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The Rediff Special/Mark Meadows
Money talks at World Cup
February 21, 2007
Reggae, rum and Caribbean charm will join the party at the cricket World Cup next month when the revenue generated from 51 matches will be as important to the tournament as the names of the eventual winners.
In the one-day game in general, sponsored sightscreens and outfields are now commonplace and woe betide any player who speaks to the media without standing in front of a board emblazoned with adverts.
The traditionalists may lament the route the shorter form of the game has taken but without innovations such as day/night matches and fielding restrictions, crowds and television income would inevitably be lower.
Cricket merchandising has also reached another level thanks to replica coloured kit which fans, used to sporting soccer or rugby jerseys, would rather wear than the non-distinguishable white team shirts of old.
The onset of Twenty20 cricket, a slogfest that fans can watch on their way home from work, further underlines cricket's obsession with attracting a younger audience, while even the players have started over-celebrating like soccer players.
It is all a far cry from the first World Cup in England in 1975, which was spawned partly out of fear that five-day Tests were too dull for the modern generation. It took place after only 18 one-day internationals had been played around the world.
West Indies won that first tournament and a repeat on April 28 in Barbados would not only herald joyous scenes across the Caribbean but also the ringing of cash tills and a greater interest in the game there.
"All things being equal West Indies will produce the best World Cup ever," West Indies bowling great Wes Hall told said. "In 2007 there is no Olympic Games, no football World Cup. So let's say that in 2007 it is cricket's time."
Since the golden days of the 1970s and 80s when West Indies ruled the world, they have failed to develop enough new talent with young Caribbean men choosing to play basketball and other sports because of their exposure to American television.
Through March and April though, the West Indian public will be unable to hide from a barrage of money-generating matches as the World Cup makes its elongated debut in the Americas.
The islands host 16 warmup matches before the tournament proper gets underway, but even the group stages could be classed as practice games for the big teams with minor nations such as Bermuda and Canada supplying some of the opposition.
A super eight round-robin comes next with some matches expected to be a sellout in terms of attendance, although critics also see it as a sellout to hotel and other corporate interests.
Players were among those to denounce a similar format in the last two World Cups while even the 1996 and 1992 tournaments dragged on. The points system in the 2003 event was distorted by boycotts of matches in Kenya and Zimbabwe, meaning little-fancied Kenya reached the semi-finals.
A row over visas has also led to criticism that profit is coming before cricket.
The reason for the visa is to ensure ease of travel within the region for all travellers, meaning they do not need documentation for each Caribbean country.
"This is the worst public relations nightmare that the Caribbean has ever created for itself," Josef Forstmayr, managing director of Round Hill Hotel and Villas in Jamaica, was quoted as saying on cricinfo.com.
Some also fear the visa situation is affecting ticket sales, with the cheapest seat for the final in any case costing $100, but Barbados local organising committee head Stephen Alleyne said the worries are largely unfounded.
"Public sales have gone very, very well," he said. "Elsewhere in the Caribbean sales are improving, there are a few other matches which are sold out. The key matches are gone."
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