Cricket: Masters innovation starts on sticky wicket: Tony Cozier reports from Bridgetown on the build-up to today's inaugural England v West Indies over-35 international

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The Independent Online
A GAME that has undergone a number of profound changes in the past 20 years or so witnesses its latest innovation here today and tomorrow, a two-match series between England and the West Indies restricted to players over 35. Its organisers see it as the forerunner of a regular international calendar of Masters cricket, eventually leading to a World Cup.

'Obviously this is the testing ground but it is my firm belief that it will be a great success,' Roland Butcher, the Barbados-born former England and Middlesex batsman, said of an idea based principally on the well-established golf and tennis Masters circuit.

As greats of the past, distant and recent, gingerly limbered up in the heat at Kensington Oval, Butcher talked of a return series in England next summer and said South Africa, India and Australia had all already shown an interest in participating.

His optimism was commendable if not entirely justified. The portents have not been encouraging.

His organisation, the International Cricket Masters, lost one potential sponsor after another in setting up the matches and, in the end, had to rely on the involvement of the Barbados Board of Tourism and an international airline for flights and accommodation.

Television coverage fell through and there has not been much enthusiasm for tickets at between pounds 1.50 and pounds 6 in an island under an austerity government programme. The match comes only a couple of weeks after entry to the same ground was mostly free to watch the current West Indies team practising prior to its tour of Australia.

'There is a recession on and it was terribly difficult to tempt companies into getting involved,' Butcher admitted. 'In addition, because it's a new concept, most of us are fairly new at it but, in future, we'll know where we've gone wrong.'

Mike Brearley, who has taken a couple of weeks off from his psychotherapy practice to lead the England team, saw the matches here as vital to the future of the Masters concept.

'Obviously if it gets a good start it'll make a great deal of difference,' he said. 'If there's enthusiasm, if the matches are good and if people are happy, it'll make it a lot easier for the organisers to take it further. If it's a flop, Roland will need a lot of energy on his side to pick it back up and go again.'

Vintages vary widely among the players. Seymour Nurse, a remarkably trim and agile 58, is the oldest but still plays in the Barbados Masters competition. He is likely to bat with Gordon Greenidge, 42, who was scoring a double century in a Test against Australia on the same ground only 18 months ago. England include Derek Randall, still a consistent scorer for Nottinghamshire, and Phil Edmonds, who still had enough in him to fill in for Middlesex last season. Brearley himself, Derek Underwood and Dennis Amiss are others who will have to rely more on memory.

Trying to whip up local interest, the organisers have gained plenty of space in the local media but have had to contend with two related, unwanted stories. On arrival from London, Alvin Kallicharran stirred a hornet's nest with a verbal broadside at the West Indies Cricket Board of Control for its banning of him and other players who went to South Africa with a 'rebel' team nine years ago. With that controversy kept bubbling by a reply from the Board's president, Clive Walcott, the press was filled with headlines yesterday reporting an attack on Wayne Larkins outside his hotel that left the Durham opener with a gash in his side that required 20 stiches.

Larkins and his wife were attacked in what appeared to be an attempted robbery and even though the injury was not serious enough to keep him in hospital he will not be able to play. The incident had shaken organisers already wary about what response their Masters matches might receive.

WEST INDIES MASTERS: *C H Lloyd, W W Daniel, T M Finlay, J Garner, A E Greenidge, C G Greenidge, C C Griffith, A I Kallicharran, C L King, S M Nurse, A M E Roberts, J N Shepherd.

ENGLAND MASTERS: *J M Brearley, P J W Allott, D M Amiss, D L Bairstow, R O Butcher, P H Edmonds, I W Greig, W Larkins, J K Lever, C T Radley, D W Randall, D L Underwood.

(Photograph omitted)