~~Ramadan will usher Malik

Published: Sunday, September 23, 2007, 3:35 [IST]
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Karachi: When Pakistan play India in the Twenty20 World Cup final on Monday in Johannesburg, Muslims in Islamic Pakistan will not only break fast to mark the holy month of Ramadan but also pray their team is blessed with success.

An India-Pakistan cricket match has always produced extreme reactions in cricket-loving Pakistan.

When Javed Miandad hit a last-ball six in Sharjah to win a tournament against India in 1986 the players became national heroes and were rewarded in cash and kind.

When Pakistan lost to India in the 1996 and 2003 World Cups, the reaction was the opposite with enraged mobs attacking players' homes and burning their effigies.

Rashid Latif, a member of the 96' side, recalls how some players got threatening telephone calls and suffered abuse.

"It was a terrible feeling. Now things appear to have changed. Obviously, the feelings run high but now people accept it is only a game of cricket and you can't win everyday," he told Reuters.

Given that since independence Pakistan and India have fought three wars over the disputed Himalayan Kashmir region and have had a history of bad blood, it is not surprising that emotions run high even over a game of cricket.

But since 2004 a slow moving peace process between the two countries has produced positive results.

"There was always so much pressure on us when we played India," former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram told Reuters.

Now I think people are more mature with the improvement of relations with India. I don't expect people to react violently even if we lose."

Former Test captain Miandad told: "A Pakistan and India cricket match is always more about which team holds its nerve rather than skills. And this is a final so it's going to be big".

The occasion is not lost on entrepreneurs with five-star hotels, foreign fast food chains and small restaurants all preparing for the final by installing television screens and preparing sumptuous cricket-related Iftar menus.

"When the match is on it will be Iftar time. So we're expecting big crowds for the final," said restaurant owner Mohammad Kaleem referring to the traditional evening meal for breaking the daily fast.

Cricketer Khurrum Manzoor, whose friend Fawad Alam is in Pakistan's Twenty20 squad, said even President Pervez Musharraf had found time to encourage the team in South Africa.

"He is such a busy man but he has made it a point to call up the captain and wish him well for the semi-final and final," he told.

Pakistan's players are assured of big cash rewards and more fame if they win the final. The cricket board has already twice awarded lucrative cash prizes to them for reaching the World Cup semi-final and beating Australia.

Pakistan have never beaten India in four World Cup matches and were hammered last time they met in 2003 at the Centurion. They also lost their preliminary round match in the Twenty20 tournament this month.

However, Wasim Akram is confident of victory this time.

"I think this team under a new captain (Malik) and coach (Lawson) have the self-belief to beat anyone," he said.


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