On the field of dreams

Iain Fletcher watches cricket's youth gather on the greatest stage

The cost cutter Under-15 World Challenge was officially opened yesterday at Lord's by Kate Hoey, the Minster of Sport. The players from eight countries involved - England, South Africa, West Indies, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Holland - each received a commemorative medal from her, but before doing so they had enjoyed a full tour of the ground and pavilion.

The cost cutter Under-15 World Challenge was officially opened yesterday at Lord's by Kate Hoey, the Minster of Sport. The players from eight countries involved - England, South Africa, West Indies, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Holland - each received a commemorative medal from her, but before doing so they had enjoyed a full tour of the ground and pavilion.

It was a wonderful tour of cricketing history and for many, unless they reach the final on 10 August, the only time they will tread the boards of cricket's greatest stage.

The tournament was bestowed an even greater significance by the presence of one of the greatest cricketers of all time. Vivian Richards was a guest and one that none of the players from whichever country could fail to recognise. Nor would they the man towering over them. The giant "big bird', Joel Garner, is easily spotted but there may have been a few queries among the younger generation of the well-dressed bearded gentleman standing just behind these two West Indian legends. "Who he?" might not have been questioned of Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees too many times, but his world fame probably does not extend to a group of 14-year-old cricketers from Sri Lanka. It did, however, for the parents that had gathered at the Nursery ground to watch their progenies during the ceremony. Video cameras were not exclusively trained on young Thomas standing proud in his blazer.

Speaking after the minister, Lord MacLaurin, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, reminded the teams that "there is a huge camaraderie in cricket. You will make friends over the next couple of weeks that you will keep and meet again in the future. That is the beauty of the game and I hope you will leave feeling privileged to have been at this tournament."

The ceremony was completed by a rock 'n' roll extravaganza by students from the Sylvia Young Theatre School. The song and jives however will become swing and drives from today as the eight teams compete for the trophy held by India from the inaugural tournament in 1996. During the fortnight the teams will meet the Duke of Edinburgh at St James's Palace, visit the Dome and learn from playing cricket in and against different cultures. But it is the thrills and spills on the field that will matter most to the youngsters as they strive to become world champions.

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