WC 2003 - India comes to a standstill for high-intensity final

Published: Sunday, March 23, 2003, 20:00 [IST]
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New Delhi: India came to a standstill on Sunday for the keenly awaited World Cup final between India and Australia, with police saying they are prepared for an outburst of revelry by fans should the men in blue lift the trophy for a second time.Excited fans took to the streets hours before the match was due to begin in Johannesburg carrying the national flag and shouting, "Go on India! You can do it!"Hundreds of millions of others across the country were tuning in to television and radio coverage of the event, which has pushed the Iraq war into the background.Defending champion Australia has had an unbeaten run to finals and holds a mental edge over India, having beaten it in the first round by nine wickets. India on the other hand, is looking to avenge its humiliating defeat on February 15, in its first appearance in a World Cup final in 20 years.And fans in this cricket-crazy country, where players have demi-god status, were hoping the Indian team would to repeat its 1983 performance at Lord's in England when it trounced the West Indies to win the Prudential Cup.Results of an online poll published in the Times of India showed 85 per cent of fans are confident that India will beat Australia. A report in the same paper said bets worth 60 billion rupees ($ 1.25 billion) would be placed on Sunday's match.In the eastern metropolis of Kolkata, home to cricket captain Saurav Ganguly, thousands of youth began their day with prayers and special sacrificial rituals to invoke blessings on the Indian team. "We are praying to the Goddess Kali (goddess for destruction of evil) for Indias win against Australia, nothing more," said 20-year-old Namita Pal, one of the hundreds offering prayers at the crowded Kalighat temple. Kabir Banerjee, a university graduate, said he had begun fasting and "turned vegetarian since Indians semi-final match against Kenya". "I will not eat anything today till the last ball is played," he said.Outside Ganguly's residence, fans erected a huge replica of the World Cup while residents of apartment blocks nearby hung garlanded posters of the other members of the team.The boisterous public were not the only ones to cheer the Indian team on. Cricket secured space on page one of all Sunday newspapers, otherwise dominated by reports on the US-led war on Iraq. "India has a billion hearts" read a banner headline in the Indian Express newspaper, followed by a sub-headline, "A nation hopes for a repeat show of 1983. The Pioneer paper urged the team to "Catch the Kangaroo by its tail." Corporates, including South Korea's Samsung Electronics and India's Sahara Group, published full-page messages of encouragement to the Indian team, while the Times of India gave space to fans to express their best wishes in print.Copyright AFP 2001

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