Security stepped up as Indo-Pak clash nears

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MOHALI – Security was ramped up at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium on Sunday as India staged their first training session ahead of the high-profile World Cup semi-final against Pakistan.
The match, the first between the arch-rivals on Indian soil since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, gained an added security headache Sunday when Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani confirmed he will attend Wednesday’s clash.
Police were out in greater numbers in and around the ground on Sunday and there were even “media security officers” escorting reporters into the ground. Pakistan, the 1992 champions, were put through their paces once again by coach Waqar Younis in an early morning training stint that started with a lively football match.
Coming back to the PCA Stadium was proving particularly pleasant for Pakistan manager Intikhab Alam, who earlier in his career coached a Punjab team featuring both Yuvraj and India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh. “I am nostalgic, I remember this place very well,” former Test leg-spinner Alam told the Sunday Pioneer.
“The two years I spent here earned me friends for life. It feels great to come back.” The India squad arrived for their scheduled training session later in the day, with off-spinner Harbhajan Singh the only notable absentee. Like Pakistan, the co-hosts too began with a potentially injury-inducing game of football.
However, it was notable how Sachin Tendulkar, who comes into this game on the back of 99 hundreds, stood away from the fray and opted for the more traditional warm-up method of knocking in a few bats. Meanwhile flag-waving ‘super-fan’ Sudhir Gautam from Bihar, eastern India, was the lone supporter joining the massed ranks of reporters, photographers and television crews watching training in the stands.
Around 3,000 police will patrol Wednesday’s match with some 2,000 expected to be deployed in and around the 30,000-capacity PCA Stadium on matchday. An estimated 1,000 police have already descended on the luxury Hotel Taj in nearby Chandigarh where both teams are staying, a force which includes Indian army commandos.
The game, which takes place in the border state of Punjab, has already sparked a flurry of political activity with confirmation that Gilani has accepted an Indian government invitation to watch the match. Pakistan batsman Misbah-ul-Haq welcomed the move, saying: “It’s a good thing, no pressure. He’s helping to support us.
“And I think it’s a good gesture from the Indian Prime Minister that he invites him to come here and watch the game.” Elsewhere the frantic scramble for hotel rooms and tickets showed no signs of slackening, even though the PCA had insisted as early as Tuesday that the 14,000 available tickets had been sold, with the rest in the hands of the ICC.
However, there have been numerous reports of a thriving black market in tickets with prices rocketing so that a 5,000-rupee ($112) ticket was being sold for as much as 25,000 rupees ($560). “For a match as big as this one, we cannot do anything about black market tickets,” said PCA joint secretary GS Walia. “As far as we are concerned, we only gave the tickets to those who stood in the queues and bought them. We cannot keep track if they sell these in (the) black (market).”
Peshawari chicken tikka a hit with players: Pakistan and India may be arch rivals on the cricket field but when it comes to food, the players seem to share similar tastes. Both the teams are here for the eagerly-awaited semifinal match of the World Cup on Wednesday and while they sweat it out in the nets, they are also enjoying the delicacies of the city.
Shahid Afridi led Pakistan team reached on Friday while the Indian team arrived on Saturday. Both teams seem to be having common choice for cuisines served by Hotel Taj, where the two teams are staying. “Peshawari Chicken Tikka is a great hit with many players of both the teams. They are relishing it,” Hotel Taj’s Executive Chef Neeraj Chaudhry said.
He said mutton and chicken biryani was also in high demand while some players seem to have fallen in love with the Tandoori chicken. “They come in groups to eat in the hotel’s restaurant. For the breakfast, sausages, eggs, chicken, brown toasts, lot of fresh fruits and juices are in demand,” Chaudhry said.
The hotel is also planning a buffet dinner for the two teams where they can have the opportunity to meet up before clashing in the mega match.