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

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

  • Andrew on September 5, 2012, 23:34 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.

  • walter on September 3, 2012, 19:02 GMT

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

  • Andrew on September 3, 2012, 8:59 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 ...

  • David on September 3, 2012, 3:51 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.

  • Paul on September 3, 2012, 2:14 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.

  • kent on September 3, 2012, 0:11 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.

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2012, 0:10 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.

  • paul on September 2, 2012, 23:39 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!!

  • Bis on September 2, 2012, 19:26 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.

  • Dummy4 on September 2, 2012, 18:10 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.

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