S. Ram Mahesh
Over 2000 performers will gather at Trelawny stadium for the opening ceremony
This is the most open World Cup since 1992Injuries a major cause for concern
Kingston: It's upon us. In a few hours, cricket's quadrennial showcase begins at remote Trelawny, a five-hour road trip from here in Kingston, Jamaica's uplifting, blasé, bullet-ridden capital.
The route, carved through pristine rainforest, has as its guide a babbling stream: even by the Caribbean's high standards, this is a particularly pretty part.
Over 2000 performers will gather at Trelawny's multipurpose stadium on Sunday evening for that much maligned of occasions the opening ceremony.
At more established sporting celebrations such as the Olympics and the football World Cup, the opening ceremony is often a concession to excess; here, it'll be interesting to see how a spontaneous people parties at Gros Islet in the island of St. Lucia for instance happen if someone tires of strumming in his wooden cabin and brings his guitar to the street adjust to structured celebration. The World Cup comes at an important time for both the one-day version and the region's people.
The growing popularity of the Twenty20 format and the time-honoured primacy of Test cricket are combining to place one-day cricket in danger of disappearing like breath frosted on a shaving mirror.
It's therefore paramount that the ninth edition of the World Cup serves up cricket of skill and brio.
It would help of course if the format were sensible: it's obvious the tournament is swollen at the beginning, contriving to select the top eight sides, before practically tripping over itself towards the end.
The tracks in at least some of the islands are likely to play like porridge. On the surface, this may not seem the best of things, for stroke-making will be compromised; but, as the Champions Trophy showed, low-to-middle scoring matches add a tactical layer to the often straight narrative of limited-overs cricket.
Another cause for concern is the number of injuries. High-profile names have either pulled out or travelled, torn muscle glue-stuck, broken finger in splint, to the Caribbean. Consequently, the team that wins may not necessarily be the best cricket side, but merely the fittest or the most blessed.
Again, in disaster is salvation: Australia isn't the barnstorming outfit expected just to turn up to win its third consecutive title; the tournament is the most open since 1992.
The World Cup is a momentous occasion for the people of the West Indies.
At a time radio the Caribbean's great aerial mosh pit and opinion disseminator has stopped covering local cricket, a demonstrable increase in the level of interest is needed.
Cruise ships carrying hordes of cricket tourists are berthed at harbours in different islands in the Caribbean Sea; the hassled Customs officer merely rolls her eyes and says "A lot!" when asked how many passports she has stamped; and it's impossible for a person of reasonable means to find a bread-and-breakfast accommodation.
"Cricket is the ethos around which West Indian society revolves," the great Clive Lloyd, World Cup winner in 1975 and 1979, once said.
"It remains the instrument of Caribbean cohesion. It is to cricket and its many spin-offs that we owe our Caribbean consideration and dignity abroad. It is the musical instrument on which we orchestrate our emotions from the extremes of wild enthusiasm to the depths of despair."
So, is the West Indies ready? The Norman Manley airport here in Kingston, the first point of mediation for the cricket fan, shows signs that it's getting there.
Gone are the creaky fans that used to ponderously sweep listless air at the arrivals under an asbestos roof.
In its place are a formidable air-conditioner duct and a cool cement roof.
The flags of the 16 participating nations festoon the baggage reclamation area; the Indian flag alone is held aloft by an unremitting draft, leaving the superstitious in no doubt who'll hold the trophy aloft on April 28.