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Quest for cricket~~s holy grail kicks off today

Published: Sunday, March 11, 2007, 22:57 [IST]
 
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Bridgetown (Barbados):Thirty-two years after the first World Cup was decided over a modest five playing days, the 2007 edition will open on Sunday and will go on and on until April 28.

The 16-team World Cup in the Caribbean will last 48 days with 51 matches broadcast live to an estimated world-wide audience of 1.5 billion people.

Those are monstrous proportions compared to the first tournament in England in 1975 when the West Indies won the first of their two world titles.

Back then Clive Lloyd's West Indians pocketed 4,000 British pounds and 10,000 pounds for retaining the title in 1979.

The 2007 champions will take home a cool US$2.2 million.

But to reach that stage, the tournament's leading players will face a test as much of stamina, patience and purse strings as of bat and ball.

Selecting a winner is no easy task in a tournament which lasts for the best part of two months and involves an exhausting schedule of inter-island travel.

Even world champions Australia, beaten three times in a row by England and then suffering at the hands of New Zealand earlier in the year, are looking vulnerable.

They are without strike bowler Brett Lee who misses the tournament due to ankle ligament damage while all-rounder Andrew Symonds and opener Matthew Hayden are both carrying injuries.

Nevertheless, as they showed when Shane Warne was kicked out at the start of the last World Cup in South Africa for drugs offences, Australia are capable of overcoming the loss of key players and still winning.

There were signs of an ominous return to form in their comfortable win against England in a warm-up game in St Vincent on Friday.

England too have fitness worries, starting with captain Michael Vaughan, who recently sustained a hamstring injury having been out for most of the past year with a knee problem.

Vaughan hit a confident half-century in the defeat against Australia to suggest that he is slowly approaching his best form.

India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, all former winners, have reason to fancy their chances.

India, led by Rahul Dravid and with Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and the restored Sourav Ganguly, have a powerful batting line-up.

Ganguly, who starred in the 2-1 home win over Sri Lanka on his return to the side in January, said: "We will get similar wickets in the West Indies and it is good that the players are in good form. This is a good outfit."

Pakistan, as always, have plenty of dramas going on.

Fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, who have been at the centre of doping allegations, miss out through injury.

Sri Lanka, with Sanath Jayasuriya still a potent force, have several aggressive strokemakers and, in off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, together with pacemen Chaminda Vaas and the awkward Lasith Malinga, an attack that can overcome the odds stacked against bowlers in one-dayers.

For world number one South Africa, the challenge will be to keep their nerve.

In 1999 they went out in a semi-final tie against Australia and four years ago a failure to understand the Duckworth-Lewis regulations for rain-affected matches saw them exit against Sri Lanka.

They remain without a frontline spinner but any side that can scored 438, a world record for a one-day international between two Test nations, as they did against Australia last year in Johannesburg, has to be respected.

However, their two warm-up games - where they just escaped being embarrassed by Ireland before losing to Pakistan - have not inspired confidence.

New Zealand have a canny captain in Stephen Fleming and in Ross Taylor a batsman who will help them overcome the shock retirement of Nathan Astle.

West Indies, under the captaincy of Brian Lara can, battle a history which has dictated that no host country has even won a World Cup.

The way in which the tournament has been set up means it will be a major shock if the world's leading eight Test nations don't make it through to the second phase Super Eights where points won against fellow qualifiers will be carried through.

By including two minnows per qualifying group, the ICC risks some dreadful mismatches to add to the bad publicity the tournament has already received for hugely inflated hotel prices, a consequence of staging it in the Caribbean during the height of the tourist season.

Rates of US$500 a night are not uncommon for the most ordinary of hotels.

There are also concerns regarding the long-term viability of expensive new stadia that have been built.

Around US$260 million has been spent on either building new venues or refurbishing existing ones at 12 different sites.

The World Cup officially opens in Jamaica on Sunday with hosts West Indies meeting Pakistan in the first game on Tuesday.

Sir Garfield Sobers to declare WC open: West Indies legendary all-rounder Sir Garfield Sobers will officially open the World Cup later Sunday at the culmination of a two-hour, 45-minute ceremony.

"It's a great honour to declare the Cricket World Cup open. I'm taking it in my stride and I'm looking forward to the occasion," said 70-year-old Sobers from his home in Barbados.

The former West Indies skipper said he was excited that cricket's showpiece event was coming to the region for the first time.

"It will be phenomenal for the Caribbean, especially for those people who haven't had the opportunity to see a Cricket World Cup. It will be a fantastic experience."

The ceremony, which is being held at the Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium here, comes two days before the first match of the seven-week event takes place. That will see hosts West Indies facing Pakistan at Sabina Park on Tuesday.

The ceremony, which has been called "West Indian Energy", will feature reggae star Jimmy Cliff as well as a cast and crew of around 2,000 singers, dancers and performers.

Musical extravaganza: A captivating, colourful and musical feast depicting the best of Caribbeans diverse culture will showcase the opening ceremony of the ninth edition of cricket World Cup here.

The two-hour and 45 minute show will feature stars like Machel Montano of Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica's Sean Paul, the first lady of soca music -- Alison Hinds from Barbados - and Saint Vincent's international singing talent, Kevin Lyttle.

Also performing on stage will be stars like Byron Lee, Third World, Arrow and Jimmy Cliff as well as David Rudder.

South African reggae artiste Lucky Dube and The Duffy Brothers from Ireland will also perform. There will be a guest appearance by the trio of Rupee, Shaggy and Fayann Lyons who jointly appear on the tournament's official song, The Game of Love and Unity.

Other items in the ceremony include dance sequences, stilt walkers playing cricket match with commentary by renowned cricket writer and commentator Tony Cozier - a mass choir and fire blowers.

The opening ceremony is being hosted by Jamaica on behalf of all the nine host venues in the Caribbean and the show will be a fusion of Caribbean talent, traditions and ethnicities, according to event manager for the ceremony Martin Lewis.

Agencies

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