Sodden World Cup opening ceremony puts anticipation in deep freeze
Of course it rained. A cold, steady, dispiriting drizzle immediately familiar to anyone who has ever weathered an English summer. It made the World Cup opening ceremony feel a little dreary, damp and miserable, hard as the headline acts, Loryn and Rudimental, tried to pretend otherwise.
They were performing the tournament’s official song, Stand By, which is sufficiently inoffensive to stand repeated airings on the highlights packages. It seems to be about a girl who is trying to win back the boy she likes by telling him all the better things she could be doing instead of waiting for him to commit. “You should call me before I go / ’cause I got options don’t think I don’t.”
Well, quite. So did everyone else there and, after an hour of all this, some of those options, like a warm cup of tea and a long sit down, were beginning to seem pretty tempting. The ceremony must have worked better on TV anyway. The whole event had been organised that way. It was held on The Mall pretty much just so the broadcasters could use Buckingham Palace as a backdrop. But there were not really any facilities, food or drink for the poor unfortunates who had been roped in to make up the crowd. Someone had thought to put up some portable loos and pack a few box-loads of plastic ponchos to help keep the rain off, but that was it.
The highlight must have been when the 10 captains shuffled out on to the stage, just because of the precious flickers of warmth given off by huge flames that burst into the sky behind them as they arrived. Eoin Morgan and Virat Kohli offered up some brisk platitudes about the tournament.
“We just want it to start now and I imagine most of the other nine captains feel the same way” Morgan said. South Africa’s Faf du Plessis said something too, although it was difficult to make out what it was, exactly, because his mouth was covered by the enormous woollen scarf he had wound around his neck to try and keep warm.
After that there was a quick game of pro-am street cricket, 10 teams with two players each, playing 60-second innings. The ICC match referee David Boon explained the rules. “It’s one run if the ball hits any part of your bat,” he said. “It’s four if you hit it into the crowd and minus‑four if you lose a ball.”
Tom Harrison, the England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive, was in the crowd, presumably taking mental notes on which bits of all this he might borrow when they launch the Hundred next year.
“If there’s a draw the winning team will be the one where the celebrity players scored the most runs,” Boon said.” Harrison nodded.
They were a motley lot, the celebrities. Yohan Blake, Pat Cash, Steven Pienaar, Malala Yousafzai, (no, really, Malala Yousafzai) and that guy off Love Island, who actually turned out to be quite a handy bat – better than his partner, Kevin Pietersen, who insisted on trying to switch-hit almost everything.
The bowlers were all boys from the MCC groundstaff. One of them had the temerity to bowl a beamer at Viv Richards, who suddenly lost his warm smile and shot the kid such an icy glare that he immediately bowled him a more apologetic delivery that Richards duly creamed for four into the tree at cover point.
The tournament was won by England, beating the Australian pair of Cash and Brett Lee, who said that he was absolutely freezing and not much else, in the final.
After that there was one more performance of the official song and that about wrapped it all up for the night. The Royal Parks insisted everything had to be shut down by 6pm. It probably did not take the ICC long to clear the site. They said they had invited 4,000 people, but there cannot have been many more than 400 there, corralled behind a metal barrier, all shuffling around in their plastic macs and huddled together under umbrellas.
There were a few curious tourists, too, peeking through the opaque fencing that surrounded the site, trying to figure out what was going on. Otherwise The Mall, which had been entirely closed off for the event, was empty all the way to the security gates down towards Admiralty Arch.
Beyond that is Trafalgar Square. In 2005, a huge crowd gathered there to celebrate England’s Ashes victory that summer, in what looks, now, like the high-water mark of the sport’s popularity in recent years. No one took a headcount, but newspapers estimated there were almost a quarter of a million people there that day. It was the last time cricket felt like a national sport in this country.
The ECB desperately wants this World Cup to recapture some of that feeling over the next six weeks. On the evidence of this, the England team are going to have to do some very heavy lifting.