India plays down national hysteria before World Cup final

Indian cricket fans wave their national flag after India beat Pakistan in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011semi-finals in Mohali, India. India won by 29 runs and will play against Sir Lanka for the title.

By Dave James

New Delhi: Mar 31, 2011

India were desperate on Thursday to prevent their World Cup campaign from being overwhelmed by a wave of national hysteria ahead of Saturday’s final against Sri Lanka in Mumbai. The semi-final win over arch-rivals Pakistan in Mohali sparked wild late-night celebrations, dominating front pages and leading TV news bulletins.

But captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni warned against complacency. “There’ll be plenty of things happening around us, like in this game against Pakistan, but what’s important is not to get distracted. We all know what our jobs are as professional cricketers so we’ll stick to that,” insisted Dhoni.

“Sri Lanka are a very good side and they have done really well so far in the tournament.” Despite Dhoni’s pleadings, the Indian press wasn’t listening.

“After this… the Cup is a bonus,” said the headline on Mail Today which splashed a picture of the celebrating Indian team across its entire front page.

“India book Mumbai matinee,” offered the Hindustan Times front page while its sports pages opted for “We hate to lose”, before adding…”finally we have a team that embraces pressure instead of buckling under it”.

Dhoni also praised master batsman Sachin Tendulkar whose 85 runs proved crucial in the 29-run win in Mohali even if he fell short once again of making 100 international centuries.

The superstar player will get another chance on Saturday in his home city of Mumbai. “He batted really well and when he’s there he makes it really easy for the others to score because he guides them really well,” said Dhoni. “If you bat with Sachin for 15 games you have the kind of experience you’d have after 50 games.”

Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara believes his team’s qualification for the final can further unite a country steadily finding its feet after the end of a decades-long civil war. “Cricket has always been the panacea that heals all in Sri Lanka, so winning the World Cup final would be huge for the country,” said Sangakarra, who praised his team’s national pride.

“There are times when there is talk of the Indian Premier League, the money involved and everything. But let me tell you, we take pride in playing for our country.”

Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi said the performance of his side’s younger players had been among the positives of a World Cup campaign that ended with Wednesday’s defeat at the hands of India.

And he said he hoped the game, watched by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani, would be the catalyst for more games on Indian soil.

Pakistan have been unable to play matches at home since an armed attack on Sri Lanka’s team bus in Lahore in 2009. Now Afridi wants to see the restoration of normal cricket ties with India as part of his country’s sporting rehabilitation. “We want to play in India, we have shown them our hospitality in the past, I hope they do so too,” the all-rounder said.

Pakistan cricket has been under a cloud since last year’s ‘spot-fixing’ scandal in England which led to bans for new-ball duo Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif as well as former Test captain Salman Butt.

“It has been a difficult 10 months for us,” Afridi said. “I am thankful to my board officials and team management for backing me. We had a rickety team coming into the World Cup and considering that it has been a good performance.”