At Lord's, four years ago, Ali Bacher was huddled in a largish group, apparently in the middle of something important. It wasn't the disappointing Pak/Australia final they were discussing - what grabbed their attention, even then, was the next World Cup in South Africa.
Bacher and his boys, everyone with clearly defined responsibilities, were in England to ensure glitches were eliminated from their mega event. Hence people were divided into small working groups, told to look at everything minutely, and each evening a war council was held to review progress.
The 2003 World Cup organisers were quick off the blocks; they lost no time in nominating giant sized committees or doing kushti for plum positions. Bacher, the CEO with vast powers, was in control and called the shots.
That he knew clearly in which direction to fire, helped. Bacher is astute and experienced, he is connected and contemporary and after spending close to four decades in this field understands the critical link between cricket and commerce.
If, and when, he looks for an alternate career, Bacher would be ideally suited to run a course in cricket management and give tuition to people struggling to know how this game works.
But commerce is only one part of the World Cup. What makes this one different from previous events is the underlying vision that sport is a powerful tool that can be used for higher objectives. Bacher is proud of his role in facilitating reform in South Africa and showing the way to others to dismantle apartheid, create a multi racial Board and initiate a meaningful development programme for depressed sections.
In South Africa, cricket pushed for change and at the same time adjusted quickly to the changed social reality on the ground.
The same thought, of staying one step ahead and directing change is behind the elaborate plans for the World Cup. This cricket event, in terms of bandobast, is similar to the Olympics and World Cup football --- there will be a grand opening ceremony showcasing South Africa because everyone realises the enormous benefits of projecting a country on the world stage through live telecast beamed globally.
Australia, Japan/Korea used major sporting events in this manner; both acquired a new image for themselves and the same now holds for South Africa.
The Government, not wanting to lose out on the opportunity, is supporting the World Cup and wants to build an image of a multi-racial, cohesive and progressive South Africa. It is keen to demonstrate that the nation is on the move, marching into the future with hope and optimism. Cricket also provides South Africa a chance to enlarge its political role in the area and that is the reason it rejects, and condemns, threats about boycotting Zimbabwe.
When Australia and England made noises on this issue, an angry Foreign Minister denounced these moves first as rubbish and then, in what was an interesting irony, said the whole thing was a result of cricket racism!
There is little doubt the World Cup will be a spectacular, global event full of glitz and hype. Bacher will elevate World Cup Cricket to a different level and set new standards which others down the line will struggle to match