India and Pakistan revel in the recriminations

The build-up to tomorrow's final has been marred by controversy and violence. Henry Blofeld reports from Lahore
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The Independent Online
In the space of five days first Pakistan's and then India's hopes of winning the World Cup have been shattered. Even though Sri Lanka have deservedly reached the final in which they play Australia here tomorrow, the subcontinent is in turmoil after the crowd scenes which caused the abandonment of the semi-final in Calcutta.

Although the transformed Gadaffi Stadium has been sold out, the last match of what will surely be seen as the least satisfactory of the six World Cups so far cannot now hope to fulfil local expectations.

After three days of extraordinary violent reaction to the defeat by India, Pakistan were presented with gift-wrapped redemption when India were outplayed by Sri Lanka in a match which was ended by rioting crowds.

Pakistan's homecoming after the Bangalore defeat was all too predictable. The national anger and indignation was intense and the players first need was for a police guard. The perceived chief culprit was the captain, Wasim Akram, whose injured back had, at the last moment, prevented him from taking part.

The general feeling is that even if he was only 70 per cent fit he should, due to the special circumstances of this match, have played. According to reports, Wasim's house in Lahore has been stoned and effigies of him have been burned in the streets. In the search for scapegoats no player has been left out.

Another by-product of Pakistan's defeat was that the following day an indirect approach was made to the Pakistan Cricket Board to move the final from Lahore to Calcutta. It is said that the Cricket Association of Bengal made an offer of $6m.

Eden Gardens holds 110,000. The Gadaffi Stadium's capacity is only 28,500. The Bengalis sensed the chance to make an extra financial killing in a tournament which seems to have thought up by people who, in the words of Oscar Wilde, ``know the price of everything and the value of nothing''.

Then came India's defeat in Calcutta. By the following morning Pakistan had reclaimed the moral high ground and is still busy rejoicing in India's sad lack of sportsmanship, not to say moral decline. Tomorrow the public will probably be saying "come back Wasim, all is forgiven''.

It is against this furiously changing emotional backdrop that last minute preparations for the final are going on at the Gadaffi Stadium so named by the late Zulfigar Ali Bhutto, Benazir's father, at the time of a state visited by the Libyan president more than 20 years ago. Everything will be in place by the time the first ball is bowled and in Pakistan the administration of this competition has been excellent.

With a capacity of only 28,500 all too few tickets remain available for public after the respective Boards of Control, the Government, the sponsors and all 12 participants have had their whack.

On Wednesday, I visited the ticket office and the demand even after Pakistan's defeat, was unending. They varied from an individual's request for 10,000 to a nineteen year-old girl from Cape Town who had come to Pakistan ticketless and on her own. She was given a seat in a VIP box.

In the final the Pakistanis should support the Sri Lankans who are playing a side which refused to visit their island for a qualifying match. But in this fiercely parochial part of the world their main feeling is more likely to be one of profound relief that they will not have to watch India lift the Cup from under their noses. Just possibly they will stay at home and watch television.

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