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India batsmen face off with Pakistan bowlers

NEW DELHI - India will bank on the stroke-makers while Pakistan will pin hopes on their bowlers in their World Cup semi-final on Wednesday which has gripped the sub-continent's imagination. Cricket fever will hit crescendo when the neighbours, who have fought three wars since their 1947 independence, meet in Mohali with the dreams of two cricket-crazy nations resting on their shoulders. Watching them from the stands would be Prime Ministers of both the countries, along with a large number of politicians, industrialists, celebrities and cricket fans lucky enough to grab a ticket.

Past records suggests India know what it takes to tame Pakistan in one-day cricket's biggest stage and they had the last laugh on all four occasions they locked horns with their traditional rivals. That includes a round-robin match in the 1992 World Cup, which Pakistan went on to win under their charismatic captain Imran Khan. Pakistani opener Mohammad Hafeez is convinced his team mates will not be burdened by that losing run.

"Past is past and there is no point in discussing it anymore. All these statistics really don't mean anything," said the right-handed batsman who has done a decent job in the tournament as a part-time spinner. "We are not going in there thinking what happened in previous World Cups. We firmly believe that we can do it this time." In Shahid Afridi, Pakistan believe they have got a flamboyant captain who, much like Imran, leads from the front and has galvanised a notoriously fractious side.

"What we needed was aggression and Afridi, I feel, has shown enough aggression on the field. Most importantly, he leads by example," senior batsman Misbah-ul Haq said. "He is taking wickets and coming out at the right moment to do what the team needs. He also stands by a player and encourages him to perform better." "The captain discusses things with the coach and senior players before taking a major decision. There is a good coordination among us." Consistency has been another new-found trait of the team gunning for their second World Cup title but the batsmen have not really set alight the tournament so far, as evident from the fact that none of them have scored a century yet.

"Winning is more important than someone scoring a hundred," Misbah said. "I would prefer no century and a victory to someone scoring a century and the team losing that match." India have no such batting worry as four of them -- Sachin Tendulkar (2), Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh -- have already reached the 100-mark in the tournament. As a team, India look like they are peaking at just the right time and their impressive batting depth was in full display during the quarter-final victory against four-times champions Australia. Possessing some of the most exciting stroke-players in contemporary cricket, India's dream of a second World Cup title is woven largely around their batsmen.

Sehwag has been battling a knee problem and has not looked at his best but his opening partner Tendulkar has been in sublime touch and is on the verge of scoring his 100th international century. Gautam Gambhir never lacked motivation against Pakistan -- it in fact spilled over during a 2007 ODI in Kanpur when he was involved in an altercation with Afridi -- as is the case with most of his team mates. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has struggled with the bat but Yuvraj, India's stand-out performer so far, has papered over every visible crack with his contribution with the bat and the ball.