Howzat: Kerry Packer's War September 2, 2012

World Series Cricket - no more an outcast

The dramatisation of the Packer affair is just as exciting as all the drama that unfolded 35 years ago
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There is a scene in Howzat! Kerry Packer's War in which John Cornell goes behind Packer's back to organise an advertising blitz for World Series Cricket, having the "C'mon Aussie C'mon" campaign played ad infinitum on Channel Nine at the expense of paid advertisements. It's tempting to wonder if Cornell was in charge of the ads during Nine's coverage of the Olympics this year, so pervasive were the promos for Howzat!

Both bombardments worked. World Series Cricket gradually gained momentum and eventually thrived, but there was no such slow start for the two-part drama Howzat!, which crushed its opposition in the ratings over the past two Sunday nights across Australia. Viewers were drawn in to watch the dramatisation of cricket's greatest revolution, based largely on Gideon Haigh's 1993 book The Cricket War.

It made for fascinating viewing. The re-creation of the late 1970s was vivid - safari suits and moustaches all round - and the performances generally convincing. Lachy Hulme stacked on the kilograms to play Packer, who was portrayed as a menacing employer and a man who would always get what he wanted - eventually. Despite his frequent abusive outbursts, Packer was cast as the hero and the cricket authorities as the stuffy, clichéd villains who wouldn't give the players a fair go.

The portrayal - or non-portrayal - of Don Bradman was intriguing. Though he is never seen in Howzat!, references are made by the Australian Cricket Board administrators to phone calls from Bradman and the inference is that his words - initially anti-Packer and in the end conciliatory - are not to be ignored. The then-ACB chairman Bob Parish, as represented in the show, notes that Bradman is "good at sniffing the breeze".

Thirty-five years on, the politics of World Series Cricket are still open to debate. After the first instalment of Howzat! was aired, the batsman Gary Cosier, portrayed as a naïve young man who could not work out what was going on around him, spoke in a radio interview of his belief that he was not given a World Series Cricket contract because he voted against a player strike in South Australia several years earlier, which had stuck in the mind of WSC captain Ian Chappell.

Cosier also spoke in the media of his loneliness during the 1977 Ashes tour, shortly before the news of WSC broke. "At one stage in England I was waiting in a bar for my team-mates to come downstairs, but because everyone was up the street with Packer, they never came," Cosier told the Courier-Mail. "The portrayal of me in the TV show is fairly close. There is a little bit of a hole in my heart there, but I'm not prepared to make the hole get any bigger."

Several other portrayals were spot-on. Alexander England, an Australian actor, embodied the South African-born Englishman Tony Greig; Peter Houghton captured some of Richie Benaud's facial expressions and mannerisms brilliantly; and Brendan Cowell seemed born to play Rod Marsh. You'd swear you were looking at Max Walker when Andrew Carbone is on screen, though he barely has a line. And it would be remarkable if Hulme does not win awards for his work as Packer.

Not that the series was perfect. Some aspects of the two-part saga were fictionalised and the actual cricket shown, though generally believable, occasionally grated, no more so than when Dennis Lillee ran in to bowl to Clive Lloyd and "Lloyd" square-drives for four - batting right-handed instead of left-handed. The eagle-eyed cricket fan will also spot the occasional Victoria player on camera as "cricket doubles" for the actors; at one point Clive Rose plays a World XI spinner who gets hit for six.

Rose is from a generation who would know of World Series Cricket through hearing about it or reading about it, but did not live through it. For those viewers especially, Howzat! is a fascinating dramatisation of the tumult that engulfed cricket 35 years ago. It is a reminder that Twenty20 and the IPL are drops in the ocean compared to the Packer revolution. And those who are old enough to remember the era enjoyed reliving it.

The technological advances brought on by World Series Cricket and its televisual demands are an interesting sideline, including when Lillee struggles for form and then makes changes to his run-up having analysed it on screen, or when the TV producers find a novel way of keeping pitch microphones from getting wet, sheathing the equipment in a condom. They clearly didn't use the same method for the cameras, so fast did they multiply in number.

Whether these events happened exactly as they are portrayed is not especially relevant, for Howzat! is a piece of entertainment, not a documentary. Above all, it is about capturing an era and telling a story, and that it does superbly. Even if Clive Lloyd was transformed into a right-hander.

Howzat: Kerry Packer's War
Channel Nine



Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • POSTED BY Jediroya on | September 6, 2012, 0:34 GMT

    the error is with the sound editing as the voiceover says Lloyd but it's actually Greenidge batting - opening with Barry Richards. a few seconds later the voiceover correctly states Greenidge is given out and Viv Richards comes to the crease. Lloyd is not depicted batting at all. oh and it's Chappelli who says Bradman is good at sniffing the breeze - Parrish says Bradman loads up the bullets but never pulls the trigger himself.

  • POSTED BY wdcruz on | September 3, 2012, 20:02 GMT

    If they added WSC achievements Botham would ever have hdeld the WR for bowling!

  • POSTED BY Romanticstud on | September 3, 2012, 9:59 GMT

    What about the rebel tours in the 1980's and 1990 to South Africa ... I remember the West Indies, England and Australia all came to South Africa to play against Clive Rice / Peter Kirsten and co ... surely they were still international games ... I remember too the one "Test" where Clive Rice and Garth le Roux got hatricks ... and an ODI where Australia were on top until the last 3 overs and lost the last 8 wickets very cheaply ...

  • POSTED BY Rowayton on | September 3, 2012, 4:51 GMT

    I will let others argue about Test status, but why the figures aren't included in the players' first-class records is a mystery to me. It is simply letting administrative niceties get in the way of reality.

  • POSTED BY __PK on | September 3, 2012, 3:14 GMT

    I was skeptical when I first saw the ads because they took so much trouble to make the actors look like the players - I was afraid the show would just be a sketch comedy! I was very impressed, though, with the exception of the right-handed Clive Lloyd - what a clanger! I thought it was interesting that the only fictionalised characters were Packer's PA and his deputy, which were the only two people he actively bullied. They must have been added to ensure that no matter how much we sided with Packer, they never completely let you sympathise with him.

  • POSTED BY kentjones on | September 3, 2012, 1:11 GMT

    Packer era was really a wonderful time for cricket. It certainly has set up many of the great cricket players and teams in the ensuing years. I must admit the controversy behind it and the then possibility of players never playing test cricket again was quite unnerving for true cricket followers. The eventual settlement and resumption of normal cricket by most players was a huge relief. Looking at some of these matches it was an exciting time for some of the best crciketing performances ever.

  • POSTED BY on | September 3, 2012, 1:10 GMT

    Was indeed a good mini-series. Not brilliant: some of the cricket was inaccurate (eg Clive Lloyd batting right-handed, as mentioned in the article). Still, gave a good impression of cricket's greatest revolution.

  • POSTED BY Guthers007 on | September 3, 2012, 0:39 GMT

    My generation of cricket and I remember all the goings on around WSC at that time. The cricket was brilliant and the players started to receive what they deserved, couldn't ask for more.

    Great show!!

  • POSTED BY Bobby_Talyarkhan on | September 2, 2012, 20:26 GMT

    @LillianThomson Viv Richards scored 1281 runs in 25 World Series Cricket Supertest innings at an average of 55.69. Greg Chappell with 56.60 and Barry Richards with 79.14 had higher averages. I agree with you - the players concerned should have these figures officially added to their career figures.

  • POSTED BY on | September 2, 2012, 19:10 GMT

    The Super Tests should be retrospectively be given Test status as should the 1970 Rest Of The World series in England and 71-72 Series in Australia. All these matches were played in a fiercely competitive manner. Gary Sobers 254 for the Rest of the World in 71-72 v Australia has long been acclaimed as one of the best innings ever. If the lame match Australia won versus the Rest of the World in 2005 counts as a test, why shouldn't these matches? Also, let's give back the Test caps taken away from people like Allan Jones of Glamorgan in 1970 while they are still around to enjoy it.

  • POSTED BY Jediroya on | September 6, 2012, 0:34 GMT

    the error is with the sound editing as the voiceover says Lloyd but it's actually Greenidge batting - opening with Barry Richards. a few seconds later the voiceover correctly states Greenidge is given out and Viv Richards comes to the crease. Lloyd is not depicted batting at all. oh and it's Chappelli who says Bradman is good at sniffing the breeze - Parrish says Bradman loads up the bullets but never pulls the trigger himself.

  • POSTED BY wdcruz on | September 3, 2012, 20:02 GMT

    If they added WSC achievements Botham would ever have hdeld the WR for bowling!

  • POSTED BY Romanticstud on | September 3, 2012, 9:59 GMT

    What about the rebel tours in the 1980's and 1990 to South Africa ... I remember the West Indies, England and Australia all came to South Africa to play against Clive Rice / Peter Kirsten and co ... surely they were still international games ... I remember too the one "Test" where Clive Rice and Garth le Roux got hatricks ... and an ODI where Australia were on top until the last 3 overs and lost the last 8 wickets very cheaply ...

  • POSTED BY Rowayton on | September 3, 2012, 4:51 GMT

    I will let others argue about Test status, but why the figures aren't included in the players' first-class records is a mystery to me. It is simply letting administrative niceties get in the way of reality.

  • POSTED BY __PK on | September 3, 2012, 3:14 GMT

    I was skeptical when I first saw the ads because they took so much trouble to make the actors look like the players - I was afraid the show would just be a sketch comedy! I was very impressed, though, with the exception of the right-handed Clive Lloyd - what a clanger! I thought it was interesting that the only fictionalised characters were Packer's PA and his deputy, which were the only two people he actively bullied. They must have been added to ensure that no matter how much we sided with Packer, they never completely let you sympathise with him.

  • POSTED BY kentjones on | September 3, 2012, 1:11 GMT

    Packer era was really a wonderful time for cricket. It certainly has set up many of the great cricket players and teams in the ensuing years. I must admit the controversy behind it and the then possibility of players never playing test cricket again was quite unnerving for true cricket followers. The eventual settlement and resumption of normal cricket by most players was a huge relief. Looking at some of these matches it was an exciting time for some of the best crciketing performances ever.

  • POSTED BY on | September 3, 2012, 1:10 GMT

    Was indeed a good mini-series. Not brilliant: some of the cricket was inaccurate (eg Clive Lloyd batting right-handed, as mentioned in the article). Still, gave a good impression of cricket's greatest revolution.

  • POSTED BY Guthers007 on | September 3, 2012, 0:39 GMT

    My generation of cricket and I remember all the goings on around WSC at that time. The cricket was brilliant and the players started to receive what they deserved, couldn't ask for more.

    Great show!!

  • POSTED BY Bobby_Talyarkhan on | September 2, 2012, 20:26 GMT

    @LillianThomson Viv Richards scored 1281 runs in 25 World Series Cricket Supertest innings at an average of 55.69. Greg Chappell with 56.60 and Barry Richards with 79.14 had higher averages. I agree with you - the players concerned should have these figures officially added to their career figures.

  • POSTED BY on | September 2, 2012, 19:10 GMT

    The Super Tests should be retrospectively be given Test status as should the 1970 Rest Of The World series in England and 71-72 Series in Australia. All these matches were played in a fiercely competitive manner. Gary Sobers 254 for the Rest of the World in 71-72 v Australia has long been acclaimed as one of the best innings ever. If the lame match Australia won versus the Rest of the World in 2005 counts as a test, why shouldn't these matches? Also, let's give back the Test caps taken away from people like Allan Jones of Glamorgan in 1970 while they are still around to enjoy it.

  • POSTED BY bumsonseats on | September 2, 2012, 19:03 GMT

    i said then that TG was doing as every man has to do and that look after his family. in england he took alot of stick unfairly in my opinion. i suppose with them asking him back for the cowdrey lecture the old fogies at lords have maybe forgiven him. i still have arguments with my brother in law till this day on what he did. that argument was used during the KP moments but i dont think they have any similarity as all the top 4 teams in world cricket these days are well paid . but international teams in those days were played a pittance compared to these days.

  • POSTED BY ATC1810 on | September 2, 2012, 18:55 GMT

    Sounds like a really interesting series, hope it will be made available in England.

  • POSTED BY Biggus on | September 2, 2012, 16:30 GMT

    Was a tense time in Australian cricket. I'd only just started watching cricket a couple of years before and was 14 when it happened. Everybody had an opinion on whether they were traitors or righteous rebels and I'm sure many a bar room brawl ensued. These days it's seen as a necessary step in proper rumuneration for players but back then, especially during the first season, there were quite a lot of negative feelings towards the 'rebels' and it wasn't really until the second season, when the universe hadn't suddenly ended due to ripples in the intergalactic cricket continuum, that people's opinions mellowed. As I said, I was a mere 14 year old, concerned only with cricket, so I spent a confusing but nevertheless fascinating summer flicking between WSC and the establishment series between Bobby Simpson's team and the (to my youthful eyes) exotic Indians and that quartet of wonderful spinners. It was a 'Brave New World' indeed.

  • POSTED BY arashrafiq on | September 2, 2012, 15:00 GMT

    Lol @ cameras multiplied in numbers

  • POSTED BY LillianThomson on | September 2, 2012, 11:45 GMT

    If you think about it, the only difference between Packer Supertests and ICC Tests is a) the ownership at the time and b) the "official" Tests featured inferior players to the Packer Supertests. Thirty five years have now passed, and in my opinion the Supertests and Packer ODIs should now have official Test and ODI status without the ICC ones losing theirs. After all these years I couldn't care less about the politics, but the players' records should show what they did. From 77-78 alone, Mike Procter's Supertest wickets came at 11.60, Lillee and Imran took 11 wickets each yet Viv Richards still averaged 100 with the bat, a feat of more than Bradman-like proportions because the bowling was relentlessly superb. Without the inclusion of WSC, the final Test records of every WI, SA and Australian player are basically false and fraudulent.

  • POSTED BY Chris_P on | September 2, 2012, 11:33 GMT

    This was one of the best shows I have ever seen. Fantastic. It defies belief that the ICC hasn't granted these matches as first class fixtures. They grant games against English universities that status, yet the collection of the greatest players of that era played with international umpires are not acknowledged? Even the rebel tours to South Africa were given first class status. Go figure. WSC is the reason why cricket is where it is today.

  • POSTED BY raghavan88 on | September 2, 2012, 10:04 GMT

    I was born 10 years after the Packer Affair.Have never been able to see even the highlights.Feel I missed something.

  • POSTED BY robelgordo on | September 2, 2012, 9:44 GMT

    Surely WSC should be given FC and List A status by now?

  • POSTED BY on | September 2, 2012, 9:11 GMT

    It is a shame PBL or whoever holds the rights has not released a DVD of actual footage. I lived in the bush at the time and didn't get to see B.Richards's famous innings or any of the other South Africans in action such as le Roux, Rice and Barlow (not to mention the one-dayer where Wayne Daniel hit a six off Mick Malone off the last ball).

  • POSTED BY on | September 2, 2012, 8:36 GMT

    " They clearly didn't use the same method for the cameras so fast did they multiply " Good one !

  • POSTED BY LillianThomson on | September 2, 2012, 8:16 GMT

    The ongoing tragedy of the Packer Circus is that the highest quality cricket ever played is still excluded from official records - the long-dead MCC and ACB fossils still prevail! From Imran Khan to Viv Richards to Ian Chappell there is unanimity: they never played such relentlessly high-quality cricket. Yet Dennis Lillee is deprived of 200 extra international wickets and Viv Richards of 2000 extra runs, while England's 5-1 Test victory over Australia's fourth eleven in 78-79 is still counted. You can say what you like about Packer, but unlike Bradman he ensured that international cricketers were paid a decent wage which reflected the revenue which they brought in for their employers.

  • POSTED BY on | September 2, 2012, 6:16 GMT

    The packer era was one of the most exciting times in cricketing history. Those time feature great cricket from the world greatest cricketers. These games should be given ICC official status.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • POSTED BY on | September 2, 2012, 6:16 GMT

    The packer era was one of the most exciting times in cricketing history. Those time feature great cricket from the world greatest cricketers. These games should be given ICC official status.

  • POSTED BY LillianThomson on | September 2, 2012, 8:16 GMT

    The ongoing tragedy of the Packer Circus is that the highest quality cricket ever played is still excluded from official records - the long-dead MCC and ACB fossils still prevail! From Imran Khan to Viv Richards to Ian Chappell there is unanimity: they never played such relentlessly high-quality cricket. Yet Dennis Lillee is deprived of 200 extra international wickets and Viv Richards of 2000 extra runs, while England's 5-1 Test victory over Australia's fourth eleven in 78-79 is still counted. You can say what you like about Packer, but unlike Bradman he ensured that international cricketers were paid a decent wage which reflected the revenue which they brought in for their employers.

  • POSTED BY on | September 2, 2012, 8:36 GMT

    " They clearly didn't use the same method for the cameras so fast did they multiply " Good one !

  • POSTED BY on | September 2, 2012, 9:11 GMT

    It is a shame PBL or whoever holds the rights has not released a DVD of actual footage. I lived in the bush at the time and didn't get to see B.Richards's famous innings or any of the other South Africans in action such as le Roux, Rice and Barlow (not to mention the one-dayer where Wayne Daniel hit a six off Mick Malone off the last ball).

  • POSTED BY robelgordo on | September 2, 2012, 9:44 GMT

    Surely WSC should be given FC and List A status by now?

  • POSTED BY raghavan88 on | September 2, 2012, 10:04 GMT

    I was born 10 years after the Packer Affair.Have never been able to see even the highlights.Feel I missed something.

  • POSTED BY Chris_P on | September 2, 2012, 11:33 GMT

    This was one of the best shows I have ever seen. Fantastic. It defies belief that the ICC hasn't granted these matches as first class fixtures. They grant games against English universities that status, yet the collection of the greatest players of that era played with international umpires are not acknowledged? Even the rebel tours to South Africa were given first class status. Go figure. WSC is the reason why cricket is where it is today.

  • POSTED BY LillianThomson on | September 2, 2012, 11:45 GMT

    If you think about it, the only difference between Packer Supertests and ICC Tests is a) the ownership at the time and b) the "official" Tests featured inferior players to the Packer Supertests. Thirty five years have now passed, and in my opinion the Supertests and Packer ODIs should now have official Test and ODI status without the ICC ones losing theirs. After all these years I couldn't care less about the politics, but the players' records should show what they did. From 77-78 alone, Mike Procter's Supertest wickets came at 11.60, Lillee and Imran took 11 wickets each yet Viv Richards still averaged 100 with the bat, a feat of more than Bradman-like proportions because the bowling was relentlessly superb. Without the inclusion of WSC, the final Test records of every WI, SA and Australian player are basically false and fraudulent.

  • POSTED BY arashrafiq on | September 2, 2012, 15:00 GMT

    Lol @ cameras multiplied in numbers

  • POSTED BY Biggus on | September 2, 2012, 16:30 GMT

    Was a tense time in Australian cricket. I'd only just started watching cricket a couple of years before and was 14 when it happened. Everybody had an opinion on whether they were traitors or righteous rebels and I'm sure many a bar room brawl ensued. These days it's seen as a necessary step in proper rumuneration for players but back then, especially during the first season, there were quite a lot of negative feelings towards the 'rebels' and it wasn't really until the second season, when the universe hadn't suddenly ended due to ripples in the intergalactic cricket continuum, that people's opinions mellowed. As I said, I was a mere 14 year old, concerned only with cricket, so I spent a confusing but nevertheless fascinating summer flicking between WSC and the establishment series between Bobby Simpson's team and the (to my youthful eyes) exotic Indians and that quartet of wonderful spinners. It was a 'Brave New World' indeed.