The biggest thing in world sport

Pakistani team players offer evening prayers before their evening practice session at Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in Mohali March 28, 2011. Pakistan will play their ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final match against India on Wednesday

If you thought Muhammad Ali vs Frazier (or Foreman, or even Sonny Liston) was big, you’d still be far off. Chiefs-Pirates or Man U-Liverpool are not even in the same league.

Today’s Cricket World Cup semifinal between India and Pakistan in Mohali is the first cricket match between these two neighbours since 2007. Pakistani players are also banned from the lucrative Indian Premier League.

But it’s more than just a game of cricket. Today’s semifinal brings together two nuclear-armed antagonists who have been at each other’s throats since 1947. They have a bloody history between them.

Today the only blood that will be spilt will be figurative. At least that is what one hopes.

Security around this game has been tight all week.

The prime minister of Pakistan will be the guest of the Indian prime minister and a host of VIP hangers-on will join them. Indeed, this game could even turn out to be a diplomatic breakthrough.

Pakistan prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is hoping to help along a fragile peace progress between these two warring neighbours when he meets his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, today.

Singh’s invitation to the Pakistan prime minister to today’s game was made in the hope of reviving formal talks that were broken off two years ago when Pakistan-based militants killed 166 people in a terror attack on Mumbai.

If there is a political breakthrough, cricket may achieve for India and Pakistan what table tennis did for the US and China.

Both prime ministers have sent messages of good luck to their teams and, in Pakistan’s case, promised 25 acres (10ha) of land to each team member if they win.

And in case sport is just an extension of war, there has also been a strong peace movement. The peacemakers have printed 10000 flags and 20000 posters carrying the symbols of both nations. Others have sewn the Indian and Pakistani flags together.

Some students have prepared placards that read “Koi bhi jeete koi bhi hare, jeet hamari hai” (Whoever wins or loses, we win).

There have also been prayers from both sides and the theme has been “let peace reign”.

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