Events and people that shaped the game

No. 29

Packer's circus

The circumstances were already in place. The Australian media magnate simply triggered the explosion

Gideon Haigh

August 21, 2010

Text size: A | A

Kerry Packer at the height of World Series Cricket, October 1977
Kerry Packer: A knight without the title © The Cricketer International
Enlarge
Related Links
Special features : The floodlit revolution
Dileep Premachandran : The death of the ODI?
Rewind to : The circus comes to town
ESPNcricinfo XI : Cameras, lights and coral pink
Article : A dummy's guide to World Series Cricket
Players/Officials: Kerry Packer

1977

In his 1979 book, With A Straight Bat, World Series Cricket's chief administrator Andrew Caro looked forward to a Lord's banquet some 15 years later at which the toast was Caro's boss, "Sir" Kerry Packer. He imagined the Duke of Edinburgh gesturing to a portrait of the television mogul on the Long Room wall - between those depicting Sir Pelham Warner and WG Grace - and proclaiming that "without Sir Kerry, cricket would not have pulled its finger out".

The banquet never happened but it might still be justified. Cricket had gone decades in which it had altered less - considerably less - than in the two years of WSC, the professional cricket troupe Packer backed with his Nine Network in mind. Night cricket, coloured clothing, helmets and drop-in pitches were pioneered. Cricketers, paid like star sportsmen for the first time, became more aware of their worth in the marketplace. Administrators, wakened to the value that the media imputed to their sport, came to recognise television rights as an important revenue source. Mass marketing, embodied in the pop chant "C'mon Aussie C'mon", devised by admen at Mojo, took root in cricket and never went away.

The saga began in May 1977, when it was revealed that Packer had recruited the 35 best international cricketers money could buy for a series of matches to be screened by Channel Nine. The Australian Cricket Board had denied him exclusive broadcast rights for cricket and he had decided to roll his own.

The board fought a successful holding action in that first summer, 1977-78. The national team, rebuilt from young talent that Packer had not recruited, beat India 3-2; WSC, meanwhile, struggled to find an audience, despite its galaxy of talent, grandeur of design and gaudiness of promotion.

The summer of 1978-79, however, found roles reversed: while an inexperienced Test side was routed by England, WSC went from strength to strength. Packer's promotion was directed towards making WSC look more like official cricket rather than less, his Australian team more truly the representative of the people than its establishment equivalent; and the Chappells, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh were a persuasive unit. Establishment resistance crumbled: Packer got his exclusive rights and more.

In hindsight there is a historical inevitability about all the changes WSC wrought. They'd either already been dabbled in, or become factors in rival sports. What precipitated events was the availability of cricketers for a bargain price - it was learning how peeved Australian players were by their paltry wages that convinced John Cornell and Austin Robertson, WSC's architects, to take their proposal to a receptive Packer.

Even WSC's investment in the popularity of one-day cricket was hardly a blinding flash after 1975's World Cup. So the important aspect of WSC was not simply the changes but their speed: cricket had never changed so far so fast. It happened at a pace, in fact, that could never have been accommodated by cricket's existing institutional structures. We toast you, Mr P, even if Lord's won't.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003

RSS Feeds: Gideon Haigh

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Gideon HaighClose
Gideon Haigh Born in London of a Yorkshire father, raised in Australia by a Tasmanian mother, Gideon Haigh lives in Melbourne with a cat, Trumper. He has written 19 books and edited a further seven. He is also a life member and perennial vice-president of the South Yarra CC.

    Still plenty of ifs for Butt

Rob Steen: Salman Butt insists players should refrain from "wrongdoing" but that shouldn't gain him back the trust of those he duped

Outside the Grace Gate

Shot Selection: You think MCC members have it easy when it comes to watching a Test at Lord's? Think again

Drowned out by the hype machine

Sharda Ugra: A lot has gone wrong with the Indian T20 league but as its seventh season begins, the league will brush everything aside and cheer like nothing is amiss

    Notes from a Dutch adventure

Netherlands coach Anton Roux looks back on their incredible wins in the World T20, late-night bonding, and pizza intake

You can't control talent, only channel it

Jon Hotten: Cricket runs the risk of over-coaching players - not ideal in a game that is as much about art as about science

News | Features Last 7 days

UAE all set to host lavish welcoming party

The controversy surrounding the IPL has done little to deter fans in UAE from flocking the stadiums, as they gear up to watch the Indian stars in action for the first time since 2006

Attention on Yuvraj, Gambhir in IPL 2014

ESPNcricinfo picks five players for whom this IPL is of bigger significance

Stars greeted by Colombo revelry

Thousands flocked the streets and the airport to get a glimpse of their heroes in what was probably the grandest public occasion since the end of the war eased bomb-blast fears

India: cricket's Brazil

It's difficult to beat a huge talent base exposed to good facilities, and possessed of a long history of competing as a nation

Fifty for the pantheon

What if you had to narrow all of cricket greatness down to 50 names?

News | Features Last 7 days