Dutch courage spares organisers' blushes
This is not a slur to either party: if there was one man the ICC needed to have on its organising committee for its World Twenty20 opening ceremony it was Lalit Modi.
Modi is a master at self aggrandisement, but he is a businessman first who will not stop at anything - like most successful business leaders. For the last two years he has successfully run the IPL brand and even managed to attract a large percentage of new fans to cricket. Cue the second edition of the IPL in South Africa where, according to Modi, "70%" of fans had never seen any form of cricket. It may sound unrealistic, but surely there were a healthy percentage of non-cricketing fans in the rainbow nation, normally a rugby and soccer-mad country, who enjoyed lounging in the highveld and dancing to Bollywood music.
If Modi has done one thing consistently, and loudly, it is blow his own trumpet. That may seem churlish, but it has one advantage: it attracts bigger crowds. In marketing jargon, your target audience is widened.
Compared to the grand opening and closing ceremonies witnessed in the last two IPLs the one today would have been over in the blink of an eye even had persistent drizzle not caused it to be all but scrapped. As it was, we had two speeches. ICC president David Morgan read out a few lines, followed by the chief guest the Duke of Kent, who declared the tournament open. Both were greeted by a wave of indifference.
Even if it we had not been spared by the weather, it would hardly have been better. A single singer - Alesha Dixon - and the 12 captains perched on podiums. They never got the opportunity to wave to the crowd as the infamous English rain arrived like a nagging old aunt to spoil the organisers' plans.
But then given the fickle English weather, why was there no Plan B. "The alternative was cricket," said an ECB spokesperson with a quizzical look on his face. But wasn't it a low-key affair? The men running the show deny anything like that.
Strangely there was gloom in the air right from the morning. Londoners opened their newspapers to read about the virtual humiliation of their prime minister, Gordon Brown. The grey, cloudy skies and the cold weather only shrouded the mind more. In such a scenario one could at least expect some sort of fanfare, which comes as a given in a Twenty20 game. Even if there was the buzz around, as would be the case when the wildcard overwhelms a strong contender, the atmosphere was bizarrely low-key.
Due to low budgets most of London remains oblivious to the fact that it is hosting the tournament. Apart from a smattering of advertisements in a few tube stations and outside the London venues - Lord's and The Oval - there is little sign of any sort of marketing campaign.
The ICC has been selling tickets in spurts over from July 2008, but fans are hard to come by. Steve Elworthy, the tournament director, after the first day's sales last year said: "I am told … that the demand has been the equivalent of that for a Robbie Williams or Madonna concert." If that was the case why was Lord's not a sellout today? : Netherlands' remarkable win was witnessed by a two-thirds full ground.
Luckily for the ICC, the Dutch saved its blushes with their victory. The Netherlands has, at most, 6000 cricket players. There were 1200 Dutch fans today, chanting enthusiastically for their countrymen in the Mound Stand. It was a glorious sight to see the orange rule the roost on Lord's greens.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo