Islamabad: Buoyancy and bravado have replaced cricket-mad Pakistanis' dismay at its team's lacklustre performance in the World Cup as they look to their first clash with archrival India in two and a half years. "If Pakistani players are true Muslims they will have to win this match because India is our enemy," said Raja Mehrban, 45, a taxi driver in the capital Islamabad. "This match is a battle between Muslims and infidels and it is the duty of a Muslim to always dominate the infidels."
Pakistan takes on India in South Africa on Saturday. The South Asian giants' cricketers have not met since June 2000, when New Delhi banned bilateral cricket matches in protest against Islamabad's support to insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir. "I think both teams should bet on Kashmir and decide this issue once for all," said Javed Ahmed, 35, shopping at a local bazaar. He was confident of a Pakistani victory, but nervous at the implications. "I am a bit concerned about Muslims in India, because if India loses the match, extremist Hindus will kill hundreds of Muslims in fury."
Watching Pakistan play the Netherlands on a mini-TV in his Islamabad grocery store on Tuesday, shopkeeper Ahmed Zainab said he was ready to forgive the team's losses - as long as it beats India. "It's OK to lose against Australia and even England, but we can't lose to India," he said. Pakistan needs to beat India as well as Zimbabwe in Bulawayo next Tuesday to ensure a place in the Super Sixes. But equally important to cricket fans here is national pride. "This match is important just for the reason: because it is with India," said Muhammad Usman, a 11th grade student playing cricket with a tennis ball outside Islamabad's College for Boys.
"Whenever the two teams plays against each other it's always a play for pride and there is always tremendous public interest and I'm sure that everything will stop on Saturday in India and Pakistan," former captain Imran Khan, who led Pakistan to a breathtaking recovery in the 1992 tournament to clinch the title, said. The Islamabad Cricket Association believed a reshuffle of the batting line-up will boost Pakistan's hopes. "Our team is better than India," secretary Irfan Manzoor said. "We have some problems on the batting side, but in 1992 World Cup we had a similar situation. If the players are shuffled around then we can hope to win this match."
Computer programmer Arshed Mehmood, lazing on the lawn at the capital's F-7 cricket ground, said chances were even, although he considered India's batting and bowling line-up superior. "I think it depends on who wins the toss," Mehmood said, adding that he would not be watching the match because the tensions surrounding it were too much. "This match is important to me because India is after our lives," said Naseer, 27, a groundsman at Islamabad's Shalimar Cricket Club at the foot of the Margalla hills.
He watched the team close up when it played at his ground in an exhibition match with film and television celebrities on June 18. "I know they can win." Fans were low-key about plans for watching the clash of the foes, choosing tea stalls, their own shops or cricket clubs for the big day. "God willing, Pakistan will win," said Naseer. Copyright AFP 2001