MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – The Melbourne Cricket Ground will host the final of the 2015 cricket World Cup, with New Zealand’s Christchurch to kick off the one-day tournament four years after being devastated by an earthquake.
The March 29 final at the MCG comes 23 years after a bumper crowd saw Imran Khan’s Pakistan defeat England for their maiden World Cup at Melbourne’s 100,000-seat coliseum.
The semi-finals will be at the Sydney Cricket Ground and Auckland’s Eden Park.
The co-hosts, who also teamed up to put on the 1992 World Cup, have adjusted their international seasons to allow for the tournament, which will see 49 matches played over 44 days.
The honour of the first match, however, will go to Christchurch, which mourned the deaths of just under 200 people in the Feb. 22 earthquake and had to cancel rugby World Cup matches later in 2011 in a further blow to the city’s morale.
Christchurch will host 1996 champions Sri Lanka and New Zealand on Feb. 14, and two further pool matches book-ending the four-year anniversary of the earthquake, pending clearance from a local Environment Court to allow redevelopment of an oval on the city’s Hagley Park.
“We need to make certain (the tournament) captures the hearts and minds of everybody and so in New Zealand and all the discussions, Christchurch was obviously a very big issue,” the tournament’s chief executive John Harnden told reporters at the launch in Melbourne’s Docklands.
“And what a great opportunity, for all the people in Christchurch who have done so much hard work to rebuild their city and get it back open for business, to broadcast that to the world.”
Australia’s SCG, Adelaide Oval and the MCG will host three of the quarter-finals, with the fourth in New Zealand’s capital Wellington.
The 2015 World Cup will feature the 10 full member nations of the International Cricket Council plus Ireland, who have won qualification, and three other nations.
Two of the remaining teams will be determined via a qualifying tournament in New Zealand in Jan. 2014.
Divided into two pools of seven, the teams play their group rivals in a round-robin format, with the top four from each pool qualifying for the quarter-finals.
Pool matches have been split evenly between both countries with seven cities hosting three pool matches each.
Organisers expect an aggregate of more than one million people to attend the matches, and a billion viewers to watch broadcasts around the world.
The lion’s share of television viewers will come from the subcontinent, and many may feel anxious about champion India’s hopes of defending their title.
India, who defeated Sri Lanka in their home World Cup final two years ago, have rarely prospered on Australia’s hard pitches and will play pool matches against West Indies and a qualifier on the country’s bounciest wicket at Perth’s WACA ground, which is located in a more broadcast-friendly time zone for Indian TV viewers than cities further east.
That follows two tough openers against Pakistan at Adelaide Oval on Feb. 15, and South Africa at the MCG a week later.
The prospect of India being bundled out at the group stage would be an unedifying one for organisers and the nation of a billion people.
“I heard (it’s) because of the broadcast,” Kapil Dev, who captained the team to their maiden World Cup triumph in 1983, said at the launch.
“Sometimes the team want to play somewhere else because they feel comfortable, but I think broadcasters want to make money … can’t really avoid that.
“I would like to say from the India point of view they like to play in Adelaide or Melbourne or somewhere (where) the bounce is not so much.”
Hosts Australia will bid for a record fifth World Cup win and will face bitter rivals England in their opening match at the MCG on Feb. 14.