BBC Radio 4, 23 August 2009
Over thirty years ago
the cricket world was torn apart by a revolution similar to that experienced today, as sixty top cricketers signed up for
World Series Cricket (WSC), organized by television magnate Kerry
Packer. Having tried and failed to prise the broadcasting rights to home
Test Matches involving Australia away from the Australian Broadcasting
Commission, Packer had set up a rival series of matches - both 'Super Tests' and one-day internationals
(ODI's) involving Australia, West Indies and a World XI - to be broadcast by his own company Channel 9. Many of the innovations
characteristic of today's ODI's were brought in by WSC, including floodlit matches, white balls and coloured clothing. At
first the Australian Cricket Board refused to negotiate with him, but after two years a compromise was reached whereby Channel
9 secured exclusive broadcasting rights and WSC was disbanded.
In this entertaining Radio 4 documentary presented by Sue McGregor, broadcast
on the final day of the final Test between England and Australia at The Oval,
some of the major personalities involved in the Packer affair gathered to look back on its significance for cricket. They
included former England captains Tony
Greig and Mike Denness, former West Indian captain Clive Lloyd, Australian fast bowler Jeff Thomson
and ex-BBC Cricket Correspondent Christopher
Martin-Jenkins. Others taking part included John Snow, Derek Underwood and Greg Chappell. From the discussion it emerged that the major reason why so many players signed for
Packer was money - as a top-line Test player Thomson received only $200 per match, while his English counterparts were equally
badly remunerated. The late 1970s were a time of considerable prosperity in cricket; the Centenary
Test of March 1977 had proved a money-spinner for the Australian Cricket Board, but little of that money found its
way into the players' pockets. Packer offered security - the chance for Test players to receive a guaranteed monthly wage,
in contrast to the 'official' cricket authorities, whose wages were determined on a pay-as-you-play basis. If players weren't
selected for the Test team, they did not receive any money.
Some of the conflicts that emerged at that time have still not been healed.
This was evident in Martin-Jenkins' comments; while understanding the reasons why the players signed for Packer, he still
admitted to feeling ambivalent about the whole affair, and its potentially damaging consequences for the game of cricket.
However our sympathies lay far more with the players, several of whom ran considerable risks by signing Packer contracts.
While Greig always wanted to move to Australia (which gave him a good reason to work for Packer), he was not prepared for
some of the treatment meted out to his family. Once-close friends became enemies; for many Sussex members he was nothing more
than a cricketing pariah. Lloyd experienced similar suffering at Lancashire. Underwood signed for Packer in spite of considerable
disapproval from his father, and the knowledge that he would not add to his current tally of 297 Test wickets. On the other
hand he obtained financial security for his wife and two young daughters. The only person to emerge unscathed from the whole
affair was Thomson, who agreed to remain in the official Australian side after having signed a lucrative contract with a rival
As the discussion progressed, we learned more about the benefits of WSC.
It helped to inculcate a more professional outlook amongst the players: cricket was a vocation as well as a game, and the
players had to provide value for money for the paying customers. Floodlit cricket helped bring in new audiences - women and
children - who enjoyed the razzmatazz associated with the event (deafening music, coloured clothing and hyperactive PA announcers).
WSC helped bring together a band of cricketers who forged lifelong friendships out of adversity. Greig in particular wished
he was young once more, so as to enjoy the thrill of playing every day against the world's best players.
The Reunion proved how important it is for cricket to
adapt to changing times. The sight of flanneled fools on the village green might be a seductive image, but cricket is a business
that needs to continually rebrand itself in search of new audiences, especially the younger generation. WSC achieved this
task successfully, just as the IPL is doing today.