The Quint’s Insider Series: Disappointing WC 2003 Opening Ceremony

Imagine all 14 World Cup teams stuck in a hall, denied a chance to witness an event they were the main stars of.

3 min read

As the players deboarded the plane at Cape Town to attend the opening ceremony of the 2003 World Cup, Harbhajan Singh had a stern message for his teammates: Maintain positive body language. “Yahan sab honge, kadak rehna. Unko lage India mein dam hai. (Everybody will be, stay positive. They must think India is powerful)”.

Ahead of the formal start of the World Cup, Cape Town's Holiday Inn, Waterfront and the neighbouring Cullinan Hotel were buzzing with activity. In the morning the teams attended a ceremonial reception – which had been shifted indoors at the last minute because of the blustery Cape Doctor breeze – and then went to the Table Top Hotel for an official group photograph.


The photoshoot was on SA battleship Outeniqua in the harbour and the teams lined up in alphabetical order. But the Cape Doctor was so stiff that ties were flying like flags and one had to clutch the railing firmly to prevent falling into the sea. The teams were in for a rude shock after they returned to the Table Top Hotel after the photoshoot, as there was no sign of the promised ‘official lunch’. All they got was a bag containing tourism brochures.

Imagine all 14 World Cup teams stuck in a hall, denied a chance to witness an event they were the main stars of.
The Indian cricket team poses for photographers in Bombay January 28, 2003, before leaving for the World Cup in South Africa.
(Photo: Reuters)

This episode should have prepared them for the bigger disappointment later that evening. All participating teams left the hotel – smartly dressed in the tour blazer and tie – for the glitzy multi-million dollar, spectacular opening ceremony at 7.15pm. At Newlands, they were promptly escorted into a hall and served refreshments. Outside, the grand ceremony commenced and after a while the players realised to their utter horror that they could only watch the proceedings on a small television screen.

Initially, everyone waited patiently – the Aussies downed beers while Sachin Tendulkar huddled with Brian Lara in a corner, the two later joined by Muttiah Muralitharan – hoping they would be rescued and allowed into the stadium instead of being imprisoned in the pokey hall. But the wait lasted more than two hours.

Imagine, all 14 World Cup teams stuck in a hall with little to eat or drink, denied a chance to witness an event where they were the main stars of.

After what appeared to be a lifetime, players were summoned for the ceremonial entry into Newlands but for that they still had to negotiate a 15 minute walk through narrow service lanes of the stadium.

But it was worth the wait. Captain Sourav, marching in front with the Indian tricolour, was visibly overwhelmed by the emotional moment. Eyes sweeping across the packed stadium, he said:

No nasha (drug) in the world can beat this feeling. There is no bigger reward for a khiladi (player) than the izzat (respect) of representing your country.

Except for this brief march around the stadium, the players had little to do during the ceremony. They heard President Thabo Mbeki make an impassioned plea about sports uniting people, followed up with an eloquent pitch for attracting tourists which showed that big events, stripped of frills, are commercial properties that need to be packaged, marketed and sold.


After the opening ceremony the starving prayers returned in a special train leaving Newlands station. Mohammad Kaif clicked photos, Sourav rested his head against the window to get some sleep. Sachin couldn't remember the last time he saw the interior of a train, he only had a hazy memory of travelling in one for a Ranji game many years ago.

Sharing the same compartment during the short train ride, the English team and Indians, spoke, sang, joked loudly, led by Mathew Hoggard and Michael Vaughan. While the angrez (foreigners) created a racket, the normally talkative Indians sat in complete silence. Only Sehwag, not to be suppressed easily had a comment to make: “inki awaaz ground par band karni hogi (Their voices must silenced on the ground)“.

(Amrit Mathur is a senior journalist, former GM of the BCCI and Manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He can be reached at @AmritMathur1)

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