India Wins: Beats Pakistan in World Cup Cricket Collision

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Twenty percent of the planet can go back to what they were doing, now.

India has beaten Pakistan in the "thrilla in Mohali" (I know, it doesn't quite work like the original), the 2011 semi-final of the Cricket World Cup.

About 1.4 billion people live in the two countries, and hundreds of millions outside of South Asia were watching.

The match, as everyone in this part of the world has been tweeting and Facebooking about for nearly a week, is much more than an eight-hour sporting event. Serious sport, George Orwell once said, is "war without the shooting," as Time,8599,2062133,00.html) magazine's Omar Waraich noted -- and that is never more true than when India and Pakistan meet on the playing field.

The two countries that have fought three wars share culture, religion, history, even families -- and the love of the sport that the British left behind.

To help American readers understand what I'm talking about, consider this thought experiment:

Take baseball, the "national pastime," and everything it represents to U.S. culture -- read the prologue of "Underworld," watch "Field of Dreams," consider Lou Gehrig's story.

Then, take the pre-steroid-era worship of the baseball player: the families around their TVs watching New York's teams (back when they included the Dodgers and the Giants), the 4 million kids playing Little League today, the image of a father and son sitting behind home plate.

And then expand it out. Give every American kid -- rich and poor -- in every small park in every part of the United States a cheap baseball, bat, makeshift bases and a glove, because cricket doesn't need all that equipment.

Eliminate basketball and soccer.

Replace Babe with Sachin, Cy with Muttiah.

Then, you will begin to understand what cricket means to South Asia.

Of course, this match wasn't even only about sport.

"Cricket diplomacy" is a 30-year-old phrase, but it is being practiced again. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his counterpart, Pakistani Prime Minster Yusuf Raza Gilani, to watch the match together.

They undoubtedly talked a lot about Pakistan's low run rate and a little bit about the major issues that still separate the two countries politically: Kashmir, water, terrorism.

But still, even if there will be no major breakthroughs, South Asians can look back on today as continuing a legacy that has helped thaw enmities.

In 2004, the Indian national team toured Pakistan, helping reignite the peace process for the first time in 15 years.

In 2005, then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf tried to diffuse tensions over Kashmir during meetings with Singh that took place around an India-Pakistan cricket match in New Delhi.

In 1987, then-dictator Gen. Zia ul Haq went to Jaipur, India to watch Pakistan play India at a time when both countries massed additional troops at their shared border.

And then the opposite: In 2008, after Pakistani militants committed the worst act of terrorism in India's history, India's cricket team cancelled a highly anticipated tour of Pakistan.

As the Indian sports minister asked undiplomatically at the time, "Is it possible for one team to arrive in Mumbai and indulge in mass murder, and have another team go and play cricket in the winter afternoon sun at Lahore immediately after?"

Today, the relationship remains tense but has improved dramatically, and the Pakistan team was as gracious in defeat as the Indian team was gracious in victory.

The same went for their fans.

"Congratulations India.... you outbatted and outfielded us..... Well done," wrote a Pakistani on Twitter.

"We won the match, you won our hearts!!" wrote one particularly generous Indian.

And in perhaps the best measure of the effect the game can have within a country, there was this: Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi apologized to Pakistan for losing.

Sympathy flooded Twitter.

"No Lala!!," wrote one Pakistani, using a term that shows love and respect. "No need to apologize! You did us proud."

Cricket helps unite Pakistan's fractious ethnic and religious rivalries. And tonight, as the match ended, Pakistanis in Islamabad were not angry at India, nor even upset.

They were celebrating -- that their team had made it so far in one of the world's largest sporting events.