Prince Harry has opened the Cricket World Cup with a ringing endorsement of the UK’s cultural diversity – saying every game is like a home match for the competing nations.
The Duke of Sussex took to the pitch at the Oval in London to launch the global tournament and predicted “World Cup fever” would sweep the country over the coming weeks.
With the exception of Afghanistan, the other nine nations taking part in the World Cup are all Commonwealth member states – West Indies, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Pakistan, New Zealand, India, Bangladesh, Australia and England.
England are the tournament favourites and the duke took his seat in a box to watch the home side take on South Africa in front of packed stands.
Fans were in good spirits, with one youngster telling ITV News she was most looking forward to watching England win.
Prince Harry, who met the tournament’s 10 cricket captains at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, told the crowd: “The first ever cricket World Cup took place in England in 1975 and I’m delighted that the UK will once again play host to this wonderful global sporting event featuring ten incredible teams who, thanks to the UK’s cultural diversity, will feel as though they are competing in front of a home crowd every time they take to the field.
“Cities across England and Wales will come alive over the next six weeks as World Cup fever sweeps the nation once more, and I am sure that the players will show their appreciation with some fantastic performances and great sportsmanship.
“Good luck to all of the teams and thank you to everyone who has played a part in making this tournament happen.”
Before the match began, the duke met school pupils who have been selected as Anthem Children from the Cricket World Cup youth engagement programme.
He also chatted with a group of students who will walk out ahead of the teams, carrying the competing nations’ flags for the pre-match national anthems.
Flag-bearer Sahil Jain, 25, spoke to Harry in the Oval’s sports hall.
The keen cricketer from India, who is studying for a masters degree at Queen Mary University of London, told him: “We’re all delighted to be here and to take part in such an occasion.
“We all play cricket, we love, it’s in our genes.”
Harry, 34, said: “If you’re Indian and you’re not playing cricket there’s something wrong, right? It’s in your blood.”
Steven Elworthy, a former South African cricketer who is now managing director of the Cricket World Cup, hosted the duke’s visit to the opening game.
He said: “It feels like it’s time for cricket now; we’ve done a huge amount of work in the run-in for the event and there’s just this huge anticipation about the tournament.”
Commenting on his trip to the palace on Wednesday, he added: “Meeting the duke with the Queen and the 10 captains, it was just absolutely incredible for us and made front-page news, which is unbelievable, and to have someone of his stature opening the tournament for us is just huge.”