The opening ceremony of the World Cup got under way yesterday with the captains of the 14 competing teams paraded through Dhaka’s Bangabandhu Stadium in colorfully draped rickshaws.
Protected by a sheet of bullet-proof glass, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina watched as home skipper Shakib Al Hasan received a rapturous welcome from the packed arena as he arrived at the rear of the parade.
The two-hour event, in which Ricky Ponting, captain of defending champions Australia, led the sparkling three-wheeled procession, saw 3,500 performers putting on a show reflecting Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi culture.
“I hope that the games will be memorable and exciting,” Sheikh Hasina said. “It gives me great pleasure to declare the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup open.”
Dhaka has been spruced up for the World Cup as it seeks to take advantage of a prime opportunity to rebrand a country often known only for floods and cyclones.
The nation has spent more than US$100 million to tidy up for the tournament it co-hosts with India and Sri Lanka, looking at the showpiece as the biggest event since independence in 1971.
Beggars have been paid to stay off roads, hawkers have been evicted from overcrowded pavements and buildings given a new coat of paint.
Even though Bangladesh hosts just eight of the 49 matches at two venues, in Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong, the entire nation is in the grip of cricket fever.
“The World Cup has given us a great opportunity to show the world, particularly the global press, that we are not only a country of floods, cyclones or natural disasters,” said Ramendu Majumdar, a top branding expert.