Don't believe the hype - Dhoni
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has ordered his players to ignore the hype surrounding tomorrow's World Cup clash with Pakistan and focus on securing a place in Saturday's final.
The last-four encounter between the two sub-continent rivals has attracted huge interest in the region and will be attended by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistan counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani.
The pressure on the tournament co-hosts to see off their greatest rivals is immense but Dhoni is determined not to let it derail his preparations.
He said: “We know the kind of media hype India-Pakistan matches generate. We are not getting involved in all this. We need to know what we are expected to do and focus on that. All this is part of cricket and we have to accept it. But the key is not to get involved.
“We will have the biggest distinguished guests to see the match, we have to be at our best. We all know it's a big tournament, we have prepared a lot for it and its better to take it one game at a time.
“We are playing the semi-finals but the most important thing is how we prepare ourselves. I think you need to prepare in the same way and that's what we have been doing for the past few days.”
Dhoni has underperformed with the bat in the tournament but is adamant his struggles are not related to the added responsibility of being captain.
He added: “It is only a cricketing aspect, nothing to do with form. I have been batting quite well. Sometimes the situations are not great to play flamboyant cricket. In the Bangladesh match, such a situation was there but I didn't get to bat.
"If you are batting at number five, six or seven you don't get to bat much if the top order scores. I think the last game (against Australia) was ideal but it (the ball) went straight to a fielder. It does not go your way always. Form has not been a worry.”
Pakistan’s strength lies in their bowling and Dhoni admits India’s powerful top-order need to be wary.
"I think they are a very good bowling attack, they have got bowlers who can bowl quick and at the same time their spinners have been doing really well and they have got part-timers who can contribute," he said.
"They have a couple of bowling all-rounders with (Abdul) Razzaq and (Shahid) Afridi, that gives them the liberty of playing with more than five bowlers.”
Another bowling option for Pakistan is veteran paceman Shoaib Akhtar, whom skipper Afridi indicated remains a doubt due to a knee injury.
Shoaib, who will retire after the competition, has played only three games in the tournament and has not featured since the group-stage loss to New Zealand.
Afridi said: "Shoaib is not 100 per cent. He is trying his level best to play and we will decide on him in the evening.”
Asked about his side's preparations for the match, the all-rounder replied: "This game is very important for both the sides. We have prepared well for this game and we are confident."
He added: "We are not the favourites for this competition. India are the favourites and we have played above expectations. We are enjoying our cricket. If you know how to handle it, there is no need to panic. I think we will enjoy playing here."
Umar Gul, who is set to lead Pakistan’s attack, returned Dhoni’s compliment - to India’s batsmen
"India's batting line-up is very strong but our bowling is very good and equally up to the task,” said Gul, who has taken 14 wickets in the tournament to Afridi’s 21.
“Afridi is the leading wicket-taker. We have a bit of an advantage with our bowling but I am happy with the way the batsmen played in the quarter-final.”
Gul has set his sights on the early removals of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir - who have 990 runs between them in this World Cup - if Pakistan are to have a realistic chance of victory.
“The first three wickets are very crucial for us. They are depending on the top three,” he added. “I am in good form and am looking for these three wickets.”
Pakistan have never defeated India in a World Cup match and Gul concedes the stakes could not be higher at Mohali, saying: “Whether it is a knockout match or a league match, any match against India is a big match always, a high-pressure match.
“The last time we played here, we chased 327 but it depends on how the wicket behaves. The average good score here will be 270-280.”