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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 19:26 GMT

Locals sing in the rain
By Martin Gough
BBC Sport in Benoni

The unending rain brought misery for West Indies, as they saw a certain path to the Super Six blocked by rain and four certain points shared with Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi and South African supporters celebrate the fall of a West Indies wicket
West Indies wickets received rapturous acclaim
But it took more than the bad weather to dampen the atmosphere in the stands.

Bangladeshi fans, draped in their national flags, had begun the day quietly but as West Indies wickets fell, the noise increased.

Brian Lara's wicket, taken by a leaping Al-Shariar at mid-off, brought a cascade of supporters down from the grass banks of Willowmore Park to bash on the boundary boards.

At the lunch break a scarlet and olive-green clad conga made its way around the popular side of the ground.

The morning saw huge groups of black children waving West Indies flags.

The rain break brought dancing in the stands, the groups split by the colours of their school uniforms, and it was over an hour before they began to make for home.

For the first time in the matches I have seen so far in the tournament, not only were there many black faces in the crowd but they formed the majority.

Whether a similar group would turn out to watch the home team - domestic champions Easterns - is debatable. Few watch the South African provincial game.

But the testimony of fans around the boundary suggests the South African cricket board's dream of a multiracial game - both in the stands and on the field - is really not that far away.

The tournament has emphasised the depth of support for cricket amongst the immigrant population

In the days of the sanctions-breaking rebel tours, opponents of the regime would support the tourists, with the West Indies favourites of all.

But while Joseph Batedi and his friends, who play cricket at a local school, were all shouting for Carl Hooper's men, they all hope to play for South Africa one day.

This is the first professional match they have seen, though - the result of a programme of reserved tickets for "disadvantaged areas".

Of the 800,000 tickets available for the tournament, 50,000 were put aside for that purpose, and unwanted seats from pre-sold packages have also been redistributed.

The programme follows a clutch of warm-up matches played at township venues.

Six thousand saw Bangladesh play in Ladysmith, and 10,000 cheered India in Chatsworth - both near Durban.

Brian Lara prepares to sweep watched by Bangladeshi wicketkeeper Khaled Mashud
Brian Lara entertained before the rain came
"During the 1995 Rugby World Cup, millions of South Africans for the first time banded together," said sports minister Ngconde Balfour on the eve of the tournament.

"This Cricket World Cup is bigger than that."

As with the 1999 World Cup in England, the tournament has emphasised the depth of support for cricket amongst the immigrant population.

Alam Kazi is one of a group of ex-pat Bangladeshis who now live and work in Pretoria.

None play the game seriously.

"We do friendly matches - sometimes we win, sometimes we lose," he said.

"If a visiting country comes to South Africa we enjoy it. Centurion is our nearest ground."

Balfour claimed that the support of black South Africans, many of whom would struggle to afford tickets, should not be gauged at the turnstiles but in the public mood.

If there are more matches of this sort, though, that will not be necessary.



Links to more West Indies stories


 

SEE ALSO
Windies game called off
18 Feb 03 |  Team Pages


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