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All roads lead to Mohali for 'mother of all contests'

NEW DELHI: A tiny north Indian city has overnight become a hottest tourist destination, drawing Prime Ministers, corporate czars, showbiz celebrities and passionate fans for what is touted as the “mother of all cricket contests”. Nothing gets bigger in this part of the globe than a cricket match featuring India and Pakistan, who fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947. The rivalry would be renewed in Wednesday’s World Cup semifinal in Mohali in the state of Punjab and the city administration is already bracing for a logistical nightmare. Many government and cricket officials fear the match could be a potential tinderbox given the emotions involved and some have urged the fans and the media not to hype what is essentially a cricket contest. Even South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis hoped the high-profile match would pass without anything untoward.

Cricket diplomacy: “India v Pakistan in Mohali is a spectacle not to be ignored. Like everyone else, my greatest wish is that the match takes place without any ‘incident’, either on or off the field,” he wrote in a column that appeared in Sunday’s Hindustan Times newspaper. Former India pace bowler Javagal Srinath advised the Indian team not to let the “dream semifinal” to distract them from their ultimate goal of winning the title. “The general perception among the Indian fans that beating Pakistan is the be-all and end-all must change,” Srinath wrote in the same newspaper. “We have to move out of that line of thinking. As a nation we have evolved and I don’t think there can be any compromise on winning the final.”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani will watch the match in what is billed as “cricket diplomacy”. Industry moguls are not lagging behind either. According to a newspaper report, airport authorities have received requests from business tycoons, including India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani and fellow industrialist Vijay Mallya, to allow them to park their private jets in Chandigarh. While politicians and Bollywood celebrities will also be in tow, there is a growing sense of anger among the ticket-seeking fans who complained of large-scale black-marketing.

The CNN-IBN channel claimed tickets priced at 15,000 Indian rupees ($335.6) were available in the black market for 100,000 rupees ($2,237), while tickets priced at 10,000 were being sold at five times their original worth. Both Chandigarh, some 10 km from the stadium, and Mohali are bursting at the seam and around 2000 hotels rooms are proving inadequate to accommodate the visitors and the rush has not ended yet.