Overs and done: the Cricket World Cup

James Fuller reflects on the lasting legacy of the Cricket World Cup in 2007

England fans celebrate the fall of a New Zealand wicket at St Lucia’s Beausejour Stadium. Photograph by James FullerMoko jumbies perform outside the Beausejour Stadium, St Lucia. Photograph by James Fuller

The first assessment of the first Cricket World Cup hosted by the Caribbean was a gloomy one but, in truth, there was much to celebrate as well as bemoan.

On the field, there was the emergence of a crop of exciting new stars as well as some older ones who bowed out with distinction.

For all cricketers of a certain age it was heartening to see a host of players the wrong side of 35 performing heroics. Witness the Australian triumvirate of Glenn McGrath, 37, Player of the Tournament; Matt Hayden, 35, top run-scorer; and Adam Gilchrist, 35, scorer of the fastest century in a final. Add to these Sri Lankan opener Sanath Jayusariya, 38, whose pugnacious batting style will be sorely missed, and of course the Caribbean’s own retiring king, the 38-year-old Brian Charles Lara. Many West Indians have criticised Lara relentlessly during his career, a position I find perpetually mystifying. It remains to be seen how the team he carried for so long performs without him.

For the fans that saw developing talents like Sri Lankan fast bowler Lasith “The Slinger” Malinga, Aussie tyro Shaun Tait and the flamboyantly-coiffed Englishman Kevin Pietersen, it will be an experience not forgotten. Nothing can compare to being there.

Many pundits had criticised the increased representation of smaller nations, predicting farcically one-sided encounters which would do more to damage the sport than promote. Watching Bangladesh beating India and then South Africa, and Ireland downing Pakistan on St Patrick’s Day, though, is what sport is all about.

Bangladesh are like the Sri Lanka of the 1980s: a cricket-obsessed country with great batsmen but who currently lack the bowling firepower to consistently trouble the top teams. Who is to say they can’t follow that Sri Lankan model and be challenging for world titles in years to come?

Even with teams like Bermuda, who were put to the sword more easily, there are positives. Ever since it qualified for the World Cup, back in 2005, interest in the game has exploded on the island. Art teacher and cricket captain Irvine Romaine said, “The kids don’t want to talk about art any more, all they want to talk about is cricket.”

If the game is to thrive and grow globally, then it needs to excite youngsters in this way and their enthusiasm must be nurtured.

The Bermudans were also responsible for one of the cult figures of the tournament, the hulking 20-stone policeman and left-arm spin bowler Dwayne Leverock. His diving one-handed catch against India and thundering celebratory run, like a charging bull elephant, will live long in the memory.

And don’t believe that the over-regulation at the grounds managed to snuff out all of the crowd fun. I managed to find one man, in the party stand of St Lucia’s Beausejour Stadium, who carried with him the spirit of Gravy. His name was Andy from Oxfordshire.

For a few brief, no pun intended, seconds Andy wowed the crowd with his rendition of Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedic creation Borat. That was before he was removed for causing too much hilarity and told to cover up his skimpy lime-green leotard. He returned to the biggest cheer of the day.

Of course, no list of World Cup winners would be complete without a mention of the thousands of orange-clad home-grown volunteers who helped brighten the event for visiting fans with their humour and tireless effort.

For the West Indies team, however, it was largely an experience to forget, as they went backwards rather than forwards following a promising Champions Trophy final appearance in India just a few months earlier.

Among rumours of players preferring to party instead of prepare, the team nose-dived in the second round. Troy Garvey, corporate communications manager for the Grenada Local Organising Committee, hopes lessons are learned.

“I hope one of the things which comes out of this is a closer look being taken at the management systems for the players and their activities off the field, because I believe it affected their performance on the field. The way the players conducted themselves and the way that the team was managed left a lot to be desired.”
For the future, what has the World Cup left behind? Chris Dehring, CEO of International Cricket Council Cricket World Cup West Indies 2007 Inc, says as well as leaving the region with huge infrastructural improvements, the tournament served to highlight its professional capacity.“Hosting a mega-event exposes the capabilities of the region to the world. The knowledge transfer and development of managerial capabilities inherent in hosting a tournament like this are huge. “It gives the region and the countries individually the confidence that they will be considered for future events.”

Garvey agrees. “We gained tremendous experience in handling a huge world-class event. The tournament in terms of execution and hosting was excellent and I think as a region we can be proud of what was achieved.”

He adds that regional solidarity was perhaps one unexpected benefit.

“The region came together in a way that we’ve been attempting for years. There were nine host countries and movement between those nations was hassle-free. Looking back, most people didn’t think we could do it.”

Investment and new business links have also been established. The Indian government financed the Providence Stadium in Guyana, the Taiwanese helped out in St Kitts and Nevis, and the Chinese were involved in Jamaica, Antigua and Grenada.

The influence of television exposure on future Caribbean tourist figures had long been touted as a major legacy. Garvey says it was even more important for his country than most.

“Grenada was rebuilding after two devastating hurricanes, so it was a fantastic opportunity for us to say that we’re back, and we did that. The international exposure was tremendous.”

The TV money will also filter down to cricket development within the region via a profit-sharing agreement between Cricket World Cup (CWC) and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).

The most obvious legacy of the World Cup, though, is the host of new stadiums and associated sporting facilities erected across the region.

Don Lockerbie, ICC event development director, anticipates these stadiums will encourage sports tourists to the region in increased numbers. He rejects the notion that these magnificent new structures will not be fully utilised now that the World Cup bandwagon has moved on.

“The implications were carefully considered all the way down the line, and these will be revenue-generating. The stadiums will be temples to entertainment, used for concerts, trade shows, massive social events, festivals and the like. We have no white elephants.”