The Soweto Cricket Oval became the focus of international attention on Thursday when it was turned into dazzling scene of colour and song for the official launch of the eighth ICC Cricket World Cup to be staged in South Africa in February and March of 2003.

More than 400 guests - who included South Africa's Minister of Sport and Recreation Ngconde Balfour and the International Cricket Council's chief executive officer Malcolm Speed - were treated to a taste of what Africa's first cricket World Cup will be about.

In an event televised around the world, Mr Balfour performed the ceremony of raising the new 2003 World Cup flag for the first time on a day in which the eye-catching official logo and Dazzler, the tournament's zebra mascot were unveiled.

The president of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, Adv Percy Sonn, said it was symbolic that the launch function should be staged in Soweto where so much of the future of South African cricket lay. It was, he said, demonstrably the greatest cricket function that Soweto had ever hosted.

More than 100 Soweto schoolchildren, dressed in bright World Cup regalia, celebrated the event by taking part in a mass cricket clinic.

The SA Post Office's chief executive officer Mr Maanda Manyatshe also used the occasion to reveal the first in a series of 13 World Cup postage stamps and hand over commemorative issues.

The guests, who included the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Mr Ronnie Kasrils, and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Aziz Pahad, were reminded of Ali Bacher's prophetic words, uttered in a speech to the Wisden Dinner in London 12 years ago, promising that cricket in South Africa would survive its international isolation and that "out of Africa will come something new. It will be dazzling, it will be strong, it will be good."

As the executive director of the 2003 World Cup, Dr Bacher's use of the word "dazzling" in 1989 now takes on special significance. The collective noun for zebras is a "dazzle" and the World Cup mascot - a zebra in 12 cricket poses - will be known as Dazzler.

Nathan Reddy, of the agency TBWA Gavin Reddy, who designed the logo and mascot, explained that the zebra colours represented the fusion of black and white peoples and the cultural diversity of South Africa.

Dr Bacher reaffirmed the World Cup's mission statement that promises to enhance the lives of South Africans in all walks of life through the event. He said the teamwork of the United Cricket Board, the International Cricket Council and the Global Cricket Corporation, who hold the television and sponsorship rights, would ensure the success of the tournament, as would the strong partnerships that had already developed with, among others, the SA Post Office, Department of Trade and Industries, Reserve Bank, SA Sports Commission and SA Mint.

Mr Speed, who came to Soweto from London especially to attend the launch, emphasized the scope of the event internationally when he announced an expected television audience of 1 billion people. He said he was confident that South Africa would deliver an excellent event.

The World Cup's information website was also launched with a big-screen sneak preview. It can be accessed on