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Tales of lost lasers and stray squirrels

Robert Winder
Saturday 24 February 1996 00:02 GMT

The sparks are still flying following the World Cup's extravagantly inept opening ceremony in Calcutta. The Indian newspapers continue to publish angry denunciations of the Italian director, Gianfanco Lunetta ("Lunetta should be tied with a rope and detained in Calcutta"). Now the man himself has written a priceless reply in the Asian Age.

His company, he says, "could not and cannot be held responsible for anything by anyone" - a curious claim coming from a man paid a small fortune to supervise the event. Seeming to believe that the attacks on him were politically motivated, he declares, in a superb tangent: "I have always belonged culturally to the far left, because I do not believe in the bourgeoisie." Quite what this has to do with the fact that the laser projection screens flapped about in the wind is not clear.

"Circumstances beyond one's control," Lunetta explains, "such as wind, rain, snow etc, cannot be attributed to anyone but God." But Calcutta's Weather God moves in a far from mysterious way: the evening breeze which ruined the laser show is a regular visitor. Still, one good thing came out of it. The announcer ("I did not choose Saeed Jaffrey. I did not even know who he was") referred to South Africa as the Emirates. So Hansie Cronje has a new nickname: Sultan.

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Wildlife plays a key role in subcontinental cricket. Kites and vultures wheel over the grounds, while cows and donkeys hold up the team bus in the road outside. In Pakistan a camel was burnt as a sacrifice to help the team (a ceremonial Camel Light, perhaps). And in Gwalior a squirrel sprinted through the room of the Dutch umpire, Stephen Tovey.

This, of course, is nothing compared to the accident that befell Courtney Walsh last time he was here. A monkey got into his room and chomped through his washing bag - vitamin pills, the lot. So there's at least one monkey in India with minty-fresh teeth, designer stubble, an immunity to malaria, and a nice collection of hotel shampoo.

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When the tiny crowd watching England in Peshawar last week started shouting at the end, most English observers would have leapt to the conclusion that they were tipsy. In fact they were the opposite: thirsty. The fasting month of Ramadan bans drinking during the match, which is why Pakistan did not play until Ramadan finished.

At India's match against the West Indies in Gwalior, everyone wet their whistle for free. The Yes mineral water company distributed 48,000 cups of complimentary water, but was hoping to top that up with further sales. But five truck loads of bottles - some 16,000 of them - were looted outside the ground. Many spectators went without dinner for the same reason. The price of the ticket included food, but none arrived. Some 8,000 meals fell, as it were, off the back of a lorry.

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Stand by for an absurd amount of chat, in the next week or so, about who plays where. The cracks in the structure of this tournament are already fully visible. In previous tournaments everyone has played everyone, but this time it is theoretically possible for England to win the Cup (a fantasy - but just for the sake of argument) without even playing India, the West Indies or Australia.

The two-group system also means that the main thing at stake in this first stage is the choice of location in the quarter-finals. No one will be surprised, for instance, if India lose to Sri Lanka - it would mean they would not have to go to Pakistan. And Pakistan, too, will be anxious to avoid a trip to Bangalore or Madras in the next round. Javed Miandad has even suggested that both Indian semi-finals, in a gesture of fraternal conciliation, be rescheduled to Sri Lanka. The really grand gesture, of course, would be to give Sri Lanka the final - which is slated for Lahore. But, for some reason, Javed didn't mention that.

If India must go to Pakistan, let's just hope that Navjot Sidhu remembers his passport. When the team went to Sri Lanka last week he forgot it, and only hurried faxes to the airport cleared his path. Pakistan, who are issuing just 1,500 visas to Indians who want to watch the final, may not be so flexible.

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Everyone knows that cricket runs in families, and the Waughs were not the only brothers to make cricketing history this week. Mark and Steve enjoyed a record-breaking partnership for Australia against Kenya, a modest achievement beside the performance of Grant and Andy Flower of Zimbabwe, who opened the batting together against Sri Lanka, and became the first brothers ever to be run out in the same international. I blame the parents.

This week at the World Cup

Moment of the week

Courtney Browne, the West Indies' wicket-keeper, positioning himself beautifully to take the easiest of catches off Sachin Tendulkar, then watching in disbelief as the ball then bounced gently out of his gloves and on to the ground.

Team of the week

1 S R Tendulkar (Ind)

2 R B Richardson (WI)

3 M E Waugh (Aus)

4 P A de Silva (SL)

5 G A Hick (Eng)

6 B Zuiderent (Neth)

7 C L Cairns (NZ)

8 L Germon (NZ)

9 S K Warne (Aus)

10 A A Donald (SA)

11 C A Walsh (WI)

England's humiliation of the week

Watching their bowling being smashed to all parts of Peshawar by Bas Zuiderent, an 18-year-old Dutch schoolboy who had had to ask special permission to play in the World Cup in the first place.

Quote of the week

"Cricket is a game played by 22 people. I think the people should realise that". Richie Richardson, the West Indies captain, on the hullabaloo before the match against India, which was billed as a showdown between Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar

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