On Wednesday, Mohali will host one of the most hotly anticipated cricket matches in the history of the sport when arch-rivals India and Pakistan contest in the semi-final of the Cricket World Cup 2011.
Considering the history, and not just cricketing history, between the two nations, stakes couldn't be higher. So much that national pride is at the hands of a cricket match, which is ridiculous, if you think of it.
As has been the case in some instances in the past, politicians have grasped the opportunity to exercise diplomacy. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistan counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani will occupy the best seats in the stadium to discuss politics. What is striking is that they are but a mere fraction of the many VIPs who also include countless other infilterating politicians not to mention business tycoons, bollywood stars and musicians all of whom use up seats which the dedicated fan craves for.
That they will fail, miserably, in stealing the limelight from the players is another matter. Players and fans from both sides of the border will be pumped up for this one and the fact that the Indian air force is on high alert speaks volumes about what is at stake.
India can derive some confidence from their performance against Australia in the quarter-finals. Some would go as far as to say it makes them favourites to advance on Wednesday as they haven't lost to Pakistan in a world cup so far. However, if numbers and statistics are anything to go by, then Pakistan holds the upper hand. They have beaten India on 17 of 26 occasions on Indian soil and they stormed into semis in emphatic fashion.
In their run-in to the semi-finals, India showed they are ability to shift brilliance to sheer catastrophe within a single game. They have choked, dragged themselves out a hole and then sprung solidity out of nowhere to keep pundits guessing. Pakistan, on the other hand, have been clinical in their run-in. Ignoring their loss against New Zealand, when their bowling, surprisingly, cost them the match, Pakistan have finished off teams remorselessly, best displayed by their 10 wicket win over West Indies in the first quarter-final.
Much talk has been about the strengths of both teams. The match has been dubbed 'India's batting versus Pakistan's bowling'. India boasts what is widely regarded as the best batting line-up in the game. And it'll face its ultimate test against Pakistan's highly potent bowling. However, what could prove decisive in the outcome is how India's bowling and Pakistan's batting fair against each other.
Special mention has to go to Pakistan for continuing to defy all odds. Not many expected them to remain in the tournament in its final stages after the spot-fixing scandal and the Haider situation, but they have made a habit of bouncing back from each blow.
With high stakes comes high pressure and it could be that the less nervous team, one that can remain composed, will go on win it.
Amongst all the talk of the match being war, it would serve well to reflect on what is actually being said. It is a cricket match, a potential classic at that. It isn't war; it doesn't define either nation's pride. It is two great teams vying for a spot in the final. It's unfair to burden the shoulders of the players with these politically-motivated pressures. On the contrary, it should be viewed as the last chance for some of the greatest exponents of the game to claim the ultimate prize that cricket has to offer.
As Dileep Premachandran wrote in an article in dawn.com, The victors will be euphoric. There will be sadness on the other side. But let's not confuse defeat and despair with tragedy. There are greater sorrows. No one bleeds blue or green. We all bleed red.
Truer words are rarely spoken.