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Mind games begin

NEW DELHI, March 28- India and Pakistan kicked-off the mind games ahead of their World Cup semi-final blockbuster on Sunday while New Zealand attempted to halt a three-pronged Asian assault on the title.
Pakistan, the 1992 champions, insist all the pressure will be on India in Mohali on Wednesday where the hosts’ status as tournament favourites will come under scrutiny from a 30,000 crowd made up almost entirely of home support.

"If India were going to win the World Cup, this is their best chance," said Imran Khan, who captained the 1992 Pakistan title-winning team.

"I am not trying to play mind games, but the fact that they are favourites and are playing at home will means they are under more pressure.

"My advice to the Indian team is to take sleeping pills, otherwise they won’t be able to sleep," added Imran in his Hindustan Times column.

Pakistan are keen to ramp up the psychological battle, fully aware of the significance of the first meeting of the two rivals on Indian soil since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

They also know that the number of Pakistan fans inside the PCA stadium will be limited to a trickle of VIPs, including Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and cricket officials.

Pakistan manager Intikhab Alam, a former Test skipper and coach, has appealed for calm between the two sets of fans ahead of the game.

"Let it remain as cricket and don’t make us feel as if we are standing on a war front," he said.

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Sri Lanka will hope to make it an all-subcontinent final when they tackle New Zealand in the first semi-final in Colombo on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka, the 1996 champions, made the last four with a 10-wicket rout of England while the Black Caps defied all expectations by defeating South Africa.

New Zealand will be playing in a sixth semi-final.

"It is important to be confident but we should be realistic. New Zealand will be hungry for a place in the final and so are we," said Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakkara.

Sri Lanka defeated New Zealand by 112 runs in the group stages in a bad-tempered affair where former captain Mahela Jayawardene refused to walk despite claims of a clean catch by Nathan McCullum.

New Zealand’s mood was not helped when the decision remained not out even after a TV review.

The Kiwis have lost in the World Cup semi-finals to the West Indies (1975), England (1979), Pakistan (1992 and 1999) and Sri Lanka (2007) but top batsman Ross Taylor feels the current team has the ability to go one step further.

"We are proud of our history of making it to the semi-finals," the 27-year-old said Sunday.

"But this team want to make history and go one step further and make the final. We believe we can do that and we want to show it on Tuesday."

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England captain Andrew Strauss believes his team’s five months on the road eventually undermined their World Cup hopes.

England’s rollercoaster tournament ended at the hands of Sri Lanka on Saturday with Strauss insisting it was unrealistic to expect success when players are not given a rest.

After their Ashes victory, England played a seven-match one-day international series in Australia.

That was followed by a brief break at home before the World Cup campaign started in the first week of February.

"It’s a huge amount to ask players to go to Australia for three months, into the highest intensity atmosphere you can get for an English team, and then go straight into a World Cup without players spending time at home," said Strauss.



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