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Singh “prepares the pitch to boost Indo-Pak ties”

March 26, 2011

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“PM bats for peace,” proclaimed the Hindustan Times newspaper in a front-page headline. -Photo by Reuters

NEW DELHI: Indian media on Saturday hailed the country's invitation to Pakistan's president and prime minister to watch the arch-rivals' World Cup clash as “cricket diplomacy”.

Late Friday, Indian Premier Manmohan Singh said he would attend the semi-final match in Mohali in northern India on Wednesday and added he had invited Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Yousuf Raza Gilani to watch the game.

“PM bats for peace,” proclaimed the Hindustan Times newspaper in a front-page headline.

The Indian Express dubbed the invitation “cricket diplomacy” while the Times of India declared Singh “prepares the pitch to boost Indo-Pak ties.”

There is huge excitement over the match and we are all looking forward to a great game of cricket, that will be a victory for sport,” Singh wrote in his invitation.

“It gives me great pleasure to invite you to visit Mohali and join me and the millions of fans from our two countries to watch the match.”

The Indian Express said the decision to invite the Pakistani leaders was taken by the prime minister without consultations with the Ministry of External Affairs.

Singh has pushed strongly for “greater engagement” with Pakistan to address issues of mutual concern.

His invitation comes as ties between the countries are still tense following the attack by militants on Mumbai in 2008 that left 166 people dead -- although the two countries' home secretaries are due to hold talks next week in Delhi.

It was not immediately known whether the Pakistani leaders will attend the match but Islamabad has welcomed the invitation.

The match will showcase one of the world's most intense sporting rivalries, fuelled by nationalism.

The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

On the cricket field, a knock-out World Cup match on Indian soil is the biggest fixture between the rivals for decades and excitement is already at fever-pitch.