One-day cricket--as opposed to five-day Test cricket, the main form of the game since 1877--has won huge spectator support worldwide, although players were initially reluctant to accept the abbreviated, accelerated sport. The first World Cup was "a novelty", says Australian batsman Doug Walters, whose team lost the final to the West Indies. "We didn't treat it all that seriously." The West Indians won £4,000 in 1975, beating seven other teams to the title over the course of 15 matches. This year's World Cup--involving 12 teams, to be played over 38 days with 42 matches in five countries--will deliver $300,000 to the winning team, from a total prize pool of
$1 million. The battle will reach beyond two teams on a cricket field: it will also be between cricket's past and its future.
That future may be glimpsed in the shadows of Delhi's Red Fort, once the home of Mughal emperors but now backdrop to street cricket games between urchin boys. Most of the players have no shoes; their bat is held together by twine and tape. A hard cork ball is aimed at "wickets" painted in whitewash on the fort's ancient walls. When a batsman executes a perfect pull shot, passengers on a bus gridlocked nearby break into applause. "Maybe we should charge everybody one rupee to watch," says Sukhdev, the 8-year-old son of a rickshaw driver, who's waiting for his turn to bat. "If they're going to disturb our concentration, they could at least pay."
Only one house in Sukhdev's slum neighborhood has a color television; for the five weeks of the tournament it will be filled with visitors. Neighbors have discussed hiring a portable generator in case the electricity supply is cut during a game. Says Sukhdev: "It will be a grand show."
Throughout India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, preparations for the World Cup began months before the event. Since the beginning of the year, it has dominated media coverage and dining-room conversation. In the subcontinent, even the most casual follower of the game seems to absorb enormous amounts of information about the players and their performances. How many times has Sri Lanka's Asanka Gurusinghe scored more than 50 runs in a one-day game? Any Colombo schoolboy knows the answer: 49. What was Indian batsman Mohinder Amarnath's good-luck charm? "Easy--a red handkerchief in his back pocket," says Bombay businessman Ashish Wig.
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