Curtain up on World Cup marathon

Canadian rocker Bryan Adams helps kickstart the 2011 cricket World Cup on Thursday at the tournament’s opening ceremony, marking the start of a gruelling six-week sporting marathon.

The 10th edition of the showpiece event is being launched in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, joint hosts of the 14-team competition along with India and Sri Lanka.

Favourites India will go into the tournament opener against Bangladesh on Saturday in Dhaka in buoyant mood after two wins in their warm-up matches, including a crushing 117-run victory on Wednesday over New Zealand.

Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who hit a blazing century in his team’s emphatic victory, was delighted with the win but wants his seam bowlers to up their game, despite a general view that spin will be the deciding factor.

“The pacers definitely need to improve,” Dhoni said. “They are currently not able to give 100 per cent in practice because we have asked our seamers to save themselves for the main games.

“Maybe that is what is reflecting in their performances. But hopefully, they will do well once the tournament starts and they put that extra effort.”

India, though, are not the only team having problems with their seamers.

Pakistan are sweating over the form and fitness of bowling spearhead Shoaib Akhtar, who is part of a pace attack already depleted by the absence of banned duo Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif.

Akhtar was not fielded in the warm-up against Bangladesh despite all his talk about how he was back to his match-winning ways.

“Shoaib is not in touch at the moment,” coach Waqar Younis said. “If he gets it right against England in the next (warm-up) game, he is obviously our number one choice.

Akhtar and wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal were among the first players to be taken for random dope testing ahead of the World Cup, a source said.

Akhtar, 35, and Akmal, 29, were tested after a practice session on Wednesday by International Cricket Council’s drug inspectors, the source said.

“It’s normal to test players before and during a tournament,” he said. “Nothing fishy about it. Others will also be tested.”

Akhtar, recalled for the World Cup after being out of action for a major part of the past three years due to a spate of injuries, tested positive for a banned drug nandrolone in 2006.

Pakistan face England in the final warm-up match in Fatullah on Friday, a game the ageing Akhtar needs to perform in to make the team for their opener against Kenya on February 23.

Meanwhile, international cricket chiefs have approved Tinashe Panyangara as a replacement player for the injured Edward Rainsford in the Zimbabwe squad.

Rainsford is the eighth player to be replaced after compatriots Tinotenda Mawoyo and Sean Ervine, Australia’s Nathan Hauritz and Michael Hussey, Praveen Kumar of India, England’s Eoin Morgan and Sohail Tanveer of Pakistan.

The World Cup opening ceremony at Dhaka’s Bangabandhu National Stadium will see around 3,500 performers putting on a colourful show reflecting Indian, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi culture.

Organisers are promising the ceremony, which also involves Indian singer Sonu Nigam and Bangladesh-based Runa Laila, will be the biggest ever.