Sporting fireworks hit paradise islands

Armstrong Vaz

Caribbean cricket fever has been sparked by the start of the prestigious World Cup tournament. West Indian islands have decked themselves out to play host to this mega sporting show which will has seen steel pan and drum playing fans whipped into a frenzy of excitement.

Afterall, a World Cup is held only every four years. Although the game of cricket was spread through the colonial rule of the Englishmen, winning the coveted trophy has ironically eluded teams from the 'Motherland'. Sixteen teams will slog it out to become overall winners.

The final will be held on April 28th. Hectic activity is on to get the stadiums and other infrastructure ready in time for the event, for which the Caribbean islands have long been planning. The nine hosts countries are St. Vincent, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda and Jamaica.

The hosts are well know in the cricketing world as the West Indies. So, the countdown has begun. Come March 11 the glamour and the glitz will be there for everyone to watch. And the hopefully the fire works and the razzamatazz will come from the cricket pitch.

Yes, the cricket world cup action is coming to the Caribbean islands. But, for me, a cricket world cup cannot match the intensity and reach of a football world cup. But, apart from the Asian countries of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, world cup madness is bound to engulf Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa.

Five countries have so far won the world cup in the eight tournaments held so far- Australia thrice, West Indies twice, while India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka once. India gave the lead in 1993 winning the cup for the Asian region in the third cup held in England. The win, under the captaincy of Kapil Dev, prevented a hat -trick by the Clive Lloyd-led West Indies team.

A world cup win for India would give the game a massive boast in the region. India have come close to winning the trophy only once. In 2003, they finished runners up to Australia. Then neigbours Pakistan emerged winners in 1992 when the cup was jointly organised by Australia and England, under the stewardship of Imran khan.

Not to be outdone, another Asian country Sri Lanka who got test playing status in 1983, won the cup in 1996 when they were co-hosts along with India and Pakistan. Current hosts. the West Indies have won the trophy twice and the current contest is their best hope for some time of them adding to their previous victories.

Caribbean calypso was popular worldwide when the West Indies won the championship back to back in 1975 and 1979. Their failure to lift the trophy in 1983 was a huge jolt for them from which they have not recovered. The Australians, who are in sublime form, are overwhelming favourities to add to the three titles they have won so far The first one came in the Indian sub continent in 1987, the second in 1999, when the event was held in England and the third in the last world cup in south Africa in 2003.

England have come agonisingly close to winning the trophy on three occasions and every time it has slipped from their grasp. New Zealand, another considerable cricketing force, have not won the world cup yet. South Africa admitted back into the cricketing fold, after they ended their racist apartheid policies, are also looking for their first world cup title.

This year world Cup will be contested by the 10 test playing countries (including Zimbabwe whose test status has been suspended) and the qualifiers, making a field of 16 teams. Four teams will vie to qualify from the groups at the qualifying stage The qualifiers who will rub shoulders with the elite test teams are Bermuda, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, Holland and Scotland.

Of the eight tournaments held so far, the first was called the Prudential World Cup, after its insurance company sponsor. It saw eight teams in action. The six Test-playing nations (England, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, India and Pakistan) teamed up along with Sri Lanka and East Africa to provide excitement to the first ever cricket World Cup

The 1979 tournament format took on similar lines on 1975, with two groups of four, with the top two teams advancing to semi-finals, and the games at 60 overs per innings. In 1983, with Sri Lanka already elevated to test status, only one place was available through qualification at the ICC Trophy and Zimbabwe grabbed it.

The 1987 event in India and Pakistan saw the World Cup being hosted outside England for the first time. The difference was felt in the reduction of overs to the now standard 50 per side. The 1992 cup was a curtain raiser to many an innovative practice, one of which was the introduction of Day/night cricket.

The white ball and coloured clothing at the World Cup turned a new leaf in the game's stuffy history. Competitive ise it saw an expanded field. It was also the first WC held in the southern hemisphere; jointly hosted bys New Zealand and Australia, the tournament was greatly expanded. Both South Africa and Zimbabwe, had got their test ranks, and this swelled the number of teams to nine.

The 1992 set-up allowed no participation from non-test playing teams now that Zimbabwe had been granted full test status. The 1996 event saw a change in format. The preliminary rounds were in two groups of six, with eight teams advancing to the quarter finals.

Three teams qualified via the ICC Trophy. The main tournament returned to three Asian countries - India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The World Cup came back to England in 1999, Once again there were 12 participating teams, placed in two groups. The nine test-playing nations were joined by Kenya, Bangladesh and Scotland.

The top three in each group qualified for the Super Six stage that was played on a league basis and the top four made it to the knock-out semi-finals. South Africa hosted the last world cup in 2003, for the first time, the format was the same as in 1999.

The high point of the tournament was the political situation in Zimbabwe endng in England refusing to play Zimbabwe and having points deducted as a result.

Here are the groups and fixtures for 2007 cricket World Cup:

March 11: Opening Ceremony(Trelawny Stadium, Jamaica) GROUP STAGE Group A Group B Group C Group D A1: Australia B1: Sri Lanka C1: New Zealand D1: Pakistan A2: South Africa B2: India C2: England D2: West Indies A3: Scotland B3: Bangladesh C3: Kenya D3: Zimbabwe A4: Holland B4: Bermuda C4: Canada D4: Ireland Venues Group A - St Kitts Group B - Trinidad and Tobago Group C - St. Lucia Group D - Jamaica Fixtures Tue 13 Mar WIS v PAK Wed 14 Mar AUS v SCO, KEN v CAN Thu 15 Mar SRI v BER, ZIM v IRL Fri 16 Mar RSA v NED, ENG v NZL Sat 17 Mar IND v BAN, PAK v IRL Sun 18 Mar AUS v HOL, ENG v CAN Mon 19 Mar IND v BER, WIS v ZIM Tue 20 Mar RSA v SCO, NZL v KEN Wed 21 Mar SRI v BAN, ZIM v PAK Thu 22 Mar SCO v NED, NZL v CAN Fri 23 Mar IND v SRI, WIS v IRL Sat 24 Mar AUS v RSA, ENG v KEN Sun 25 Mar BER v BAN Super Eight Series (top two from each group progress though none from the same group play each other in Super Eight.) Tue 27 Mar D2 v A1 Wed 28 Mar A2 v B1 Thu 29 Mar D2 v C1 Fri 30 Mar D1 v C2 Sat 31 Mar A1 v B2 Sun 01 Apr D2 v B1 Mon 02 Apr B2 v C1 Tue 03 Apr D1 v A2 Wed 04 Apr C2 v B1 Sat 07 Apr B2 v A2 Sun 08 Apr A1 v C2 Mon 09 Apr D1 v C1 Tue 10 Apr D2 v A2 Wed 11 Apr C2 v B2 Thu 12 Apr B1 v C1 Fri 13 Apr A1 v D1 Sat 14 Apr A2 v C1 Sun 15 Apr B2 v D1 Mon 16 Apr A1 v B1 Tue 17 Apr A2 v C2 Wed 18 Apr D1 v B1 Thu 19 Apr D2 v B2 Fri 20 Apr A1 v C1 Sat 21 Apr D2 v C2 Semi Finals Tue 24 Apr Super Eight 2 v Super Eight 3 Jamaica Wed 25 Apr Super Eight 1 v Super Eight 4 St Lucia Final Barbados Sat 28 Apr