MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Across the Asian sub-continent, normal life is expected to come to a standstill tomorrow. Some 100 million people are expected to drop everything so they can tune in to the semi-final of the Cricket World Cup. It features an unrivaled rivalry, India versus Pakistan. The match is being held on the Indian side of the border in Punjab, giving India the home court advantage.
NPR's Corey Flintoff in New Delhi joins NPR's Julie McCarthy from Islamabad and together they report that defeat for either side is not an option.
COREY FLINTOFF: Suspicion between these countries that have gone to war three times is so intense that it's normally a grueling process for anyone from Pakistan to get a visa for India or vice versa. But India granted 5,000 visas to Pakistanis holding tickets for the World Cup semifinal.
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
Unidentified Male: Down the track and gone that is a fantastic success for Pakistan.
JULIE MCCARTHY: Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has accepted an invitation from his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, to join him in watching the match from a VIP box. Islamabad doctor Dilawaiz Durrani will be watching from her couch.
Dr. DILAWAIZ DURRANI: We are having cricket fever all over the country. It's part of our country. This is the only fever we have here, the national fever, you know.
FLINTOFF: Pakistan's clash with India is all the more fraught because Pakistan hasn't been allowed to even play in India since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, blamed on Pakistani militants.
MCCARTHY: No international cricket has been played in Pakistan since gunmen opened fire on the visiting Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009. Banker Khizar Hayat says, this mother of all matches could be Pakistan's redemption.
Mr. KHIZAR HAYAT (through interpreter): It's a matter of Pakistan's honor. If we win, people will recognize us as a sports-loving nation. International teams will come back. It will project a moderate image of Pakistan.
MCCARTHY: Right now, there's a problem of dishonor. Last month, the International Cricket Council found three Pakistani players guilty of colluding with gamblers to fix certain plays in a game.
FLINTOFF: India is the favorite in tomorrow's match.
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
Unidentified Male: And India into the semifinal of the World Cup.
FLINTOFF: The team beat three-time world champion Australia by five wickets to win the berth. Now, a wicket is that device at the end of the pitch with three stumps and two bales. But in cricket scoring it means...
MCCARTHY: Corey, nobody understands this.
FLINTOFF: Oh, sorry.
MCCARTHY: Pakistan arrived in India fresh from thrashing the West Indies in Bangladesh to reach the final four.
FLINTOFF: They're among the fortunate few with hotel rooms. All available hotels and guest houses have been booked up for weeks.
MCCARTHY: The scene is set for a potentially explosive match that could trigger riots or worse. Interpol's chief last week credited Pakistan with helping foil a terror plot in the World Cup cricket tournament. The hotel where the two teams are staying is now a fortress with over 1,000 police protecting the players and the visiting VIPs.
FLINTOFF: Analysts say it's impossible to overstate how important this match is to the national psyches of the two nations.
Mr. RAHUL BEDI (Indian journalist): There'll be entire undeclared curfew all over the - all over India and Pakistan. You will not be able to see anybody on the street and everybody will be watching the match.
FLINTOFF: Rahul Bedi is an Indian journalist and cricket fan.
Mr. BEDI: And depending on the outcome, if India wins, Delhi will explode, India will explode in fireworks. And if Pakistan wins, Pakistan will explode in fireworks.
MCCARTHY: Author and social commentator Naeem Tahir advises his fellow countrymen if Pakistan loses, they don't need to smash windows, collapse in bed or fall into depression and miss work.
Mr. NAEEM TAHIR (Author and social commentator): This is not a war between two religions. It's not a war between two countries. It is a game.
FLINTOFF: But Rahul Bedi says the teams have every reason to fear defeat as much as they crave victory. He recalls a time when Pakistan lost another World Cup match to India.
Mr. BEDI: The Pakistan team had to go literally home through the back door. They had to sneak out of the airport because there were fans waiting to beat them up. Their players had to disappear. I mean, it took them several months to be able to come out in the open and face the public.
FLINTOFF: Pakistan's team captain says his bowlers can check India's batsmen.
MCCARTHY: India's captain told his teammates, don't be distracted by the media hype. And sports pundits say this match is likely to go to whichever team can best withstand the pressure.
I'm Julie McCarthy in Islamabad.
FLINTOFF: And I'm Corey Flintoff in New Delhi.
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