Cameras, lights and coral pink

Stump mics, prefab pitches and, er, pink uniforms. We look at eleven legacies of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket

Martin Williamson

December 13, 2007

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This month marks the 30th anniversary of the first matches in Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket. Although WSC lasted less than two years - it ended when the establishment caved in on the issue of TV rights - its legacy continues to be felt to this day. Here are XI things that came out of the rebel tournament.



Pretty in pink: Clive Lloyd in the nets in his fetching kit © Getty Images
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Floodlit games
The single most important thing that kept WSC afloat. At the advent of Packer's series, cricket was a daytime pursuit. In the first season of WSC attendances were poor, but for experimental matches under lights they steadily grew. In the second year almost all games were day-night matches - even the Supertests, which started at 2pm and continued to 10.30pm - and the audiences flocked in.

"Just as the sun seemed to be setting on WSC's first disaster-filled season, someone turned on the lights," wrote Eric Beecher in Cricket Revolution. The rest of the world was not exactly quick off the blocks: it wasn't until 2006 that the first floodlit match took place in the Caribbean.

Coloured kit
It's a popular misconception that WSC featured coloured kit from the off. In the first season white kit was still the order of the day. In the second year colours came in. Australia played in gold (not canary yellow), the World XI in fetching duck-egg blue, and West Indies in coral ... except that it was pink, a colour that had strong homosexual connotations in the Caribbean.

Balls
With the exception of a brief experiment with blue balls in the 19th century in women's cricket (it was felt that red might be too shocking for them), red was the colour. But it soon became clear that red was all but impossible to pick up under lights, especially in the air. So white balls came into play, and to get round the problems of them becoming discoloured, there was a new ball at each end, which meant they only needed to last 25 overs each.

Three decades on and the authorities are still struggling to work out their own solution to discolouration. A knock-on was that black sightscreens were needed and so were coloured pads.

Stump microphones
Packer was not to shy away from using confrontation to sell the product, and the 1970s Australian side was certainly not full of shrinking violets. When asked how sensitive the stump mics would be, a WSC spokesman said: "Heavy breathing? ... they'll even pick up heavy grunting." Within days worries over whether they would work turned to concerns over how to blank out the expletives coming from the players. Packer clamped down and silence returned. Richie Benaud lamented the all-seeing, all-hearing approach. "Bad language today means you are a loud-mouthed yobbo ... years ago you were a character adding to the colour of the game."

TV coverage
Up to the advent of WSC, coverage of matches was usually by no more than five cameras, with the main view all from one end. Packer reportedly told his producers: "Who wants to watch a batsman's bum for half the match?" So coverage was switched to both ends - causing an initial flood of complaints from viewers who claimed it disorientated them - and other aspects of production were improved: more slow-motion replays were provided, and more cameras placed in a variety of positions. And who can forget Daddles the Duck, spluttering his way off along with the dismissed batsman.



The first drop-in pitch is lowered into position at Melbourne's VFL Park © The Cricketer
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Drop-in pitches
The Australian authorities believed that by banning Packer from using major grounds they would stifle WSC before it started, as it would have no venues with decent pitches. Packer, through John Maley, his senior groundsman, recruited from the Gabba, devised a system of drop-in pitches which were grown in massive 25-ton concrete trays in greenhouses next to the grounds and then lowered by crane into foundations shortly before use. "Sounds fantastic," one expert said when told of the idea. "Fantastic bullshit. It'll never work." But it did. "I've worked 207 days straight," an exhausted Maley admitted on the eve of the first game.

Player pay
Pre-Packer the cricket world was still an throwback to an earlier era, with players left to take what was on offer and be grateful for it. Before 1977 England players earned £210 per Test; as a result of WSC, that immediately increased to £1000. In Australia, players often took unpaid leave to play for their country or state and finished tours out of pocket; some even took bank loans to finance their lost income. Post Packer, that all changed. "I am sure the players of today realise that without us laying our heads on the chopping block and thinking we would never play Test cricket again ... that we paid the way and that players now do very well as they should," Dennis Lillee later said.

Helmets
The idea of head protection had been discussed for three or four years because, mainly, of the fast-bowling batteries in Australia and West Indies, and the shedding of the old unwritten rule that bouncing tailenders was not on. Dennis Amiss was the first man to don protection - a white motorbike-style helmet manufactured in Birmingham - and others soon followed. Later that season Graham Yallop wore one, to widespread ridicule, in an official Test in the Caribbean. Early helmets were heavy and made hearing hard, leading to some comical running errors. But within a few years they were commonplace and now it's rare to see anyone not wear one, even against spinners.

Fielding circles
Aware that a major flaw in one-day cricket was that run-chases could be stifled by packing the boundary with fielders, WSC introduced 28-metre fielding circles to limit how many people could be sent into the outback. The authorities did not immediately grasp the concept and it took Mike Brearley to make them realise the value of the idea. In 1979-80 in the first post-Packer one-day series he sent everyone, including the wicketkeeper, to the boundary when West Indies needed three off one ball. He was roundly condemned but what he did was within the rules.



Cashing in: World Series Cricket squads plus a fast-food clown © The Cricketer
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Media manipulation
The almost feudal treatment of the media by cricket boards had been unchanged for decades, but Packer turned that on its head. In 1977-78 he launched a series of brash advertisements which centred on the battle between batsmen and fast bowlers (spinners were unloved by WSC). He also launched one of the most catchy advertising songs of all time, "C'mon Aussie C'mon", which was a commercial and public masterpiece, hummed by children across Australia, not least because of Channel 9's virtual saturation airing of the advertisement. Over the next three seasons the lyrics were tweaked to reflect the different tourists, and included some dodgy Caribbean accents in 1978-79.

Mechanical drinks carts
WSC spelt the death knell for the quaint tradition of the blazered 12th man bringing on a tray of drinks. Packer realised that a motorised cart would not only speed the whole process up but it could also be plastered in advertising, a double whammy. Sadly, the legacy is that we now have to endure a motley collection of carts of varying sophistication. In Pakistan in 2006-07, what appeared to be a slick soft-drink-sponsored rocket ship was less impressive when closer examination revealed several pairs of feet underneath, presumably belonging to hidden locals, scurrying blindly to propel the cart in roughly the right direction.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.
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