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The summer of 1977 will be remembered by most people for the Queen's Silver Jubilee. For lovers of cricket there were two other important topics. First, England won back The Ashes and secondly, there came the announcement in May that Kerry Packer, the Australian newspaper and television magnate, had secretly signed up at fabulous fees thirty-five Test stars from England, Australia, the West Indies, South Africa and Pakistan.
The Centenary Test
Earlier in the year at Melbourne, Australia and England had celebrated the centenary of the first Test Match in that city in 1877. It was a wonderful occasion with 200 former Test players present and it produced some splendid cricket. Many Australians had by then made up their minds to break with tradition to earn as much as they could from the game whatever the consequences. Mr. Packer's eyes may have opened wider to the amount which big cricket itself could attract by the happenings at Melbourne, but this could not be forward as the reason for his determination to skim the game of its cream. The lack of response from the Australian Cricket Board to his overtures for TV rights for his Channel Nine Commercial Station was clearly at the root of the trouble, and this was further illustrate both during Mr. Packer's visit to Lord's to meet the International Cricket Conference and the protracted High Court case in London in which Mr. Justice Slade came down heavily against the cricket authorities. By then the world of cricket outside Australia had been drawn into an intricate and complicated web of other people's making.
The public will decide
No one can be positive for the time being about the success or failure of Mr. Packer's venture. It is said that he would be willing to spend as much as nine million Australian dollars to put his World Series Cricket firmly on the map, but in the end it will be the public who will pronounce the verdict, mainly by their attendance at his matches and the time they devote to his TV presentations. The big test will come at the end of the year when England visit Australia for cricket of the traditional kind in another struggle for the Ashes.
Moreover the England selectors will have to bear this tour in mind when picking the teams to face Pakistan and New Zealand in the dual tours this summer. I cannot see how room can be made for the Packer men like Greig, Underwood, Knott, Woolmer and Amiss when they will not be available later to play in Australia, unless before then there is a compromise, which is possible.
As things stand at the time of writing at the New Year no solution would appear to be in sight and the cricket authorities, particularly those in England, who spend thousands of pounds raising young talent to the top level, run the risk of losing players to any rich entrepreneur, for Packer could only be the first in the line. I feel that those who signed for Packer were placed in a dilemma - loyalty to those that nurtured them or the attraction of financial reward for playing another kind of cricket that excludes them from first-class recognition because it is outside the bounds of the International Cricket Conference.
Threat to Sydney Tests
Just as a 78 million Australian dollar plan to improve the Sydney Cricket Ground area with visions of staging the 1988 Olympic Games took shape, there arose the question of priority rights in the immediate future. The matter was to be decided in the N.S.W. Legislative Assembly. Two Tests between Australia and England are down to be played there in January and February 1979, but if a reshaped Sydney Ground Trust took office, they might feel inclined to accept Packer's offer of £155,000 for thirteen playing days of World Series Cricket over that period - the most popular holiday time in Australia.
Floodlit cricket and white ball
With the long hours of daylight which prevail in England, cricket in mid-summer can be played until 9 p.m., as was the case at Lord's in 1975 when West Indies beat Australia by 17 runs in the Prudential World Cup Cricket Tournament, the need for floodlighting in unnecessary. In other parts of the cricket world the sun goes down much earlier and now Packer has staged the first floodlit cricket in Australia with a white ball against a dark sightscreen. For the first session the traditional red ball was in use, but when the Australians batted against the West Indians, spectators and cricketers alike found the white ball much easier to follow, though it was questionable whether it swung as much. It is possible that night cricket has come to stay in Australia.