ACB brushed their friends aside to meet their own ends, 1980

The Packer affair

The documentation of the Packer case, which began in the 1978 Wisden, is continued here, from the point it reached in last year's edition with the decision in an Australian court by Mr Justice Kearney that J. R. Thomson, the Australian fast bowler, was bound by a contract he signed with the Australian Cricket Board and could not therefore play for Packer until April. Costs were awarded against Thomson and World Series Cricket.

The supreme test for Packer's brand of jet-age razzamatazz cricket was to come in the winter of 1978-79 when an official Ashes series would take place in Australia at the same time. To seasoned and ardent followers of the game, Packer's offering was almost a masquerade of the game of cricket; to young Australians, however, especially when it was staged at night with the right sort of refreshment available, WSC was certainly having appeal. To them, whether or not it conformed to the accepted standards of the game of cricket was immaterial, as long as it provided dramatic entertainment. So it seemed likely that as well as two separate series being played, they would be watched by two quite diverse species of Australian life.

Tony Lewis, reporting from Sydney, in January 1979, had this to say of the World Series Cricket game in a feature in the Sunday Telegraph:

The most dangerous act in the entertainment business these days is not balancing on the high wire nor even putting a head in the lion's mouth. It is, without doubt, batting in Kerry Packer's Flying Circus. Fast bowling and repeated bouncers are destroying some of the best batsmen we have ever seen. I have never seen so many bouncers bowled in a session as by the World team against the West Indies in a one-day game last week.

Tony Greig, in the Sun Herald, gave the true flavour of WSC cricket when he wrote:

The competition in WSC is so intense, teams can no longer afford to allow the opposition tailenders to hang around. Consequently the pace bowlers are dishing out an unprecedented amount of bouncers to the 'rabbits'. So it is pleasing to see that cricketers like Dennis Lillee and Garth le Roux have got the message, swallowed their pride, and are wearing helmets.

Are these cricketers, or mercenaries risking their skin for a sizeable bag of gold? The Australian reported the conclusion of one game as follows:

Last night's game ended dramatically when number 11 batsman, Joel Garner, playing with a broken left middle finger from an accident only nine days previously, was struck on the finger by a short ball from World XI all-rounder Clive Rice. Garner was in considerable pain and walked from the field, giving the World XI a win by 35 runs.

While the circus moved from place to place for one-day stands, the Ashes series was taking the course the Australian Cricket Board had reason to fear most. Their team, without the cream of its talent who had defected to Packer, were no match for a competent England side, except for a little splutter in the middle of the series when Australia won the third Test at Melbourne by 103 runs. England won the series by five Tests to that solitary one. The Australian public (and who can blame them?) have little stomach for the second best in sport, and this, to a measurable degree, was reflected in attendances. On the other hand, Packer gave the public free parking at Sydney, free transport out to the Waverley ground in Melbourne, and played his matches when spectators have time to watch - at night, and with a white ball which they can see better. In addition, with his television network, he promoted his stars as Hollywood used to theirs in the thirties. They became household names, and faces. It was all a personality cult.

There had been many estimates as to how much the Packer organisation had lost in its first season of WSC cricket. But much of the enormous outlay of capital expenditure would not apply a second time round. Although the figures were not available until March 1979, the Group's figures up to December 23, for the half-year, suggested that Packer cricket would open its account in the coming months of 1979 as follows.

The holding company and operators of TCN channel 9, Publishing and Broadcasting Holdings Ltd., yesterday confirmed the improvement with a solid 26 per cent profit rise from $A6,657,000 to $A8,407,000 in the half-year to December 23. While no figures for WSC are published in the interim report, if the rising attendances and substantially lower costs are any criteria, Mr Packer would have been laughing at the end of the six-month period.

After losing at least $A3.5 million in its first season WSC would now be close to breaking even and may even chalk up a maiden profit for the full year to June 30. But this depends largely on the financial success of the current WSC Australian tour of the West Indies.

During the 1978-79 Australian season, WSC is said to have drawn about 730,000 people through the gates over 85 days of cricket. As estimated 580,000 people went through the turnstiles up to the end of Publishing and Broadcasting's interim period - December 23 - although it is not known how many of these were paying customers. But it is known that WSC costs that season were substantially lower than the start-up costs of the previous year. Publishing and Broadcasting would also have benefited from better advertising response during the cricket coverage on Channel 9 and inter-state stations.

So, at this stage, Packer seemed to have the edge over the Australian Cricket Board on the question of balancing budgets. The official Test series in what was once the greatest of sporting series - the Fight for The Ashes had done financially worse than any series before it; much worse.

As far as Packer's next move was concerned, the spotlight switched England, where there was considerable conjecture as to what might happen at the next Cricketers' Association meeting. Would the players in English domestic cricket, especially those who constituted the present England team, vote for a ban on Packer players? If they did, Packer had always threatened to bring his circus to England, and no-one ever doubted that Packer meant what he said. When Ian Davis, a bank employee, was refused leave to join Packer's tour to the West Indies, Packer sharpened his teeth and promptly withdrew two very substantial accounts.

From the start, there had been a strong feeling in cricket's higher echelon that Packer would never be able to find suitable grounds in Britain. But there was an equally strong body of confident opinion that he would. A great number of cricket grounds are not owned by the county which plays on them. Take, as an example, St Helen's, Swansea, which belongs to the City Corporation. Could they possibly refuse a glittering cash guarantee from Packer if he wanted to play there? Glamorgan could reply by refusing to play there again if the Corporation sold out to Packer, but would that matter as much to the Corporation as it might to Glamorgan.

Packer had always claimed that his first season of WSC was a disappointment, mainly because, to quote him, People had been so heavily indoctrinated against the idea. The reprisal this time was to indoctrinate people in favour of the idea in preference to orthodox cricket. Almost every Australian newspaper had a former player who was on the Packer payroll banging the drum, the Packer's own television network remorselessly did the same. Still, not everyone was taken in. In a letter to an Australian newspaper, D. M. Elliston of Tasmania wrote: Are these posturing gum-chewing yahoos who participate in that rather poor standard television production could or perhaps mis-called World Series Cricket members of actors equity? With sadness I remember back to the days when some of them were cricketers.

Packer admitted that he was fading himself into the background. I spent a disproportionate amount of time on cricket at first - it's only three or five per cent of the business. He told Alan Lee in an interview on February that, if he had been asked Would you do it all over again? he would probably have said No. He was still prepared to compromise for the good of cricket, but the longer it goes on the less eager I shall be. Alan Lee, writing of this interview in the Sunday Telegraph, concluded: World Series Cricket has grown beyond being a temporary intrusion on the game, and its threat to England adds completely new pressures to every county player at their crucial April meeting. Packer is awaiting their decision with something more than indifference.

It was reported, however, that a group of England players who toured Australia were stepping up their campaign against players affiliated to World Series Cricket. They were proposing to the annual meeting of the Cricketers' Association in April 1979 that no county should be allowed to sign a player dismissed by another county because of his links with Kerry Packer. Additionally, they said that no county should recruit any further players on the WSC payroll, or known to be about to sign for the organisation. They would reserve the right to refuse to play against them.

Some England players, however, were hoping for an encouraging statement before the Association's meeting from the International Cricket Conference about talks held with Packer representatives in Australia. If these gave some hint of compromise, then their proposals could be dropped. But there were still proposals on the tale which could seriously affect the coming Prudential World Cup, calling, as they did, for English players to refuse to play with or against any of the Packer men. Certainly, West Indies and Pakistan would select their Packer players, so confrontation and disruption of the world Cup was, at that stage, a serious possibility.

Packer, in the meantime, was turning his attention to the West Indies. It will be remembered that the half-year financial report had suggested that a possible profit on the cricket operation depended largely on the financial success of the current WSC Australian tour of the West Indies. There must be considerable sympathy for the West Indies Board who, by the nature of events in the Caribbean, operate within the framework of the most slender financial resources at the best of times. Their position had worsened considerably since the arrival of Packer. The 1977-78 series against Bobby Simpson's Australians, virtually a second team, was diluted still further when Clive Lloyd and his Packer players withdrew from the Test in Georgetown. The series, having become totally unrepresentative, resulted in heavy financial loss.

For season 1978-79, with the absence of the Packer men - a team and a half of them - and with West Indies committed to sending a team to India and Sri Lanka, there was not a single first-class match in any of the territories until the end of March. Then within a few weeks, because a large number of their players would be due back in England, the Shell Shield matches - once the backbone of cricket in the West Indies- would have to be rushed through. Meanwhile, the Packer circus was on the road in the Caribbean; and as it contained all the top players of both countries, the attraction was inevitable and immediate.

In the desperate necessity to stay afloat financially, the West Indies Board had only one option - to seek some stability, regardless of where it came from. Of course, it came from Packer. E. W. Swanton wrote:

There is, however, one consolation at the moment for West Indies cricket. The various territories are getting from WSC both rentals for grounds and a portion of the gate over an agreed figure; also - let us give the devil his due - the Board itself is to receive an ex-gratia payment which will at least do something to compensate for the inevitable diminution of interest in its own Shell Shield and the absence of opportunity of discovering new talent until the tail-end of the season.

Mr Swanton went on:

So, although the International Cricket Conference has done all possible from the start to accommodate any reasonable proposals put forward by the opposition - and I gather, by the way, that the January talks at Sydney, between the ICC representatives and Kerry Packer were decorously conducted - the Boards of individual countries can only proceed on the basis that, in the foreseeable future, the two systems may co-exist.

With Packer in the West Indies, the cricket world had by now accepted conditionally that his influence on the game was likely to be of a permanent nature. It was not a pie in the sky that would go as it came, simply because of the established business principle that he could now negotiate from strength.

Packer's tour of the West Indies will be remembered, not for its cricket but for violent crowd scenes almost unprecedented in an area where crowd disturbances have become almost routine. Tony Cozier, writing in The Cricketer of the fourth Supertest in Georgetown, gave this dramatic account of the proceedings:

After a sunny Saturday, Guyana's lone Sunday newspaper quoted a WSC official as giving the assurance that play would commence on time on Sunday provided no more rain fell. Far from there being rain, the weather remained fine and a capacity crowd of 13,000 packed the tiny ground from as early as 7.00 a.m. to watch the much-heralded superstars in action.

Gradually it became clear to everyone that the optimistic predictions of a prompt start were unfounded. The public-address system announced that the umpires had inspected and would inspect again at 12 noon. In the interim, players, dressed in civvies, appeared on the ground, prodding it dubiously with much shrugging of shoulders. The noon inspection led to a further announcement of a 2.00 p.m. inspection. As the alcohol flowed and the temperature became less bearable, spectators' patience became shorter and shorter. A good forty minutes after the 2.00 p.m. survey by the umpires it was announced that play would commence at 3.30 p.m.

Too late. The hurricane was already blowing and could not now be curbed. By the time it was over, the ground was in shambles, fences torn down, benches and chairs hurled on to the outfield, broken bottles all over the place. The pavilion had been stormed and ransacked and the two teams trapped in their dressing-rooms where they remained huddled in corners, most using their helmets as protection against drink bottles, not cricket balls. Two West Indies were slightly cut but the riot police, with their tear gas, arrived before the rampant mob could do any further damage. The prior disturbances in Barbados and Trinidad were minor by comparison. Apart from the embarrassment of the various disturbances, WSC also had its image tarnished by an incident involving Ian Chappell who was charged, convicted and fined $G150 in a Georgetown magistrate's court for assaulting a local WSC official and using indecent language.

Financially, however, WSC reported favourably. There were excellent crowds and substantial in-put by sponsors, the Board was a beneficiary, and a coaching programme by former West Indies Test cricketers was apparently highly successful. Whether the product is good, bad or indifferent, much of its success or failure lies in marketing techniques, and in this respect Packer has clearly shown the way to success. The West Indies Board, having seen the size and nature of the sponsorships, would obviously be looking at this source of revenue for their own future advantage.

When the much-heralded Cricketers' Association meeting took place at Edgbaston on April 5, all the anticipated heat was taken out of it by news that something was in the wind. In the words of their president, John Arlott: We have been asked not to rock the boat. We have been given assurances, but not facts, that close negotiations are going on between the two sides and that a settlement is hoped for in weeks rather than months. The Australian Board was due to meet on April 23 and 24 to make what was expected to be their final decision on their television contract, the root of all the turmoil in the first place.

It was agreed at the Edgbaston meeting that, should there be no settlement, another meeting of the Association would be held on July 5, when the much tougher proposals laid down a year previously would certainly be debated with a fair chance of being carried. By then, however, the Prudential World Cup would have been completed. The representatives were also assured that traditional cricket would not be the loser from any settlement made. It was felt that this did, at least, open up the way for Warwickshire and Amiss to be reunited, for when Warwickshire made their decision the previous September not to renew Amiss's contract, they did say it could be changed if an agreement between ICC and WSC was reached or thought to be imminent. This proved to be the case, and an agreement between Warwickshire and Amiss followed closely on the heels of this meeting.

Towards the end of April there came the Australian Cricket Board's long-expected granting to Kerry Packer's Channel 9 of exclusive television rights for Test and other matches in Australia. What Packer had tried to achieve in 1976 he had achieved in 1979, at a damaging cost all round. It will remembered that the Board had said throughout that they would put this contract out to tender when the time came for its renewal.

Opinion at this latest at this latest news was cautious, to say the least. Much more detail was needed, but the agreement apparently was for three years and the Board would benefit by an estimated £600,000. As to the future of World Series Cricket, it was reported that this would be disbanded from January 31, 1980. It need never have started had Packer accepted that the Australian Cricket Board was bound by a contract to the Australian Broadcasting Commission until 1979, and that his money was likely to win the prize he so dearly sought when the time came.

This news of Packer winning the television contract was largely expected and was nothing like the bombshell which exploded upon the cricket world a month later when, from the outside, it appeared that from being and enemies with no compromise possible in any set of circumstances, the parties had wed and were now hand in hand for, as they said, the future good of cricket. Whether the rest of the world thought so was quite another matter. The feeling in many quarters was that when the Australian Board first found Packer at their throats, the rest of the cricket world and supported them to the hilt; even to the extent of highly expensive court cases which cricket could ill afford. Now, when it suited Australia, they had brushed their friends aside to meet their own ends. Let us, first of all, look at the full text of the statement made by the chairman of the Australian Cricket Board, Bob Parish.

I am pleased to announce that the agreement between the Australian Cricket Board and PBL Sports Pty Ltd has been signed and will be lodged with the Trade Practices Commissioner.

Under the agreement the Board has granted PBL Sports Pty Ltd the exclusive right, for a term of ten years, to promote the programme of cricket organised by the Board and to arrange the televising and merchandising in respect of that programme. For the first three years of the agreement the Board has agreed that PBL Sports Pty Ltd may arrange a contract for the televising of the programme with the Channel 9 network.

World Series Cricket Pty Ltd will cease to promote cricket matches in Australia or elsewhere during the term of the agreement. However, under the programme the World Series logo will continue to be worn in international one-day matches by Australian players.

The Australian Board will have the exclusive responsibility for the selection of Australian teams and has agreed that no player will be excluded from selection by reason only of that player having participated prior to the commencement of the 1979-80 cricket season in any match not authorised by the Board. There will be no change in Board policy that Australian teams will be selected only from those players who participate in Sheffield Shield cricket.

It is envisaged that the programme each season will comprise five or six Test matches and an international one-day series, to be known as the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup, of fifteen matches plus a final which will be the best of five matches. These international matches will involve two overseas team and the Australian team. The programme will also include the Sheffield Shield competition and a one-day series of nine matches between the states.

Playing conditions of all matches will be under the control of the Board and the Board has agreed to consider favourably the introduction of the 30-yard circle in limited-overs matches, day/night matches and, on an experimental basis, the use of coloured clothing in Benson and Hedges World Series one-day limited-overs international matches.

The programme for the 1979-80 season will not be finally determined for some weeks. England and India have accepted invitations to come to Australia in 1979-80. The Board has agreed to ask the Indian board to defer their visit until next season, 1980-81, and will invite the West Indian Board to send an official team to participate in the 1979-80 programme.

A basic programme of matches has been prepared by the Board programme committee. All matches will be played on venues as determined by the Board.

The following prize-money will be provided: for each Test - $A10,000 comprising $A6,000 to the winner, $A3,000 to the loser, $A1,000 to the player of the match. For each one-day match- $A5,000 comprising $A3,000 to the winner, $A1,500 to the loser, $A500 to the player of the match. For the one-day final - $A50,000 comprising $A32,000 to the winner, $A16,000 to the loser, $A2,000 in the player of the match.

The Board is pleased to advise that the Benson and Hedges company will continue to be the sole and official sponsor of international cricket in Australia, of the Sheffield Shield competition and the Australian team.

Finally, although the Board's cricket sub-committee, first established in September 1976, and which comprises three Board representatives and an elected player representative of each of the six states' practice squads, will continue to meet regularly, the Board has agreed that the Australian captain, for the time being, and/or a players' representative elected by the six state representatives, may attend board meetings on request or by invitation to discuss any matters they may wish to discuss or that the Board may wish to discuss with them. The Board will also endeavour to arrange that the captain of a state team and/or the elected players' representative may similarly attend state association meetings.

The Board is unanimously of the opinion that its decision to accept the proposal from PBL is in the best interests of Australian and international cricket.

India, of course, had more reason than most to be unhappy, because their scheduled tour of Australia was to be deferred. New Zealand, too, must have wondered what might happen to them as one of the lesser crowd-pulling cricketing countries. Would the new deal mean that the weak would go under because they would have too little television appeal? Throughout the debate, the sixty-four thousand dollar question was Why has the Australian Board done this?, and the sixty-four thousand dollar answer can be succinctly given in one word - Money. For the first time in the history of the Ashes, an Australia v England series had lost money. Faced with nothing in the kitty, and a tour by India- and this was bound to lose money - the Australian Board could see the spectre of bankruptcy close round the corner. It was left with precious little bargaining power.

Packer had all the cards in his hand. It could be said that, in the circumstances, Australia had come out of it pretty well. Financially, of course, they may have, but time alone will tell whether the Australian Board - a very small dog, with Packer as a very large tail - will find that the wags the dog on any issue of divided opinion. It easily could.

Knowing the dilemma the Australian Board was in after losing the estimated £445,000 in the two-year dispute, it was not too surprising that the International Cricket Conference, at its annual meeting at Lord's, 1979, approved the Australian Board's agreement with Kerry Packer PBL Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Consolidated Press. They were satisfied that PBL will not involved in promoting cricket in Australia or elsewhere, and that PBL Pty Ltd would be the agent of the Board, not its master.

The ICC announced that it was likely that England and West Indies would go to Australia in the coming winter, India and New Zealand in 1980-81, and West Indies and Pakistan in 1981-82, so for all countries honour was satisfied. India accepted a year's postponement with good grace on the assurance that, in the three-year programme of international cricket currently being worked out, they will have an equitable share of Test series, home and away.

The Australian Board's agreement with PBL was for ten years, but there is no commitment to have two tours every Australian season, and England's next visit after the coming winter should be for a full season.

Although some say that this will have little affect on established cricket in England, this view might have to be taken with a pinch of salt. It is practically impossible for one of the major components of a small unit - the countries involved in international cricket - to commit itself to such far-reaching proposals as these without some of the implications rubbing off elsewhere. A glut of one-day cricket could be one example, as could the development of a new breed of cricketer who seeks the quick pickings of easy money in preference to the long hard road of becoming thoroughly accomplished. Will the watcher lose all sense of the aesthetic qualities of cricket because, in a one-day game, snicks through an unguarded slip area count for as much as the beauty of the supreme cover-drive?

The Test and County Cricket Board swiftly put some uneasy minds at rest when they announced that, although they reluctantly agreed to compete in the ICC-approved one-day competition involving Australia and West Indies, they have told the Australians they want the next tour in 1982-83 to revert to the traditional format of five or six Tests. The TCCB added: The Australian Board have agreed to a significant reduction in one-day international cricket from their original programme. England are strongly of the opinion that there are still too many of these matches as opposed to Tests than is desirable.

The TCCB also insisted that no abnormal conditions be imposed for the limited-overs series. This obviously meant that England would refuse to play in coloured clothing and suffer any of the other intolerable gimmicks of WSC television presentation. Furthermore, they had their way over the position of the Ashes in the three-Test series, and these were not at stake.

One immediate example of the new all money attitude by the Australian Board was the length of time it took for the TCCB to negotiate terms for the recent winter tour, which, in the first instance, were unacceptable. In fact, whether or not the tour was on was touch and go for some time. Agreement was finally reached for an announcement to be made on October 4, and event then an estimated £30,000 to be divided among the counties seemed paltry reward for a tour which was not really wanted, and was purely a gesture to help Australia- and Packer, too. The illogicality of it all had surely reached its peak.

© John Wisden & Co