Skippers arrive in rickshaws as Cricket World Cup opens
Captains of the 14 competing teams at the World Cup paraded through Dhaka's historic Bangabandhu Stadium on Thursday in brightly coloured rickshaws, the transport of choice in this teeming city.
Protected by a sheet of bullet-proof glass, Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina watched as home skipper Shakib Al Hasan brought up the rear of the unusual, three-wheeled parade that kick-started a two-hour opening ceremony.
Ricky Ponting, captain of defending champions Australia, headed the sparkling procession before 3,500 performers put on a show reflecting Indian, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi culture.
Indian singer Sonu Nigam and Bangladesh-based Runa Laila as well as veteran Canadian rocker Bryan Adams were the headline acts.
"I hope that the games will be memorable and exciting," said Sheikh Hasina, who was joined at the ceremony by Sharad Pawar, the president of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
"It gives me great pleasure to declare the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup open."
Around 25,000 people squeezed inside the much-loved Bangabandhu, which has been renovated at a cost of euro 5million.
But despite its history - it staged the Test debuts of Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1955 and in 2000 respectively - the ground will not be staging any of the country's eight matches.
That honour falls to the more modern Shere Bangla National Stadium in Dhaka as well as the port city of Chittagong.
Dhaka has been spruced up for the World Cup as it seeks to take advantage of a prime opportunity to rebrand a country often known only for devastating floods and cyclones.
The impoverished South Asian nation has spent more than euro 100 million to tidy up for the tournament it co-hosts with India and Sri Lanka, looking at the showpiece as the biggest event since independence in 1971.
Beggars have been paid to stay off roads, hawkers have been evicted from overcrowded pavements and buildings given a new coat of paint. Efforts have even been made to reduce the infamous traffic jams in the bustling capital.
Even though Bangladesh hosts just eight of the 49 matches, the entire nation is in the grip of cricket fever.
"The World Cup has given us a great opportunity to show the world, particularly the global press, that we are not only a country of floods, cyclones or natural disasters," said Ramendu Majumdar, a top branding expert.
The 10th World Cup, which runs for six weeks, starts on Saturday when Bangladesh tackle favourites India.
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