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Australian media mogul Kerry Packer sent shockwaves through the cricketing establishment in the late 1970s when he poached three dozen of the leading players of the time to play in his newly-created World Series. BT Sport 1, Tues, Sep 11th 22.30
Packer's actions created deep divisions within the game, but ultimately brought benefits that are still being realised today. Even four decades on it is difficult to overstate the impact that it had on the game of cricket. It came like a bolt from the blue – this brash Aussie businessman taking on the old order and winning. The MCC membership were rudely awakened from their slumbers - the future had arrived. It was a major step forward for the game and, more particularly, for the players who would finally get paid a decent living wage for the first time.
The whole thing was caused by a bruised ego. Packer’s Channel 9 had applied for the rights to broadcast a particular test series and had received short shrift from the Australian Cricket Board, despite the fact that their offer was eight times what incumbent broadcaster ABC were prepared to pay. Packer was incensed at the snub. Not a man to be crossed, he decided to get his own back and that revenge would be devastating.
In May 1977 Packer announced that he had signed a deal with more than 30 leading cricketers from around the world to play in a special series to be shown on Channel 9. This series would run in tandem with the normal Australian season. The gauntlet had been thrown down.
Among those who signed up to what was disparagingly referred to at the time as ‘Packer’s Circus’ were the three Chappell brothers – Ian, Greg and Trevor. Greg was the current Australian captain who had succeeded older brother Ian in the role. Long-serving Aussie wicket-keeper Rod Marsh was also recruited along with fiery fast bowler Dennis Lillee and a host of rising young stars, including the late David Hookes. It was a major blow to the Australian Cricket Board.
Big name recruits
But it wasn’t just Australian cricket that would be thrown into turmoil. Other signatories included wonderkid Imran Khan (now PM of Pakistan)and a star-studded West Indies cohort that included skipper Clive Lloyd, batsmen Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards and the pace bowling quartet of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner.
But perhaps most surprising of all was the news that England captain Tony Greig had also joined up. Not only that but it also emerged that he had actively canvassed other players to join as well. The English cricketing establishment were appalled and he was summarily sacked as captain although he did retain his place in the team.
The main incentive for the players was money. Most struggled to make a decent living from the game despite the fact that they were household names and heroes to legions of cricket fans around the world. Packer promised them lucrative salaries, far more than their own cricket boards could afford, and they signed on in their droves. Things would never be the same again.
There was revolution on the field too, with a host of innovations that we take for granted today. These include floodlit matches, drop-in pitches, coloured kit, white balls, fielding circles, helmets and even motorized drinks carts. Players were suddenly required to be fitter than ever before due to a busier schedule. T20 and the IPL are just two mainstays of the modern game that owe something to Packer and his World Series.
Crowds for the first season were relatively poor, but they improved in year two and it soon became clear that the series was destined to be a success. Realising that this phenomenon wasn’t going to go away on its own, the cricketing authorities finally decided to act and a rapprochement was agreed in May 1979. Part of this deal saw Channel 9 sign a ten-year deal with the Australian Cricket Board, much to the chagrin of many of the other cricket boards around the world who felt that they had supported Australia in its darkest hour only to see their wishes ignored when the ACB had gotten what it wanted.
The ill feeling continued for many years although, in hindsight, there is no doubt that cricket was the winner in the end. As a result of Packer’s World Series the game reached a new global audience that it could never have hoped to reach before – all because of one man’s bruised ego.
Well worth a watch.
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