Indian fans pray for victory against New Zealand

Chennai (India) (AFP) –


Cricket fans prayed for victory Tuesday at a Chennai shrine with statues of the elephant-headed god Ganesha batting, bowling and keeping wicket, ahead of India's World Cup semi-final clash with New Zealand.

The temple has steadily added idols of Ganesha - the Hindu god of overcoming obstacles - over nearly two decades with several sculptures dedicated to the deity padded up and playing different strokes.

"In Hindu tradition when someone starts his day, they pray to Lord Ganesha for success," temple founder K.R. Ramakrishnan told AFP.

India, who topped the 10-team group table, play the Black Caps at Old Trafford later Tuesday, bidding to make their first World Cup final since winning the tournament in 2011.

The cricket-obsessed country will be watching expectantly with the trophy within touching distance.

Ramakrishnan said he was inspired to make the shrine in 2001 after the hosts secured a famous Test series win against Australia in Chennai, thanks to heroics by Sachin Tendulkar and spin-wizard Harbhajan Singh.

"I was praying to Ganesha for India's victory and I pledged that if India beats Australia, I will make a Ganesha idol fashioned as a cricketer," Ramkrishnan, 70, said.

The 2-1 series win "strengthened my belief in Ganesha", he said and inspired the shrine.

The idols are kept inside the sanctum of an old temple that is visited by cricket fans throughout the year.

But Ramakrishnan said footfall has increased during the World Cup, with devotees singing a "cricket hymn" backed up by daily offerings -- coconuts and jasmin garlands -- made to the idols.