Sobers declares 2007 World Cup open

Published: Monday, March 12, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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Daniel Town, Jamaica:The 2007 Cricket World Cup, the first to be held in the Caribbean, was opened here on Sunday in a three-hour, two-million dollar opening ceremony.

Sir Garfield Sobers, arguably the greatest player the game has ever known, declared the 16-team, 49-day, 51-match tournament open.

"On behalf of the West Indies, it is my honour and privilege to declare the ninth ICC Cricket World Cup officially open," said Sobers.

Chris Dehring, the chief executive of the organising committee, said the Caribbean was the ideal place to host the event which has cost in the region of 400 million dollars to stage.

"The world will see the best cricketers competing against the backdrop of one of the most blessed places on the planet," he said.

"They will see exciting cricket inspired by the rhythm and soul of the West Indies."

He added that the tournament was the reward for years of "sweat and tears, hard work and sacrifice".

Ricky Ponting, the skipper of defending champions Australia, said he was keen to get the action underway.

"This is a huge night," he said. "Our preparations have been really good and now we are looking forward to getting the tournament underway."

The three-hour ceremony at the Trelawny Stadium featured a host of Caribbean entertainers including reggae legend Jimmy Cliff and Shaggy.

Titled West Indian Energy, the two-million-dollar event also involved around more than 2,000 singers, dancers and performers.

In all, 16 teams will play a total of 51 matches at grounds spread around nine different Caribbean nations, with the final in Barbados on April 28.

International Cricket Council (ICC) president Percy Sonn told the crowd: "All cricket lovers know about the riches the players from the West Indies have brought to this marvellous game.

"It is more than appropriate that the World Cup is staged here for the first time.

"In as much as the West Indies represents unity and diversity, so do the countries taking part with all drawn from the five continents. The tie that binds us is the one we call the spirit of cricket.

"We will honour the ethics of the game under all circumstances."

Sonn added that throughout the tournament, players will wear ribbons to show their support for AIDS awareness as well as their backing for UNICEF.

Record-breaking West Indies skipper Brian Lara read the players pledge.

There was loud applause for Grenada premier Keith Mitchell, whose country will host matches two years after being ravaged by a second hurricane, as well as for Jamaica prime minister Portia Simpson Miller and Jamaican reggae singer Sean Paul.

All 16 competing teams took part in a parade around the stadium.

Despite the optimism of the ceremony, the tournament has been dogged by problems in the build-up with many stadiums facing construction delays while some hotel operators have been accused of profiteering by trebling rates.

Around 250 million dollars has been spent on building new or refurbishing existing stadiums mostly in partnership with foreign governments and with the Chinese heavily involved.

Venue development director Don Lockerbie said Sunday that not all grounds were 100-percent ready although he was confident that the shortcomings would not effect the event which runs until April 28.

"I think a lot of the venues have waited to the very last to get some of the final bits of construction in and, as a perfectionist, I'm a little disappointed that I don't see all the landscaping full out and the roads all paved and things around the stadiums finished," said Lockerbie.

"Construction is very difficult in this part of the world, but I will say we are ready. I will say we can put on a fabulous World Cup in these venues and I look for them maybe to mature in the future."

There are also concerns amongst players and coaches over the state of the pitches on which the matches will be played.

At the warm-up game between South Africa and Pakistan in Trinidad on Friday, the action was held up for 10 minutes as players and officials debated whether the wicket was fit to play.

South Africa slumped to 56-3 and then were all out for 199.

At Trelawny, on the same day, West Indies collapsed to 85 all out in their nine-wicket defeat to India.

"Judging from what we have seen and heard of the pitches, it seems that this World Cup will be a 'bowl first' tournament," said South Africa coach Mickey Arthur.

The first match of the World Cup takes place on Tuesday with hosts West Indies facing Pakistan at Sabina Park in Jamaica.


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