The Cricketer - August 1977

And the devil take Kerry Packer

EW Swanton
EW Swanton attacks Kerry Packer shortly after the launch of World Series Cricket

This article appeared shortly after the announcement that Kerry Packer had set up a rebel cricket series in Australia

The Lord's committee-room in its time has seen several occasions of high drama but nothing perhaps quite so extraordinary as the confrontation on Thursday, June 24 between an emergency committee of the International Cricket

Conference and the Australian TV and newspaper figure Kerry Packer. It came at the end of six weeks of suspense and uncertainty following the shattering news in the second week of May that Packer, completely unknown to any of the cricket authorities, had contracted some 35 leading Test cricketers, half of them Australian, at reputedly large salaries to play for the next three years in matches promoted by him for the benefit of his Australian Channel 9 audiences.

The Packer Affair was fully documented in the July Cricketer up to a point shortly before a preliminary ICC meeting on June 14 decided to invite Packer to discuss his plans with them prior to the full annual ICC meeting, which takes place at Lord's on July 26-27. When he did so the ICC went further to accommodate the situation Packer had created than most lovers of cricket can have anticipated. As may be seen from the accompanying Five Points, they were willing to accept the intrusion of a six-week programme into the Australian summer and take responsibility for its control: in fact to legitimise the bastard child despite the sordid circumstances of its conception.

Faced with this united front of utter reasonableness Packer then emerged in his true colours by demanding that on the expiry of the Australian Cricket Board's present contract for the televising of Test cricket with the ABC in 1978-79 his companies should be accorded the exclusive rights. Granted these, Packer was apparently prepared either to stage a short face-saving programme or to settle with his performers and call the thing off.

So much for the protestations that he had come into cricket to improve the lot of the downtrodden first-class cricketer! His players, one and all, and not least his truculent spokesman, Tony Greig, were seen to be mere pawns in a local commercial dogfight. On this account Packer was happy to threaten the financial structure of inter-national cricket on which the game at large depends. When he was given the only answer he could possibly have been given - that he could compete for the next TV contract with any other interested parties - amiability turned to threats: "I will now take no steps at all to help anyone. It's every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost." To which the world of cricket will be inclined to remark with a concerted voice, "... And the devil take K. Packer!"

We may pause here to note the mentality that cricket is dealing with. Who but a ruthless tycoon could have supposed that a body of sportsmen would have sold down the river organisations such as the Australian Broadcasting Commission to whom they have been contracted since the dawn of broadcasting? Obviously such a proposition was unacceptable, and by reacting to it as promptly as they did the ICC's representatives at Lord's cleared the air and gave the July Conference added time to consider a unified plan of action, and in particular of course the extent of the sanctions they will apply to those who have been lured into the rebel circus.

On the face of it the players concerned - some 40 have reportedly signed at the moment of writing, and Packer claims the total is 51 - have excommunicated themselves from Test cricket. Whether any or all will be allowed henceforward to play in first-class cricket, either in England or elsewhere, may depend initially on existing contracts. The present mood among county cricketers is hostile to any accommodation.

Their trade union, the Cricketers' Association, will no doubt be brought even more closely into collaboration with the TCCB. As Tony Lewis wrote in the Sunday Telegraph, "the clear definition of a player's duties, privileges and pay need to be established before a season starts." The interests of all parties must be legally safeguarded. The day of the gentlemen's agreement - in several counties hitherto no written undertaking has existed - must be over. Equally counties will want to preserve (in the long-term interest of all their players) the ex gratia nature of benefits: and if they should seek to fortify the loyalty of their employees by tending to put back the granting of them until somewhere near the close of their careers who shall blame them?

Since the news of the business first broke Packer has united the cricket world against him to a degree which gives confidence that his takeover bid will come a cropper. Initially, maybe Greig's defence of his own desertion for the ultimate good of cricket may have seemed plausible to some, while there was that dreadful Frost TV programme wherein Packer won an apparent victory on points thanks to the fact that he was not confronted with the relevant questions. I wonder how many viewers were aware - I certainly was not - that David Frost, far from being the impartial `anchor-man' they had a right to expect, was a close friend and business associate of Packer whose Channel 9 had shown the Nixon-Frost interviews. Happily the chairman of the TCCB, Doug Insole, in an interview at Edgbaston during the Prudential series, was able almost at once to paint a true picture of the situation at the top in cricket, as it is seen by those who ad-minister the game, and in so doing demolished Packer's pretensions.

As I say, we may be hopeful that in the end this piratical promoter will be seen to have bitten off more than he can chew. Certainly in Melbourne, and probably in Sydney also, the recognised cricket grounds can be legitimately barred to him. His contracted groundsman, John Maley, has had second thoughts, saying he cannot produce pitches fit for the fastest bowlers on football fields. I expect there may be some blood-and-thunder cricket which will have a curiosity value to some. (The spirit of the enterprise may be gauged from the announcement already made that tailenders will be given no immunity from bouncers.) That the Australian sporting public in any significant numbers will prefer exhibition games with no official status to the real thing, from my knowledge of them, seems unlikely.

As regards those who have `gone over', individual circumstances differ too much to incline one to any universal condemnation. It is too much maybe in these days to expect those great cricketers in their midst, suddenly offered an unexpected and substantial windfall, to take due account of their responsibility to the system which has, at considerable cost, produced them, and to which they owe all they have achieved. One cannot imagine the generations before them, though they were in relative terms far worse off, defecting in such numbers from Test cricket - and certainly not in such secrecy. It is the deception of men who are already making a handsome living out of the game, and who were closely involved with the authorities, especially in Australia, in schemes to make more, that has caused bitterness among those who (honorarily) put so much effort into running the game. Yet I am prepared to believe that some of the younger signatories may not have fully realised the implications of their contracts, and are known now to be harbouring doubts. How excellent if all such had the moral courage to pull back!

In England much of the odium, inevitably, has fallen upon Greig, such a hero as he led England to victory in India, who a year ago was saying that any man worth his salt would always play for England, and that he would undertake nothing without official approval.

What we must hope now is that all the countries involved may find new men worth their salt to replace the old - it is to the advantage of Australia, the country worst affected, that they will not need to be so remarkable to be as good as the present Test team. It need scarcely be added that those promoted must all strive and be encouraged-the Australians, the English, the West Indians, the Indians, the New Zealanders and the Pakistanis engaged in the four series due to be fought this winter - to play purposeful, positive cricket. There is a special onus, of course, on those taking part in the Australia-India Tests.

Throughout cricket history the hour has generally found the man, and the game has always proved stronger than the individual. That cricket has suffered, and will continue to suffer, grave damage brooks no argument. But it is still possible to believe that out of evil good may come, that from the winter of our discontent may yet come many a glorious summer.