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A billion people watched the Cricket World Cup opening party? For cricket's dignity, let's hope not

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Expert
7th June, 2019
18
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Name your most iconic World Cup cricket duo. For South Africa, how about all-rounder Jacques Kallis and former Everton winger Steven Pienaar? For Pakistan, former Test captain Azhar Ali and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousufzai.

Now we’re cooking with gas.

Who would have thought Kevin Pietersen’s triumphant return to representing England would come in a game called 60 Second Cricket partnered with the bloke from Love Island? What’s more Australian than Brett Lee chatting about the Morrison government in between hitting balls with Pat Cash?

What says star power more than New Zealand all-rounder James Franklin pairing up with 1990s All Black skipper Sean Fitzpatrick? If that doesn’t get the kids interested I’ll eat a novelty plastic cricket bat.

All this was on show at the Cricket World Cup opening event. It has taken a week to recover from the excitement of being there, but after several days of loved ones hovering by my bedside, I’ve emerged from a distant land of dopamine bliss to spread the gospel.

One can only imagine the strategic planning that went into this triumph.

First was the realisation that opening ceremonies are expensive. You need literal and figurative fireworks, an arena full of people, months of choreography, some sort of high-wire artistry.

You need massive floats circling around so that Kylie Minogue can climb out the arsehole of a baleen whale to sing ‘Heal the World’ with a stylistic ‘Under the Sea’ mamba remix. Get ready for the marimba choir!

Opening parties are much more attainable. Cricket is a modest and humble sport. You can just set up a stage and put on some entertainment and have people roll up.

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A smart move is to have it outdoors, because there’s no risk of a freezing and rainy day in England in late May. A locale like the mall outside Buckingham Palace, which has no natural pedestrian traffic and is a hike from the nearest train stations, will suppress any unwelcome elements.

Fans dance during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 Opening Party

If you say you’ve seen something stupider than the Cricket World Cup Opening Party, you’re lying. (Photo by Luke Walker-IDI/IDI via Getty Images)

For a finishing touch, surround the entire thing with 80 miles of cyclone fencing and security guards in fluoro yellow jackets. Nothing says ‘Welcome!’ like the décor of an impound yard.

Cover the fencing in World Cup-branded cloth so that no one outside can see in, because you don’t want Johnny-come-lately to succumb to curiosity.

Make sure the guards don’t know any of the gate numbers or the schedule or what is actually happening here. That keeps things fresh for attendees. Then randomly close and open different gates throughout the day, so anyone who leaves for a minute has to embark on a thrilling circumnavigation to negotiate entry somewhere else.

Imagine the sense of achievement at being the Matthew Flinders of the Cricket World Cup.

With all this in place, when the entire attendance is about 400 Indian fans who’ve come to cheer Virat Kohli and then leave, you know they’ll be the right 400 Indian fans who’ve come to cheer Virat Kohli and then leave.

Now to the entertainment. The only choice for a host is Andrew Freddie Flintoff. He’s the only choice because he’s the only cricketer that anyone in England has heard of, since his 2005 Ashes flourish was the last before the sport vanished behind a Murdoch paywall.

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Andrew Flintoff (R) consoles Australian Brett Lee

(AFP PHOTO/ALESSANDRO ABBONIZIO)

The dream team is Freddie matched up with IPL anchor Shibani Dandekar and Irish reality-show shouting man Paddy McGuinness. The three posters on most teenagers’ bedroom walls, no doubt.

The best part was when McGuinness said “Let’s welcome the captain of the host country,” and his accent made it sound like “Let’s welcome the captain of the horse country.”

That dropped me into a brief but intense vision of Eoin Morgan in some kind of Dothraki awesomeness descending on London at the head of a thousand rampaging bays and chestnuts and greys, full gallop, manes blowing in the breeze. Though historically if someone’s going to lead a horse attack on a Western citadel it should be a Khan.

That was the dazzling presenter line-ups overseeing the novelty match with its pairings that perfectly encapsulate each nation’s cricketing identity. For Bangladesh, former left-arm spinner Abdur Razzak and actress Jaya Hasan.

For Sri Lanka, the maestro Mahela Jayawardene, and who could forget Damayanthi Darsha’s 2007 Olympic athletics campaign?

Mirwais Ashraf can spend the evening talking you through his two World Cup wickets for Afghanistan, while Aryana Sayeed tells tales of being a judge on Afghan Star.

Anil Kumble has spent years in the nets with film director Farhan Akhtar, and the fact that sprinter Yohan Blake played a bit of junior cricket in Jamaica makes him the perfect partner for the greatest one-day batsman of all time, Viv Richards.

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Such combinations. Such icons. Imagine the chats that Pienaar had with Mikel Arteta at Goodison Park about the vagaries of left-arm spin on a wearing surface.

What a buzz to see the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner lace a cover drive against a rubber ball being lobbed down by a random net bowler in a volunteer uniform.

Admittedly Malala, having been pulled out of university for the day, looked pretty confused about why she was there.

So did the organisers, who felt that when someone has survived being shot in the face and gone on to found worldwide education charities, you should probably ask her an earnest question on stage, but you also need to move her along quickly so you can fire the confetti cannons and introduce Rudimental.

For the uninitiated, Rudimental is not a type of herbal tea you can buy in a boutique store in Olinda. Rudimental is the band that wrote the World Cup song, and apparently one other song.

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Rudimental played them both, or more likely mimed them both – proceedings had a distinct whiff of Milli Vanilli essence. Perhaps the organisers didn’t want to risk a “Free Kashmir!” being lobbed into the telecast.

Those of us lucky enough to be there were told repeatedly that a billion people around the world were watching alongside us. Although by that point there were about forty people left in attendance, and even they weren’t all watching.

Crowd-wise, the aerial shots were about as convincing as those of Donald Trump’s inauguration event. One has to admit the people on official footage who are dancing joyously in front of the stage were actually pre-organised joyous dancers.

It’s not clear whether they were paid or somehow lured from their home towns on the promise of a lucrative berth on a merchant vessel, but they had all been dressed in replica vintage cricket shirts and equipped with plastic bats, then made to dance in a vaguely batting-adjacent fashion.

But what fun it was. This was the glory we enjoyed for two entire songs, then everyone was all tuckered out and it was time to go home.

Just as well. Who wants to set up a whole elaborate stage for a band and then actually hold a music event? Like having multiple bands play whole sets? An afternoon of music in an open and welcoming environment where people could just stroll in?

It’s much more comforting to be penned in and searched and scrutinised in a way that makes it seem like you’re on your way to visit your brother who fell in with a bad crowd. Given the fast-creeping dystopian future that’s becoming our present, it’s probably sensible to adjust now.

Happy Cricket World Cup.

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