Cricket World Cup returns to the sub-continent Thursday (Preview)

February 16th, 2011 - 7:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Sachin Tendulkar By Sirshendu Panth
Dhaka, Feb 16 (IANS) No more England’s preserve, the biggest event in the game of cricket - the World Cup - returns to its new power centre, the Indian sub-continent, for the third time Thursday with a gala opening ceremony here.Amid a tight security blanket, the Bangladesh capital is all set to usher in 43 days of riveting action spread across 13 venues in three countries with a mesmerising 135-minute routine of song, dance and laser shows at the age-old Bangabandhu National Stadium.

Two days later, Bangladesh and co-hosts India clash in the inaugural game at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur, on Dhaka’s outskirts.

The other host country Sri Lanka start off their campaign against lowly Canada in a group A encounter in Colombo Sunday.

Of the three South Asian neighbours, India has organised the event with Pakistan in 1987, while Sri Lanka joined the duo as the 1996 hosts. For first time co-organisers Bangladesh, the honour has coincided with a historic occasion, as 2011 marks the silver jubilee of its first ever One-day International game against Pakistan in 1986.

The tenth edition of cricket’s quadrennial showpiece, featuring 14 teams and 49 matches — 29 in India, a dozen in Sri Lanka and eight in Bangladesh — has not been without its share of controversies.

Terrorism, the tardy pace of preparations and the weather proved major hindrances.

A big jolt came in February 2009, when the International Cricket Council (ICC) removed all the 14 games that were to be played in Pakistan following the terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore. Pakistan, however, remain official co-hosts, though they would play their home matches in Sri Lanka.

As recent as a month ago, the ICC inspectors found five of the venues — three in Sri Lanka and Wankhede and Eden Gardens in India — were not ready. While four of the venues got the nod, the historic Eden — that staged the World Cup final in 1987 and a semifinal in 1996 — was stripped of the India-England Feb 27 tie on grounds of unpreparedness.

With the match shifted to Bangalore, Eden was left with three other non-India matches only.

With cricket and commerce now becoming synonymous, particularly in the sub-continent, the ICC’s dictum that players cannot endorse products which have a conflict of interest with the Cup sponsors has triggered discontent. Four Indian players, including Sachin Tendulkar, met Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Shashank Manohar on the issue. And now, Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has reportedly been warned by the ICC for breaching its ambush marketing clause.

The game has a come a long way from the maiden edition of the World Cup in 1975 and the two subsequent editions in England. Those were the days when the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), headquartered at Lord’s in London, ruled cricket.

In 1987, the power centre started shifting with the sub-continental nations flexing their financial muscles as the bulk of the investors came from this part of the world. As the years went by, the ICC headquarters shifted to Dubai and now, the sub-continent calls the shots.

England’s fading clout has found an echo in on-field action. While India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have all been world champions, England are still looking for their first World Cup success.

Australia, with four Cup wins, remain the most successful side, followed by the West Indies with back-to-back wins in 1975 and 1979.

While the West Indies are a pale shadow of their past cricketing might, Australia also are not being regarded as favourites as they are in the process of finding their feet once again after the retirement of prized players.

With a formidable batting line up, India are being rated as the team most likely to win the trophy, followed by Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

England, with their recent successes, are also being counted among the strongest Cup challengers, and if they manage to pull it off, they will be making a telling statement in a region which has played a big role in taking the World Cup away from their territory.

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at s.panth@ians.in)

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