Great opening acts
Saturday's first one-day international between England and Sri Lanka passed in a blur of indifference, as most of the home audience was transfixed by the latest round of football World Cup matches. But it hasn't always been thus. Here, Cricinfo charts a selection of one-day series curtain-raisers that lived up to the hype, or created a hype all of their own. As usual, the list is not meant to be definitive, so if you're outraged by our selections, let us know.
v Australia, Melbourne 1970-71
An accidental concept that proved an instant hit. The very first one-day international was a hastily arranged affair, played on the final scheduled day of a rain-wrecked third Ashes Test. By coincidence, it not only took place on the very ground where Test cricket had begun 94 years earlier, but also resulted in an Australian victory. Neither side was entirely au fait with the modern-day scoring rates, with Geoff Boycott loitering for 37 balls over his 8, although John Edrich anchored England's innings impressively for 82 from 119 balls. It wasn't enough, as Australia whistled past their target of 191 in just under 35 eight-ball overs. Perhaps more significant than the result was the turn-out - 46,000 spectators flocked through the turnstiles to instigate a revolution in international cricket.
v South Africa, Calcutta, 1991-92
Clive Rice might have been one of the great players of the world game, but his illustrious domestic career coincided almost entirely with South Africa's era of apartheid isolation. So when, at the age of 42, he was named as his country's captain for a hastily arranged - and groundbreaking - tour of India in November 1991, it was a moment almost too surreal to contemplate. More than 250 journalists from around the world attended the press conference that heralded South Africa's return to the fray after two decades as a pariah state, and ahead of the match itself at a packed Eden Gardens, the two captains, Rice and Mohammad Azharuddin, released doves of peace onto the pitch. Unsurprisingly, the event itself was too much for the awestruck South Africans, who never recovered from being bowled out for 177 - despite the best efforts of a young Allan Donald, who took 5 for 29 on debut.
v Australia, Headingley 1997
Throughout the 1990s, the arrival of the Australians invariably brought out the worst in England's cricketers, but amid the mayhem there was one summer when everything seemed to come together at last. In the early part of the 1997 season, the Aussies were in a bit of a muck sweat. Their captain, Mark Taylor, was in a shocking vein of form, and as the squad toiled to acquaint themselves to English conditions, they came up against a united and focused opposition. Adam Hollioake, a future one-day captain in the making, had been identified as England's man of the moment, and it was he who struck the winning runs in the opening match of the Texaco Trophy, as indeed he would do in each of the two remaining games. England even carried their momentum into a famous first-Test win at Edgbaston, but Australia rallied in the midsummer to secure their fourth consecutive defence of the Ashes.
v Pakistan, Lord's 1992
This was not a memorable match per se - in fact, England bossed it from start to finish, thanks to fifties from Alec Stewart, Allan Lamb and the Man of the Match, Robin Smith. But the timing was significant nonetheless, for this was the first international that either team had played since the World Cup final in Melbourne two months earlier. On that occasion, Pakistan had emerged as deserved winners, driven on by Imran Khan's "cornered tigers" speech to power to a 22-run victory that was more comprehensive than the margin suggested. Revenge was in the air when the teams reconvened in England for a five-match grudge series, and a 4-1 home result was some small compensation. But Pakistan had captured the crown that really mattered. In three subsequent World Cups, England haven't come close to rediscovering that same formula that carried them so close.
v India, Karachi, 2003-04
Few matches in the modern era have been burdened with quite so much hype as this, as India and Pakistan prepared to bury their animosities and re-open their sporting links with their first match on Pakistani soil for 14 years. The fact that the match was being played in Karachi, that mistrusted hothouse, added an extra frisson to the occasion. Amazingly, once the action got underway, there was no need for the peripheral hoopla - the contest was quite sufficiently gripping. India batted first and stormed out of the blocks as if releasing a generation's worth of frustration - 349 for 7 in 50 overs, surely game, set and match. And yet, Pakistan simply refused to buckle. Inzamam-ul-Haq was a colossus, carving 122 from 102 balls to carry Pakistan to the brink of glory. They failed, but by a mere five runs, as the Karachi crowd cheered the Indian victors to the rooftops.
Africa v New Zealand, Bloemfontein 2005-06
As New Zealand's disgraceful itinerary for the next 17 months implies, one-day cricket is rather the be-all and end-all in the southern hemisphere at present. And though South Africa v New Zealand doesn't seem the most alluring of match-ups on paper, this series was given an extra frisson of interest by the events of the preceding clash between the two teams. In March 2004, Stephen Fleming, New Zealand's captain, gave Graeme Smith the beating of his life - both verbally, thanks to an extraordinary pre-meditated outburst, and competitively, with a 5-1 series thumping. Eighteen months later, however, with his home crowd lending their support, Smith had his revenge. South Africa won four of the five games, with one no result, having kept their cool for a thrilling two-wicket win in the opening match of the rubber.
v Zimbabwe, Faridabad 2001-02
Nobody in their right minds would have earmarked this series as a classic of its genre, but then nobody had bargained for Doug Marillier and his remarkably inventive bat. Zimbabwe had already been swept away during the Test series, with Andy Flower unable to reprise his heroics of 2000-01, and few gave them any hope of survival when the one-dayers got underway. India's opening gambit of 274 for 6 seemed more than ample when Zimbabwe slumped to 21 for 2 in reply, and though Alistair Campbell and Flower hauled them back into contention with a 111-run stand for the third wicket, Zimbabwe lost 5 for 24 in eight overs to slip to the brink of defeat. Enter Marillier, who charmed the match back to life with an extraordinary onslaught, as he used his bat as a ramp to lift the ball over the keeper's head and down to the fine leg boundary. He made 56 not out from 24 balls, as Zimbabwe eked out a thrilling one-wicket victory with two balls to spare.
The early summer of 2005 constituted the longest phoney war in cricket's history, as every twist and turn of the build-up was micro-analysed in terms of the Ashes pointers it contained. The early indications suited England just fine. The Aussies had already been ambushed in the Twenty20 curtain-raiser at the Rose Bowl, and a subsequent defeat against Somerset hardly helped their cause. But though these setbacks could be shrugged off amid all the banter, there was one result to come that left the Aussies with no place to hide. Up until the moment they arrived at Cardiff, the Bangladeshis had been little more than bemused bystanders in a very private squabble. By the time they had condemned their mighty opponents to a five-wicket defeat, they were the toast of their host nation, and the Aussies had become a universal laughing stock. "Kanger-ruins," crowed The Sun, as the Ashes heat was cranked up an extra notch.
v West Indies, Old Trafford 1984
Maybe it was just a sign of things to come, but England's opening encounter with West Indies in the blackwash summer of 1984 was as comprehensive a rout as anything that would later be seen. That wasn't what seemed to be on the cards at the time, however, as an attack including an ageing Bob Willis, Ian Botham and Geoff Miller reduced their opponents to 166 for 9, with eight of the nine batsmen falling in single figures. One man, however, remained. Viv Richards had made his name as a Test batsman on the corresponding tour eight years earlier, and now embarked on what is still recalled as arguably the finest one-day innings of them all. With Michael Holding providing solid support at No. 11, Richards lacerated the England attack to the tune of 189 not out from 170 balls, with 21 fours and five sixes. Suitably stunned, England crumbled for 168 and the course of the summer had been set.
Africa v West Indies, Cape Town 2002-03
It wasn't the result the home fans wanted, but it was the match the eighth World Cup needed, as West Indies inched past South Africa in a thrill-a-minute encounter at Newlands. From 7 for 2 in the seventh over, Brian Lara transformed a rickety West Indian performance with a glorious century that outshone even the dazzling opening ceremony that had preceded the game. His efforts, coupled with measured performances from Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Carl Hooper, ensured a defendable total of 278, but when Lance Klusener reprised his form from the 1999 tournament with 57 from 48 balls, it seemed the match had only one way to go. With nine needed from the final over, however, Klusener mistimed a third-ball smear into the deep and, having forgotten to cross to enable Nicky Boje to take strike, it was asking too much of the No. 11 Makhaya Ntini to deliver the win.
Bangladesh v Zimbabwe, Dhaka 2004-05
And they say that the expectations on England's footballers are invariably too high. Wayne Rooney and pals should try being Bangladeshi cricketers for a fortnight - the second fortnight of January 2005, for instance, when their fellow minnows Zimbabwe were in town and the entire nation sensed a triumph was waiting in the wings. After four fruitless years, Bangladesh had just won their first Test series against the same opposition but now, in their favoured form of the game, they were suddenly cast as favourites. It was all too much to cope with. After starting brightly with two early wickets, Bangladesh lost their grip on the game as Zimbabwe posted an imposing 251 for 8, then set about strangling their hosts' reply. Douglas Hondo wrecked the middle order with 3 for 36, as Bangladesh fell 22 runs short. Four days later they lost again, by 31 runs in Chittagong this time, and the despair could be felt throughout the region. But there was to be a happy ending after all, as Bangladesh won all three remaining games to sneak an unexpectedly thrilling 3-2 victory.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo