When Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Akhtar came to Ashish Nehra’s aid ahead of 2011 World Cup semifinal

Ashish Nehra has revealed how former Pakistan cricketers Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Akhtar helped him secure tickets for the high-voltage semifinal of the 2011 World Cup between India and Pakistan. Nehra, part of the Indian squad, needed tickets for his family members, which at first seemed impossible given the euphoria surrounding the magnitude of the match, that took place at the PCA Stadium in Mohali, but Akhtar and Afridi played their celebrity cards, and in the end, Nehra was able to bag a few extra tickets.

Nehra explained how the atmosphere was palpable and that people all over the world, had crowded the city of Chandigarh hoping to see the semifinal, but such was the popularity of the game that innumerable people ended without tickets and had to return.

“Two-three days before that match, nobody knew that India and Pakistan would meet in the semifinals,” Nehra said on Wisden’s The Greatest Rivalry podcast.

“Everything happened very quickly, in 72 hours, everyone came to know that Pakistan is facing India in World Cup semifinals. And I have not seen anything like that. There were not too many five-star hotels in Chandigarh, there was one Mount View hotel and teams were staying in Taj. And I had seen people coming from America or England, you just name it, and they didn’t have tickets.”

The knockout game had several high-profile individuals in attendance. Manmohan Singh, the then-India Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were few of the dignitaries who came to watch the match. As did Yousaf Raza Gillani (then Pakistan prime minister). Nehra explained how with the Pakistan delegation and other tourists visiting the country, hotels is Chandigarh were left with no space to spare, to the extent that even Kris Srikkanth, one of the members of the BCCI’s selection panel could not be allotted a room.

“With the Pakistan delegation coming and a lot of tourists, who were staying in the Mount View hotel, left their rooms to go out and when they come back in the evening, their luggage was packed and kept outside their rooms and the hotel management told them that you have been checked out of the hotel, the money has been transferred back to your account … because the whole hotel has been taken by Mr [Yousaf Raza] Gillani and his team. I still remember India selector at the time, Kris Srikkanth, entering the Taj hotel in Chandigarh and there were no rooms for him,” Nehra added.

The semifinal turned out to be Nehra’s final ODI in which he picked up 2/33, as India beat the arch-rivals by 29 runs to secure a place in the final. It was the fifth World Cup meeting between the two countries and India back then stretched their record to 5-0, which currently stands at 8-0. None the less, Nehra was lucky to have arranged tickets for his friends and family, who could watch the left-arm seamer in action one final time in ODIs.

“Great game for India, pressure game, electric atmosphere as always but the amazing thing was that people were standing outside the hotel and they didn’t even have tickets,” Nehra pointed out.

“I was the lucky one, to be very honest, because I got a few extra tickets from the Pakistan camp. I told Shahid Afridi that I need two tickets, sort it out. Then I got two tickets from him and two tickets from Shoaib Akhtar. Waqar Younis was the coach, so maybe, out of the 30 players, I had the most number of tickets.”

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