Masters brave the big heat

Derek Pringle revels in a blast from the cricket past in Bombay
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The Independent Online
IT WAS a week when the body screamed out more than the fans. Unlike the players, they mainly stayed at home, sensibly avoiding the humidity and ricocheting balls at the World Masters Cricket Cup in Bombay. Satellite TV is Asia's largest growth industry and a purported 200 million people watched the action beamed back from the Brabourne stadium, where the West Indies - average age 40 - easily defeated India - 41.6 years - in a high-scoring final.

The West Indies were deserved winners, despite a flirtation with the rules, after it was discovered that Gus Logie was six months light of his 35th birthday, the minimum age stipulated for being a "Master". On the field, no other team could match their firepower with bat or ball, and their fielding was quite brilliant. Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge struck the ball with majestic power,while Sylvester Clarke and Ezra Mosely were at least a warp factor above the other pace bowlers.

Even from early on, their dominance had looked assured. Confirmation came on a chart pinned to the wall of the physio's room, comfortably the busiest cul-de-sac in the ample pavilion. On the chart, big, bold ticks were placed against all the players who had received treatment. Half-way through the week, almost every team had approached double figures bar one, which had only three ticks against it. Many reckoned the West Indies would run their present Test team close in a one-day series.

England (average age 40.9) should have fared better, and a perfect opportunity to upset the samosa cart and beat India in the first semi-final was squandered after we had the home side reeling at 88 for five. We may have had only five players on the injury list, but our greatest asset on paper - six current county cricketers - turned swiftly to liability, as they decided to dust off winter cobwebs and treat the exercise as a pre-season net.

Where others pulverised the mainly gentle attacks - even your correspondent managed a hearty 64 off 47 balls against the might of South Africa - our admirable pros played the game properly, biding their time and waiting for the moment to accelerate. It never came, and with only 135 against the West Indies, England registered the lowest score of the competition. 'Twas ever thus.

We did manage one notable victory, however, against Australia. They seemed to have taken things rather too seriously, practising for over a week before others arrived. It proved of little use. In their first game, the West Indies pulverised their bowlers for 311 off the allotted 45 overs; and in the second we turned them over despite the presence of those Pommie destroyers of yesteryear, Alderman, Lawson and Thomson.

West Indies aside, the bowlers showed the most obvious signs of time's ravages. Not so the batters, and Graeme Pollock, at 51 one of the few South Africans in Bombay to have played Test cricket before their international ban in 1970, smote the ball with power and precision.

Apart from a sublime century by Barry Richards against England, which saw South Africa (average age 44.5) take third place, Pollock scored the bulk of their runs. As Sunil Gavaskar marvelled: "If this is what he's like in his fifties, he must have been some player in his twenties."

The hospitality would have been acceptable to royalty. However, the competition was sandwiched by alcohol-free weekends: the first when the local elections were held, the second when the results were announced. This was to ensure the people could not have their votes bought by offers of free hooch. That is no way to ensure docility from a bunch of old warhorses nursing aching limbs and gigantic thirsts. As one noted, the dry days proved an even bigger handicap than the weather.

As ever in India, the daily minutiae of this teeming country enthrall the visitor - unless you are wealthy enough to own a satellite dish. Then, with beer in one hand and remote in the other, you can join that new elite, the Bombay couch potato, and watch the cricket Masters.