India fans revel in victory

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MOHALI, March 31 – Thousands of delirious home fans brought the house down at the Mohali stadium on Wednesday after India ended Pakistan's World Cup dream with a 29-run win in an action-packed semi-final.

"We love you India," screamed a group of college girls over Bollywood music blaring across the packed 30,000-seater Punjab Cricket Association stadium as noisy celebrations erupted throughout the country.

"It feels as if we have won the World Cup," said 23-year-old Anuradha Biswal, wiping away tears of joy with her handkerchief.

"The match was so close, my heart missed a beat every time the Pakistani batsman hit a four or a six. But our team made us proud tonight."

Chasing India’s 260-9, Pakistan folded up for 231 all out to hand India a final clash with Sri Lanka in Mumbai on Saturday.

Crowds at the venue broke into "bhangra" dancing, which is wildly popular in the northern Indian region around Mohali, and torn tickets flew like confetti over the heads of cheering supporters.

A handful of Pakistani fans who crossed the border to watch one of the biggest ever sporting clashes between the two nations wore a dejected look but were gracious in defeat.

"India deserved to win," said Kashif Abbasi who travelled from Islamabad. "The good thing was that our team did not give up without a fight."

The match had generated huge hype ever since the arch-rivals were drawn together for the semi-final, but the fierce contest out in the middle was in stark contrast to the bonhomie in the stands.

"The feeling is as if the bigger brother has won," said Salma Riyaz, another Pakistani fan. "There was no angry exchange and tempers were never frayed despite the cauldron-like situation.

"It shows we have matured and take things in the right perspective."

The audience, which included Bollywood stars such as Amir Khan, could not have asked for more drama with the result uncertain for much of the game.

"Despite the huge pressure on the players, they were very sporting throughout the match," said Leena Khanna, 26, kissing a flag pinned on her blue India T-shirt.

Both national anthems were respected by fans, though the overwhelmingly Indian crowd cheered every dropped catch by the Pakistanis who put down at least five chances during the Indian innings.

Cricket has often suffered from the fractious relations between the neighbouring nations, but Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani attended Wednesday’s game together.

"To see them shake hands with players will remain etched in my memory," said Shyam Shankar, an Indian software engineer who drove to Mohali from New Delhi.

"Cricket can be a great healer and help mend relations with our neighbours. We should play each other more often."

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