World Cup launched with song, dance and colour
A Christchurch crowd in the tens of thousands welcomed the 2015 World Cup in a colourful, community-focused event, which was capped off by a spectacular fireworks display. A host of cricket stars, both past and present, were in attendance, as were thousands of families, who had begun arriving at North Hagley Park in the early evening to enjoy the carnival atmosphere.
The event, free for the public, began with four big backyard cricket matches for children, each played at themed stations. There was a Caribbean corner, a "So Beige" Kiwiana mini-venue, a South Asian station, and a Victorian-themed match, replete with ladies and gentlemen dressed in fancy garb, and a painting of WG Grace overlooking the scene.
The cricket hubs wound down when the opening ceremony began in earnest with a Kandyan dance performed by a Sri Lankan troupe, followed by a Bollywood-style act, a performance by a bagpiper and an Irish river dance. A Maori cultural group also performed during the evening, apart from several popular New Zealand musical acts, including artistes like Hayley Westenra and Shapeshifter. The crowd grew as the sun set, and gathered around the main stage and the three big screens. Many had brought an evening meal and picnic mats.
Former World Cup players including Chris Harris, Rod Latham and Geoff Allott highlighted the matches that would be played across the six New Zealand venues from atop six towers, before Richard Hadlee and Stephen Fleming also appeared.
Brendon McCullum also played a role in one of the segments that featured a young boy who dreamed of becoming a great cricketer, and enlisted the assistance of Lasith Malinga, Lord of The Rings director Peter Jackson, and several other New Zealand celebrities in his quest. New Zealand prime minister John Key was also at Hagley Park, and posed for a picture with McCullum.
Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel gave an impassioned welcome speech, emphasising both the challenges that an earthquake-stricken Christchurch had overcome since 2010, and also the excitement that had built in the city, at the chance to host a major sporting event. In 2011, Rugby World Cup matches that the city had planned to host were cancelled in the wake of the two major earthquakes, but the city will now host the first match of the World Cup on Saturday. "We have been waiting for a very long time for this," Dalziel said of Christchurch's yearning to host fans of many nations who have already begun descending on the city. She also said the World Cup would be part of Christchurch's resurgence in 2015.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw - a hugely popular figure in the city - and the remainder of the New Zealand cricket team received cheers when their attendance was made visible. One of the biggest fireworks displays ever seen in Christchurch brought the event to a crescendo, as the World Cup was officially declared open.
Click here for more images from the opening ceremonies in Christchurch and Melbourne.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando