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Fans blur battle lines between India and Pakistan

Wednesday March 30, 2011 06:23:26 PM, Abhishek Roy, IANS

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Mohali: Everyone at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium had a whale of a time during the World Cup semifinal here Wednesday and in that euphoria, the battle lines between India and Pakistan got blurred. There was bonhomie all round, as VVIPS and cricket buffs from either side of the border enjoyed the atmosphere and that put the two cricket teams at ease.

There were warm embraces as guests and hosts renewed their old associations and all this has went a long way in diffusing tensions in the stands.

The crowd enjoyed every moment, rising in a Mexican wave, cheering their favourite Bollywood stars and not forgetting cricketers.

The adjacent city of Chandigarh appeared to be in a holiday mood as there was thin attendance at work places and the streets were deserted on a working day. Everyone wanted to watch the first match between the two nations on the Indian soil after the 26/11 terrorist attack, but only 35,000 or so could be accommodated in the ultra-modern stadium.

Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani and their entoruages may have occupied the centre stage, but the gathering in the VIP boxes was a veritable Who's Who of India Inc. and Bollywood. There was not enough space at Chandigarh airport for the jets flying them in and some big-wigs had to land at nearby airfields and drive down to Mohali.

The build-up for the match started Tuesday night itself and there was a festive mood on the streets of Mohali and Chandigarh. People flocked to pubs and dhabas (eateries) to watch the semifinal between Sri Lanka and New Zealand, and even then, Wednesday's mega clash was the talking point.

Mohali woke up to the cacophony of police sirens and army choppers, even as the steady flow of fans made way to the stadium, some queuing up six hours before the gates were opened.

"The effort was worth it. We are lucky to get the tickets and wanted to make the most of it by reaching the stadium as early as possible," said Manpreet Kaur, who had flags of both teams painted on her cheeks.

There were several like Manpreet, who milled around the stadium well before the match started. A few lucky ones caught a glimpse of some of the top Bollywood stars. Aamir Khan waved at them from the VIP box to their delight.

"He waved at us and allowed us to click him with our mobile phones," said teenager Varun Mehra.

The most memorable moment, however, for the 28,000 fans here, was when the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers, Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani, walked out to the middle alongwith International Cricket Council (ICC) President Sharad Pawar, to be introduced to the two teams.

Pakistani fan Bashir Khan, who had come all the way from Chicago, turned emotional as the national anthems were played.

"My wife had warned me that the chances to get a ticket are zero to none. But my perseverance paid off. It is an emotional moment for me," said Bashir, who became an instant celebrity after he had threatened to go on a hunger strike outside the PCA Stadium if he wasn't given a ticket.

Bashir was not the only Pakistani in the stands. Some 400 fans had crossed the Wagah border in the last six days and among the sea of trio-colour, there were some Pakistani flags as well.

Pakistan's iconic cheerleader Abdul Jalil, popular as Cricket Chacha, was also seen waving the flag.

"This is a momentous occasion for both the countries. Today one team may lose, but at the end of the day both the countries will be the winners," he said.





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