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Children mingled with cricketing greats in “backyard” matches and Maori warriors shared the stage with morris dancers as the Cricket World Cup opened om Thursday with a vibrant and quirky ceremony in Christchurch.

Thousands of fans crammed leafy Hagley Park to see the launch of the first World Cup in New Zealand and Australia in 23 years, the formal part of which began with a lone bagpiper and ended with a booming fireworks display - the biggest in the city’s history.

The World Cup is the largest event Christchurch has hosted since an earthquake in February 2011 devastated the city’s centre - only a few hundred yards from where Thursday’s festivities took place, claiming the lives of 185 people.

The physical scars of that disaster still remain in the many vacant lots where buildings once stood but the people of Christchurch showed Thursday the city’s spirit remains undimmed.

Mayor Leanne Dalziell said Christchurch was preparing to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup when the earthquake struck, toppling hotels and wrecking venues, forcing matches to be allocated to other centers.