Across streets and mohallas, World Cup conversations are in full swing. Everyday we lend our ears to those passionate voices. Today’s topic: Opening ceremonies. Will the one at Christchurch finally buck the trend and put on a worthwhile show?
A beginning, at sea
It certainly doesn’t help that cricket isn’t really played beyond a handful of countries. For scale, cricket’s opening ceremonies aren’t going to compare with football’s. And since there isn’t really a cricket equivalent to the iconic lighting of the Olympic flame, there isn’t much imagery to work with. That and the fact that for much of the 70s and 80s, the one day format — World Cups included — were considered an inferior format meant that the opening ceremonies by corollary were an afterthought. For the first three editions, the captains of the eight teams walked out for a team photograph, while a minor Royal family of steadily diminishing significance gave a speech. It was probably considered a wild bit of daring when in 1992, the group photograph featuring the then-revolutionary coloured jerseys was taken on a grey military ship out in Sydney Harbour rather than the usual cricket field.
Failure to launch
When they first won World Cup hosting rights in 1987 it was clear that India were going to take things up a notch. Indeed, rather than a Duke it was a democratically elected leader who made the speech. In a premonition of 1992’s ship launched tournament, the opening ceremony in 1987 was held in a hockey stadium. While a hat was tipped to tradition with the captains walking out in whites, a bright suggestion was made to replace the boring white doves with balloons of the same colour. However, owing to the presumably high costs of helium in a pre-economic reforms India, the balloons were inflated with a hand pump. As a result instead of floating gracefully into the sky, the balloons skittered along the ground.
what can go wrong…
Thin skinned balloons had trumped them once, but India showed a thick skin and decided to redeem themselves in 1996. Freshly crowned Miss Universe Sushmita Sen was to be unwrapped from the flags of the competing countries and then hand the flags over to the captains. Saeed Jaffrey would compere the event in the baritone he used when he played Sardar Patel in Attenborough’s Gandhi. The event at the Eden Gardens would climax with a grand laser show. Things were great on paper but unfortunately somebody lost the memo. To be fair, Sen did her job competently. Things however went downhill when Jaffery took the mic. It was later reckoned that perhaps even a Jack Daniels would have slurred less as an emcee. Captains names were got wrong. The sponsor Wills name was initially ignored then stuck intermitently into sentences. The flimsy screens installed for the laser show hadn’t taken into account the gusty winds on that particular day. The Son et Lumiere mishap had cost 3 million dollars, while Jaffery allegedly pocketed Rs 10,00,000 for his fiasco. In the end BCCI supremo Jagmohan Dalmiya had to face govermental level calls for arrest over the flop.
Smoke without fire
At least in terms of effort and money put down India had upped the stakes. So when the Cup returned to the mother country three years later, the ECB grudgingly had to figure out an opening ceremony that went beyond a speech or two. However the responsibility was clearly an unwanted one. Michael Brownlie, the director of the tournament said. “I think most people who are coming to the game would rather it was done this way than have a ceremony which goes on and on and becomes rather boring.” While India paid the price for a overly complicated ceremony, the one at Lords was perhaps written on the back of a table napkin. The day on May 13 began with a drizzle and things improved little as the day went on. Tony Blair made a speech with a microphone that wasn’t working and the morning ceremony was capped off with some discount fireworks which proved the fact that they work better at night.
The opening ceremony in 2007 cost about $3 million and featured some 2000 dancers. And it had some of the best homegrown music ever at the event, featuring Sean Paul, Shaggy and Jimmy Cliff among others. On the other hand, Bangladesh in 2011 didn’t really have a musical scene of instant recall. A few singers from the subcontinent did perform but disappointingly lipsynched their acts. However with an estimated $ 30 million to blow away that day, the hosts were able to hire Bryan Adams as an honorary Bangladeshi for the day. The tournament took off as the ageing rocker crooned that subcontinental classic — Summer of 69.