The moment is at hand.... Making and breaking of reputations. Tears of joy and despair. Performances that will either be long remembered or not at all....
Really, we should have much to choose from, between tomorrow and June 20. After all, cricket?s biggest stage is in place: from the glamour boys to the more bread-and-butter types, everyone?s going to start on equal footing.
Even South Africa and Australia, the pre-tournament favourites. Form, consistency.... That holds good to a point only and till they?ve actually begun on a winning note, both Hansie Cronje and Steve Waugh aren?t exactly going to sleep tight.
That match No. 1 means so much was best put in perspective by Arjuna Ranatunga, the Sri Lankan captain, when he told The Telegraph: ?A winning start and we may again be unstoppable. I accept we haven?t done well in recent months, but just one game ? and victory ? could make all the difference.?
The world champions are up against England, in the Cup-opener at Lord?s. In the last edition, Lanka had thrashed England in the Faisalabad quarter-finals.
Too much should not be read into the past, though, and that?s one point being repeatedly made by Mohammed Azharuddin. The Indian captain sees this tournament as a fresh chapter. But if it?s to read like a best-selling thriller, one Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar will have to be on song throughout.
That?s not beyond the young master. And, that?s great news for millions back home.
There?s been speculation on the strategy the Lankans and others could adopt. There?s already been a controversy over the modified Duke?s balls.
No one is quite sure how effective pinch-hitters could be in conditions here.... Perhaps, the last 15 overs could, this time, make all the difference.
And, yes, everyone?s praying the Duckworth-Lewis formula for revising targets doesn?t come into play too often. In any case, matches will be continued on the reserve day, not begun afresh.
Irrespective of whether strategies change or not, the Cup?s seventh edition is certainly going to be different.
There?s a new format ? super-six with points being carried over ? and, unusually, no title-sponsor. Instead, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has four ?global partners? (like Pepsi) and six ?official suppliers? (Hero Honda, for instance).
It?s a bit of an Olympic touch.
Apparently, the ECB had initially planned for more global partners, but a world-wide downswing in economy made them less ambitious. Profits, of course, there still will be ? the International Cricket Council will get its share.
Format and sponsorship apart, this edition will see the blurring of geographical boundaries. Bob Woolmer has been with South Africa for some time, but consider this:
India and Lanka have roped in Australians for assistance ? Bobby Simpson and Trevor Chappell, respectively. Then, Pakistan have appointed a South African (Richard Pybus) as technical director/coach.
That?s not all.
The Lankans have also had counselling sessions with a US-based Pakistani psychologist. New Zealand have an Australian coach (Steve Rixon, appointed after the 1996 Cup) and both Bangladesh and Kenya have signed up West Indians: Gordon Greenidge and Alvin Kallicharran, respectively.
Horses-for-courses has been the bottomline.
In a different context, the same policy has ensured security of the highest order. It?s a sign of the times, across London, that whether it?s Burger King outlets or the many Boots stores, you?re warned of the presence of bomb detectors.
Indeed, all the new underground rakes have surveillance cameras on board. ?We?re not taking chances? is the message sought to be conveyed. It?s reassuring, yes, but does throw up some questions, too.
Incidentally, the ambience isn?t quite carnival-like ? and a carnival of cricket is how the tournament is being officially promoted.
But, then, this isn?t the sub-continent.
The one-time sahibs do go about things slightly differently.