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Across the border, dreams live on

I've been asked to describe the mood of Pakistani cricket fans on the eve of India-Pakistan encounter. Being a cricket nut, I'll mince no words.

india Updated: Mar 01, 2003 02:50 IST

I've been asked to describe the mood of Pakistani cricket fans on the eve of India-Pakistan encounter. Being a cricket nut, I'll mince no words. Pakistan may not make it to the Super Six. But only a win over India in Saturday's match will provide a safe passage home to the Pakistani team, fans promise.

No matter how unpredictable the Pakistani players are being dubbed by cricket pundits, out of form batsmen know they will face far more 'bouncers' back home if they fail to connect the ball in this match.

Points certainly don't matter when it comes to an India-Pak match. A win does. For many, a win in the ground is more important and meaningful then the battle in Kashmir. Because it will take eight-and-a-half hours to decide, not 55 long years. Even if it has also taken nearly three long years of wait to materialise.

Friday's statement by career diplomat turned Pakistan team manager Shahryar Khan, that there is no war in sports might please the Mandelas of South Africa. Back home, the points of debate are on whether Shoaib Akhtar will break Ganguly's ribs, bowl Sachin and rip through the shivering likes of the Sehwags, Yuvrajs and Kaifs. Or whether, the Ws will strike.

A shopkeeper tells me that Inzamam will tear apart the Indian bowling despite his terrible form with so much conviction, that I begin to suspect my cricketing sense.

Pakistani fans still remember the Asian Test Championship final in 1999, when Sachin, despite scoring a century, was made to sit in the losers' camp. They want Pakistan to begin from where it left off in 1999. The yet to be verified stories of how Wasim ended Srikkanth's flashy batting career are still remembered. Sachin's vulnerability to Pakistan's pace attack is taken as an accepted revelation.

India have not played Pakistan since May 2000. People here believe that India's refusal to play is not because of political reasons but because the Indian cricketers are reluctant to face Pakistan's pace battery.

The irony is that Pakistan is yet to taste a win over their arch-rivals in previous World Cups. And keeping in mind Pakistan's lacklustre performance so far, Saturday's match does not appear like it will challenge history. And India is peaking at just the right time.

But fans argue, statistics do not come into the scheme of things when these two teams meet. They believe that this time around, the players will play their hearts out and appease the hostile governments back home.

From shops to streets, from offices to schools, it will be an unannounced and unofficial half-day. No matter how angry bosses might be, fans will defy him/her and also angry wives/husbands to witness every moment. Toss, pitch report, overs No. 1, 2, 3……….50.

The match result will definitely be followed by attacks on TV sets in the losing country, emergency calls to cardiac specialists and loud statements by second-string politicians.

Torrential rains in Islamabad and its suburbs on Friday have failed to dent the hype. Pakistanis are dreaming of a big Pakistan win on Saturday.

First Published: Mar 01, 2003 02:50 IST