Dhaka: Bangladeshis cast aside their usual docile and reserved image on Thursday and proudly displayed their sporting passion at the gala opening ceremony of the Cricket World Cup later in Dhaka.
The $30 million jamboree, jointly organized by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB), was opened by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after captains from the 14 participating nations were paraded around the Bangabandhu National Stadium on traditional cycle rickshaws.
Outside, on the often chaotic and jam-packed Dhaka roads, traffic was relatively light with the government declaring Thursday a half-day public holiday to allow people to watch the dazzling opening ceremony.
“We feel greatly privileged to co-host the cricket extravaganza in our beautiful country,” Hasina told the crowd.
“I congratulate my cricket-loving countrymen for their great enthusiasm and cooperation to make this event a grand success.
“Good luck to the players and I hope that fraternity among the nations will further be strengthened through this World Cup.”
The highlight of the two-hour spectacle was an aerial cricket match, where high-flying acrobats hit and chased after a laser-beamed ball against a vertical backdrop of a playing pitch.
A mock intruder, suspended on an abseiling rope, even ran across the ground to draw hoots of laughter from the 25,000 sell-out crowd.
A host of singers and dancers from the three host countries were joined by Grammy award-winning Canadian singer Bryan Adams.
With his hair slicked back and sporting a black shirt, Adams rocked the arena with a medley of his hits including the Summer of 69.
It is the first time the country, which is slowly making a mark in world one-day cricket if not the five-day test version, has helped stage the showpiece event which will last from 19 February to 2 April.
The country, whose population of more than 160 million has suffered more than its fair share of natural disasters, is jointly hosting with India and Sri Lanka and thoroughly enjoying its rare moment in the sporting spotlight.
“We will be able to improve our image if we can successfully .... host the World Cup matches slated for us,” Mostafa Kamal, president of Bangladesh Cricket Board, told reporters.
Bangladesh will stage the tournament’s opening match between India and Bangladesh at Shere Bangla National Stadium in the Mirpur area of Dhaka on Saturday.
Six Group B matches and two quarter-final matches will be played until 25 March in Dhaka and the main port city of Chittagong.
Huge replicas of cricket bats, balls, players and even grounds have been erected at important road intersections in Dhaka which, unlike several Indian cities, is awash with reminders that the Cricket World Cup is here.
The city authorities have renovated the streets, painted the road sides and footpaths and residents have festooned their homes and neighbourhoods with cricket-themed decorations.
Cricket venues and important thoroughfares have been specially illuminated at night and will continue to be lit up throughout the six-week tournament to add to the carnival atmosphere.
“Dhaka is looking very beautiful, ready and attractive,” Basirah Alam, a New Zealand-based Bangladeshi who has returned home on a visit to her parents.
Despite the party mood, authorities were taking no chances with security in a notoriously volatile region where memories of the gun attack in Pakistan on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus in 2009 are still fresh.
That resulted in a ban by the ICC on Pakistan hosting international matches which still endures. It was to have shared the honour of hosting this World Cup.