A perfect opener for the big event

There remains the ability in the Caribbean to miraculously finish things at the last minute. But, increasingly — or at least in the context of the World Cup — the West Indians are making sure they come across as better organised, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

That the opening ceremony started as promised and advertised at precisely 5.15 p.m. was the first indication that the West Indians are dead serious about doing this right. This, remember, is a region where simple tasks such as picking up the morning paper are accompanied by long courtship rituals; the locals have a delightfully nebulous sense of time, and it's a wonder cricket matches start at all. Those that have been in these parts before certainly can't believe it: minutes before the West Indies was scheduled to take on India once, the sightscreen was being painted white by a man clearly on his own trip.

But things have changed subtly. There remains the ability to miraculously finish things at the last minute. But, increasingly — or at least in the context of the World Cup — the West Indians are making sure they come across as better organised. The road from Kingston to Montego Bay is a case in point.

Last May, this writer did the four-hour trip with colleagues. Few if any got out of the van without whiplash, so bad were some parts of the road. In under a year, a major part of the route is a six-lane express highway. And it now takes three hours.

The new Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium, which hosted the opening ceremony, is as oojah cum spiff as any anywhere — one of the many grounds that have, incredibly, made the deadlines for the World Cup. When Chris Dehring, Managing Director and CEO, ICC Cricket World Cup 2007, said the fact that all teams had arrived in the right place, and so had the baggage, one suspected irony. But, it appears he was dead serious. The arrival of the teams was a task, and the committee wasn't taking anything lightly.

At Trelawny, just as Sir Garfield Sobers finished his piece — painfully brief, consisting of the great man gliding on stage, removing as he glided his spectacles, blinking at the bright arc lights, and saying he declared the World Cup open — fireworks went off. It seemed unending with fiery fragments of green, blue, red, violet fighting for primacy in the night sky before turning into embers. A local turned around, accosted the first foreigner he saw, and asked, "How was it?", and ascertaining that the answer was indeed what he expected to hear, turned away nodding knowingly.

Michael Holding sat through the three hours, singing along, occasionally permitting himself the graceful Jamaican sway. The venerable Tony Cozier mopped his brow before the ceremony began, but soon he was on, introducing the teams, and at least once, his voice choked with emotion. Other West Indian journalists watched quietly in the beginning, bracing themselves for the inevitable cock-up that always seems to happen at ceremonies of this magnitude. But, none were forthcoming. As the ceremony wound up, they gave up all pretences of professionalism — as had every other journalist in the press enclosure — and sang and danced.

The ceremony itself was outstanding. An enormous stage with considerable scaffolding had been set up. Spread over most of the inner ring of the ground, it looked like a spaceship waiting for the command to lift off. Despite the size of the stage — reportedly the biggest ever set up in the Caribbean — workers manoeuvred deftly around, rolling in additional platforms with performers on them! Entertainers — Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Machel Montano, Allyson Hinds, Kevin Lyttle, Arrow, Sean Paul — flitted in and out seamlessly, as the music magically filled in the dots.

Even the most boring part of such occasions — introductory remarks — passed quickly. Shepherded in by the Massed bands and Corps of Drums of the Jamaica Defence Force in a whirlwind of drumsticks, the dignitaries made their points briefly and passed on. Dr. Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Granada, would have been forgiven had he crowed on about how his country rebuilt after hurricanes Ivan and Emily to make the World Cup, but all he said was a dignified "I am proud."

Trust the Jamaicans to make singing their national anthem cool: dancehall star Sanchez, in white suit, white pant, and white shoes, rendered a soulful interpretation. The rest of the ceremony was a glorious blur of colour, movement, and music designed to show off the complex intricacies of West Indian creativity. The backdrop was a kaleidoscope played on by a hundred lasers. The crowd lived it up: waving scarves, cheering wildly — even during the pauses of the speeches earlier — and thrilling in the localism of a global ceremony. That the drummers from South Africa and the dancers from Ireland received thunderous cheers showed they weren't being provincial.

The loudest cheers though were reserved for the members of the West Indian cricket team when they arrived last, by virtue of being the hosts, in the team parade.

For long these fine, friendly people in these blessed lands have been forced to watch a once dominant cricket nation struggle. Here's hoping this is the first of something truly special.