“This is may be the best day to showcase London to the world,” laughed a volunteer as rain drizzled down in aimless droplets on a grey day at The Mall, barely 500 metres to the east of the iconic Buckingham Palace.
The Mall, not of the shopping variety but in the more traditional sense of a paved walk through a park, was the chosen venue for the Opening Party of the 2019 ICC World Cup on Wednesday evening. It was ideal to showcase London’s many faces. In front of Buckingham palace, ladies and gentlemen were haughtily walking about in their Sunday best -- rain and the fact that it was Wednesday be damned -- while at The Mall Bruno Mars’s 24K Magic was blaring out as hundreds of cricket fans of all hues were gathered to help make the party a proper blast. If the rest of London seemed immune to cricket’s global showpiece beginning the following day, that was certainly not the case in this corner of the tree-shaded St. James’s Park.
And there was a lot to be excited about for cricket nerds. Despite the gloom, cricket fans would have been fumbling for their sunglasses in the mixed media zone, such was the quality of stars mixing with mere mortals. In no particular order Anil Kumble, James Franklin, David Boon, Mahela Jayawardene Jacques Kallis, Brett Lee, Kevin Pietersen and Sir Vivian Richards (okay, perhaps there is an order to how that list ended) were mixing with mere mortals in the mixed media zone.
What made the opening party even more special was the 60-minute challenge that followed the 10 captains coming onto the stage after meeting the Queen at the Palace. The ever-popular Andrew Flintoff emceed the challenge, which was played by celebrity representatives of the 10 participating nations, with each nation putting forth one cricketer and one celebrity. The two teammates would take turns hitting as many balls as possible in one minute, and a shot over the spectator-lined boundary would yield six, four if it was along the ground, one if the bat touched ball, negative one if the player missed and negative four if he or she was dismissed. The most generous cheer came when Pakistan’s participants were announced -- Nobel Laureate and activist for women’s education Malala Yousafzai strode out with Azhar Ali, lending the event a meaning greater than cricket.
For Bangladesh it was Abdur Razzak and actor Jaya Ahsan. Razzak hit three sixes and two fours, while Jaya missed five deliveries and managed to make contact with just one, bringing the total down to 22. West Indies brought the house down with a team of Richards and 2012 Olympic silver-medallist sprinter Yohan Blake, with both hitting sixes at will. It was England’s pair of Pietersen and reality TV star Chris Hughes who won it with 74, beating Australia’s Brett Lee and tennis legend Pat Cash’s 69.
For a long time it seemed Bangladesh would come in dead last, but that distinction ended up with India’s Kumble and actor Farhan Akhtar, who managed just 19, in the process saving Jaya’s blushes.