India and Pakistan in World Cup showdown

MOHALI, March 29, 2011 (AFP) – Cricket-crazy India and Pakistan head into an epic World Cup showdown on Wednesday that will showcase the bitter rivalry and common bonds between the estranged nuclear-armed neighbours. The teams clash in the semi-final of the competition in a battle promising passion and drama, with more than a billion people, or a fifth of humanity, set to follow the contest between bat and ball.

National pride and even regional harmony are on the line, with the event seized by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as an opportunity for some “cricket diplomacy” to improve frosty ties between Islamabad and Delhi.

He has invited Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani to watch the day-night game with him in Mohali, northwest India, and they are expected to shake hands with both teams before the match.

Given the region’s history of militant attacks, police have wrapped a security blanket involving 2,000 police and paramilitary personnel around the 30,000-capacity venue.

In the hotel where the players are staying, two policemen working as official food tasters have been eating three lavish meals a day to check for poisoning or other hygiene problems.

“We are leaving nothing to cha