately secluded themselves at a heavily barricaded hotel as security ramped up ahead of the World Cup semifinal against archrival Pakistan.

Armed soldiers and police lined the roads and traffic was diverted as Dhoni's squad made its way to the hotel, where the Pakistan squad has also been staying since arriving on Friday.

An exclusion zone set up around the hotel prevented fans and media from getting close to the players. Security arrangements are equally stringent at the PCA Stadium, where Pakistan held its first training session on Saturday.

Bilateral tours involving the nuclear-armed neighbors are always tense. With a spot in the World Cup final spot at stake in Wednesday's match, and with the proximity of the venue to Pakistan, India's security organizers are taking absolutely no risks.

Pakistan allrounder Mohammad Hafeez said the squad was happy with the arrangements.

"There is no fear in our minds, no feeling that there is any shortcoming when it comes to security," he said Saturday. "We are very happy with the system in place, and we are enjoying ourselves."

Pakistan's coach Intikhab Alam urged the media not to overhype the rivalry between the two countries, and to keep its focus on sport.

"Let it remain as cricket and don't make us feel as if we are standing on a warfront," Alam said Saturday. "We don't want to pressurize our players. This is needless."

The pressure from the teams' own supporters will be high enough. The 30,000-capacity PCA Stadium is the smallest of the eight World Cup host venues in India, and tickets for the semifinal sold out days ago.

That has not stopped fans continuing to arrive at the ground in the hope of more being released. Reports suggest that tickets are fetching up to 12 times their face value on the black market, with 250 rupee ($6) seats selling for 3,000 rupees ($67).

Local politicians are even clamoring for seats, using a session of the state parliament to ask the speaker to try to get them tickets for the game.

Several thousand fans are expected to cross the border from Pakistan into the state of Punjab to attend the match most of the visas were only granted by India after Pakistan qualified for the knockout stage.

A Punjab police official was quoted as saying that 2,000 police would be deployed in and around the PCA Stadium on Wednesday when Pakistan will play its bitter rival in India for the first time since 2007.

India and Pakistan have played at neutral venues since the 2008 attacks on Mumbai when 10 militants from Pakistan killed 166 people.

Spotting a diplomatic opportunity, India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited Pakistan counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari to join him in watching the match.

However, the president of an opposition Janata Party does not believe even Singh should attend, saying it would create "undue pressure" on the Indian players.

Subramanian Swamy also reminded Singh that March 30, the day of the match, was also the founding day of the National Security Guards, which played a role in bringing an end to the 2008 Mumbai attacks.