Cricket emerges from the World Series crisis, 1984

Australia - a new era

R.J. Parish

By the mid 1980s Australia cricket was recovering well from World Series Cricket © The Cricketer
The Australian season of 1983-84 completed the fifth year of the agreement between the Australian Cricket Board and World Series Cricket. It was in May 1977 that World Series Cricket burst upon the cricketing world and in May 1979 that agreement was reached between the two factions; after two years of trauma, disastrous law suits and internecine disputes.

Much has been written as to the reasons why a private promoter entered the field of the commercial promotion of international cricket. It is not my intention to recapitulate those reasons or to attempt to justify arguments one way or the other. However, it would be wrong of me not to take this opportunity to clarify the Australian Board's motive and method in reaching the agreement it did. The Board has been, and is still, concerned that its action has not been fully understood.

In June 1977, at a special meeting of the International Cricket Conference, the effect of the private promotion of international cricket was fully discussed and it was unanimously agreed that there should be no unilateral attempts to reach a compromise or solution. ICC set up a sub-committee to pursue negotiations with WSC with a view to achieving an agreement eagerly sought by several of the Test-match-playing countries. By late 1978 it was becoming more and more apparent that, if a solution were to be reached, it would depend on the attitude and initiative of the Australian Board.

In January 1979 the Chairman of ICC gave written authorisation to the Australian Board to hold unilateral talks with WSC. Both the Chairman and Secretary of ICC were informed in February 1979 that continuing talks raised hopes of achieving a solution. Detailed negotiations continued, and on April 24, 1979, the Board announced that it had accepted, in principle, an offer from PBL Sports Pty Ltd. On April 27 a telex was sent to the Secretary of ICC setting out the relevant details as they affected other countries. It was made clear that Australia had not committed and would not commit ICC or other countries but could only use their best endeavours to implement what had been agreed.

The non-disclosure of the financial conditions caused some consternation. However, it has always been the Australian Board's policy not to make public the financial conditions relating to television fees and sponsorships

The non-disclosure of the financial conditions caused some consternation. However, it has always been the Australian Board's policy not to make public the financial conditions relating to television fees and sponsorships. ICC was assured that the agreement provided no bonanza for the Australian Board, and whether or not the agreement was financially successful would depend on the ability of the promoters to encourage attendance at the programme of matches. The Board had acted honourably and entered into the agreement in the best interests, as they saw them, of international cricket.

Now, what has happened over the past five years? It was understandable that, in arriving at a solution, the promoters of WSC should want a combination of what they saw as the best of their own cricket with the best of the traditional game. So, out of the negotiations came a mixture of traditional Test cricket with one-day Internationals.

The control of the game reverted to the Australian Board while PBL undertook, with their considerable expertise, to promote the programme. This provided for two visiting Test-playing countries to be involved each season. Initially it was agreed that each visiting country would play three Tests against Australia. Interspersed would be a total of fifteen one-day Internationals with a final the best of five matches. Test cricket would maintain its traditional red ball and white clothing. The one-day competition would use a white ball, coloured clothing and play a number of day/night matches.

By agreement, the first participants in this new era were England and West Indies in 1979-80. India who had been invited to tour Australia in that season agreed to transfer to 1880-81 and to combine with New Zealand. West Indies and Pakistan agreed to tour together in 1981-82. The 1979-80 joint tour was not easy to arrange. England were not happy about the number of one-day internationals, finally agreeing to play a total of eight preliminary games, four each against West Indies and Australia and a final the best-of-three. Coloured clothing was unacceptable, even though it was considered essential for night games. England were also apprehensive about using the white ball in one-day daylight matches, though one of the reasons for using the white ball in both day and day/night matches was to differentiate between traditional Test cricket and the series of one-day internationals. Finally, after weeks of discussion, the joint tour by England and West Indies was confirmed, though England were not agreeable to their three-match Test series being for the Ashes. Australia also agreed with England that after the first three years of this type of programme the Board would give consideration to reverting to the traditional Ashes programme for England's 1982-83 tour of Australia.

The 1979-80 season was successful. A total of 228,936 attended the three Tests against England and 216,659 the three against West Indies. Australia failed to qualify for the final of the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup, and one preliminary match, England against West Indies, scheduled to be played at Melbourne, was completely abandoned because of rain. Nevertheless, a total of 258,825 attended the eleven preliminary and two final matches. The total attendance for the international season in Australia of 703, 420 compared favourably with previous figures.

A survey taken during the season showed that support for Test cricket and the limited-overs games was more or less equally divided. A majority supported the use of coloured clothing in one-day games. It became apparent during the season that the mixing of Test cricket and one-day Internationals was somewhat confusing to the public and difficult for the players. Some of the players found it hard to adapt from normal Test cricket to the hustle and bustle of the interspersed limited-overs games. Nevertheless, a similar type of programme as that provided in the original agreement was confirmed for the seasons 1980-81 (India and New Zealand) and 1981-82 (West Indies and Pakistan).

In 1980-81 the world attendance record for a one-day game was broken in Melbourne when 52,990 attended the first final between New Zealand and Australia. In 1981-82, again in Melbourne, a West Indies- Australia preliminary one-day match attracted 78,142 spectators. Financially, the three seasons 1979-80, 1980-81, and 1981-82 were successful, especially when compared with 1977-78 and 1978-79, the seasons of the rift, both of which had shown substantial losses.

With the experience of the three previous seasons and in the light of the assurance given to England in 1979-80 to review the type of programme for their 1982-83 tour, it was decided to revert to the traditional five-Test tour for the Ashes series and to play the Tests first, followed by fifteen one-day games and a best-of-three final. The result was a success. At a preliminary match, between England and Australia in Melbourne, a new record attendance for one-day limited-overs matches of 84,360 was established. The overall attendance at international cricket in 1982-83 totalled almost 1,100,000 - a substantial increase over the total for 1979-80.

It has to be remembered that only two-thirds of the Australian population are now of Anglo-Saxon origin. The other third, principally European, has never been exposed to cricket. But it is pleasing to note the increasing interest in cricket from members of ethnic groups.

Cricket is a players' game. Test cricket is the game preferred by the players, the one for which they have been trained. However, they appreciate the financial need to play a combination of traditional and limited-overs cricket. Administrators must judge the success of a players' game by the number of participants. In Australia there are more players than ever before. A public opinion poll conducted in June 1983 showed that the most popular sport in Australia is cricket. Long may that continue.

© John Wisden & Co