Long-drawn-out saga rolls relentlessly on, 1979

The Packer affair

In the documentation of the Packer case in last year's Wisden it was possible only at the last minute to add the words: Early in February, 1978, the International Cricket Conference and the TCCB decided not to appeal and agreed to share their burden of the costs. The story, therefore, is taken up at the point of this decision, but in greater detail, as it was not possible to elaborate on the appeal decision at the time.

It was announced from Lord's on Thursday, February 2, 1978 that an appeal against the High Court ruling by Mr Justice Slade the previous November in favour of Mr Kerry Packer and some of his players would not be in the best interests of international cricket. Mr Jack Bailey, secretary of the International Cricket Conference, said that once the delegates had agreed there should be no appeal - the first item on the agenda - all discussions that followed were in the light of the High Court judgment. No pressure could be brought to bear upon member countries about whom they should select to play; the ICC could not make stipulations concerning this aspect. Mr Bailey told a Press conference that, though it was felt that both the ICC and the TCCB had reasonable grounds for appeal, there was no guarantee of success, and to appeal just for the sake of appeal would be churlish.

The selectors of individual countries will, as now, be responsible for making their own decisions and there may be different criteria used - consideration of the short-term or long-term requirements of that particular country.

As far as the TCCB were concerned, Peter Lush, the spokesman on their behalf, said that the selection by counties of World Series Cricket players was a matter for individual members; just as, in the case of the ICC, the TCCB was not in a position to make recommendations. At this moment, six England players were under contract to WSC - Greig, who had just been relieved of the Sussex captaincy because of derogatory remarks made about Boycott - Amiss, Snow, Knott, Underwood, and Woolmer. The ICC meeting, which lasted two days, agreed that the costs of the High Court hearing would be divided between the ICC and the TCCB. The question of making contractual arrangements with players had been aired, but no collective decision was taken. If individual countries were approached by WSC, any discussion would have to be with the ICC as a whole.

Meanwhile, WSC were continuing to sign up players; or rumour had it that they were. On February 3 The Sydney Sun claimed that Sunil Gavaskar and Bishan Bedi were to be offered lucrative contracts for the next season, though Bedi said he knew of no such offer, and was loathe to comment further until he did. On February 7 it was revealed that Greig and Sydney promoter David Lord had had lengthy discussions with a view of effecting a compromise between WSC and the ICC, with a new international series, under the auspices of the ICC, to be played in addition to scheduled Test series. In what struck observers as a most curious finale to their discussions, it was stated that Greig had not signed the joint statement because it did not constitute a perfectly true expression of his views. The Australian Board's view has never wavered from its original course; that if WSC wished to re-open talks with the Board, it should do so through the ICC in London. On this they stood firm.

In any event, a joint statement not signed by the second party hardly constituted the basis for serious discussion. On the same day, in England, a meeting of Kent's full committee decided to have back all their four Packer players should they wish to return. Hampshire announced at the same time that Greenidge, Richards, and Roberts would again be playing for them in the summer. Inevitably, all shades of opinion were being expressed. A letter to The Times from Surrey's chairman, Raman Subba Row, advocated a genuine discussion between the ICC and the rival system; two days later, Oliver Popplewell, QC, in a letter to the same newspaper, stated that the authorities should stand firm and beware the siren song of compromise until such time as Kerry Packer notified them that players signed by him would be released for the whole of the England tour of Australia in 1978-79.

During these diverse expressions of opinion, the WSC Packer matches were taking place in Australia to attendances considerably smaller than Packer would have hoped for. The exceptions were matches played in floodlight, which obviously had a novelty attraction and were well patronised. Before a crowd of 2,716 WSC Australia prevented a run of three defeats at the hands of the WSC World XI by winning by 41 runs. Comparative failure by Australia, in any sport, is something that appeals less to Australian crowds than to those in most other cricketing countries, and the Australian team's performance clearly could not have aided the Packer cause.

The true financial picture of this first series may not emerge for some time - if ever - but estimates put the loss in excess of £2,000,000; derived from an outlay of some three and a half million, with receipts from advertising revenue about a million, and gate receipts of a shade under half a million. Packer's comment was: "We are still amateurs, but we are more professional than we were, and will become even more professional."

It was said that the prize-money, worth $A201,500, had gone into a provident fund for three years, after which it would be paid out with interest. Still on the question of finance, it was apparently agreed, at a meeting between the Victorian Football League and Kerry Packer, that the mobile pitches at VFL Park would stay in place throughout the football season at an additional cost to WSC, who paid VFL $A850,000 for the use of the ground for three summers, with an original agreement to remove the pitches before the start of each football season.

When the dust was allowed to settle on this first adventure, followers of traditional cricket throughout the world had some comfort that this adventurer, Mr Kerry Packer, had clearly not met with the resounding success for which he had hoped. On the other hand, any new enterprise is subject to teething troubles. Moreover, Mr Packer's make-up is such that he was most unlikely to throw in the towel after a disastrous first round, and suffer a loss of pride as well as of money. In the end, of course, he may have to decide how much money he can afford to spend on pride. At a much later date a new managing director, Andrew Caro, emerged, clearly with the brief to make WSC pay, and to fight what, at that stage, appeared to be a battle with authority.

In Australia, one factor in the whole affair had remained constant - the unwavering line pursued by the Australian Board. Any opinion suggesting that the Australian Board might have taken a more conciliatory view of this rather ugly menace thrust upon them, holds little water when it is accepted that the Board, even if somewhat reluctantly, were party to the working arrangement proposed at the ICC meeting, which Packer turned down, out of hand. The Board knew well enough, after this, that they had a fight on their hands, and they prepared for the fray. Who could blame them? Australia's point of view was fairly and comprehensively put by Mr E. W. Swanton, in an article in The Cricketer of May 1978 entitled 'Bob Parish pumps home the facts.' Mr Parish, chairman of the Australian Cricket Board, was at great pains to point out, in a speech in his home state of Victoria, the enormous improvements in payments made to their players in recent years; long before Packer's arrival. The following is worth quoting:

"In 1974 the Board resolved that it would pay to the players the maximum it could afford after taking into consideration its overall responsibility to Australian cricket at all other levels. The Board has honoured the undertaking. In 1974-75, Test match payments were $A250 per Test. In 1975-76 this was increased to $A475 plus a bonus of $A400, a total of $A875 per Test. In 1976-77 the match fee was maintained at $A475 and a bonus of $A250 was paid, a total of $A725 per Test. In 1977-78 the match fee payment was $A800"

"Sponsorship was introduced to cricket in the 1974-75 season. The Board decided that 30 per cent of the sponsorship should go to the players as prize-money. Sponsorship of first-class cricket in Australia by the Benson and Hedges Company has increased from the initial $A50,000 to a massive $A250,000 this season [1977-78] and $A350,000 next year. This season a total of $A175,000 was provided as prize-money for the five Tests against India and the Sheffield Shield matches. Each of the Tests carried a winners' prize of $A6,000 and a loser's prize of $A3,000. In addition to the prize-money there was a team sponsorship fee of $A802 per Test. This is provided by the Benson and Hedges Company from a team sponsorship arranged by the Board with the approval of the players in January 1977. So, far each of the Tests against India, Australian Test players received from the Board $A1,852 if the match was lost or $A2,102 if the match was won. Australia won three and lost two Tests this season. So a player who played in all five Tests received from the Board $A10,010. Sheffield Shield and Gillette Cup earnings would together total another $A4,000 to $A5,000, and add to this another $A7,000 for the West Indies tour and the total for the 1977-78 season would exceed $A20,000 (£12,000)."

Mr Parish, with a touch of irony, substantiated the improvement in the lot of the Australian cricketer by quoting from a book recently published by Greg Chappell, in which the former captain of Australia wrote: "Cricketers' rewards have increased dramatically in a comparatively short time. In a matter of just two seasons the base Test payment doubled from $A200 to $A400. Sizeable bonuses have been handed out at the end of the past two series, provident fund money has been increased, cash endorsements are flowing as never before, and the Test team is now sponsored for three years. It's hardly surprising that Australia leads the way in providing a far better deal for cricketers."

Chappell's words seem to make a mockery of the well-worn cry that Establishments do little to improve the lot of the first-class cricketer. However, it is only fair to say that the advent of Packer was clearly instrumental in substantially improving the lot of the England Test player. Not, of course, from the purse of Mr Packer, but in the way the surrounding controversy brought into the public gaze the fact that perhaps the England Test player was inadequately rewarded for his labours on behalf of his country. So in one way, Greig's cry that what he was doing was for the good of all cricketers, and not just the élite, had a ring of truth about it; but possibly not in the precise way that Greig had contemplated.

Just as Australia was firm, Pakistan, too, was doing its best to follow the hard-line. When the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan announced the names of about 30 players to attend the training camp in preparation for the tour of England, Majid, Imran, Mushtaq, and Zaheer were omitted. The Board stated they were prepared to consider the Packer players, provided they could guarantee their availability to play for Pakistan, not only on the tour of England but for all future commitments. This, they could not give; and there followed a raging controversy, the result of which was a meeting called on March 26 under the chairmanship of the Chief Martial Law Administrator and attended by former Pakistan captains, prominent cricket organisers, and representatives from every province. At the end of it, the Administrator ruled that Packer players would not be included in the Pakistan team. There, it seemed, the matter was closed, but shortly before the team were due to leave, rumours spread that Miandad, Haroon, and Sarfraz had signed Packer contracts. This was at once denied by the Board, but suspicion lingered on. In the end, the air was cleared when a Packer representative announced that neither Miandad nor Haroon had signed any form of contract, and Sarfraz, in due course, announced that neither had he. The poor showing of the Pakistan team, deprived of the Packer players, was later to generate some re-thinking.

West Indies, perhaps the most vulnerable of all ICC members in the matter of cricket finance, was placed in an increasingly difficult position. The distance between the islands - 1,200 miles, for instance, between Jamaica and Barbados - and multifarious other problems have made it an intense struggle for any treasurer of the West Indies Board to make ends meet; and a West Indies team that was virtually a second team would impair this rickety financial structure even more. It is not surprising, therefore, that West Indies had taken the most moderate line with Packer players. The Board were against the original ICC ban, although subsequently voting for it in the interests of unity, and they decided to continue to play their Packer men, provided they made themselves available. Anyone with first-hand knowledge of West Indies cricket will readily understand their thinking.

In the series beginning in the Caribbean in March, West Indies included the Packer players; Australia did not. As a result, West Indies won the first two Tests with some ease - by an innings and 106 runs, and by nine wickets. But just before the third Test, at Georgetown, Guyana, a balloon of sizeable dimensions went up. When the West Indies team was announced, three Packer players - Haynes and Austin, recently signed, and Deryck Murray, secretary of the West Indies Players Association - were dropped and replaced by non-Packer players. Clive Lloyd made an immediate protest and resigned as a captain, although the Board stated they had not been officially informed by Lloyd of his decision. Lloyd then sought a meeting between the Board and the Packer players, but by the time the Board's president, Jeffrey Stollmeyer, arrived in Guyana, the Packer set had already written to the Board withdrawing from the Test; which was due to start the day after Stollmeyer's arrival.

The result was that West Indies took the field for the third Test with six players new to Test cricket. Williams joined the cricketing élite by scoring a century in his first Test, and Gomes, another of the original triumvirate, also scored a hundred in a huge second innings total of 439. This looked to have secured the match, but for the second time in a 1977-78 series Australia scored more than 300 in the fourth innings to win a Test; they had done so to win the second Test against India in Perth.

Australia's dramatic recovery provided the West Indies Board with another headache. A match had been narrowly lost; the presence of the Packer players in the West Indies side would almost certainly (as certain as a game of cricket can be) have produced a different result. The Board, understandably, had already announced that the Packer players would take no further part in the series; because the players had been unable to give an assurance that they would be available for the tour of India and Sri Lanka.

The Board had set March 23 as the date for a decision from the players. Packer himself flew to Georgtown and held a Press conference. And in the grand manner, he sent his jet aircraft to pick up former West Indies players who had problems in getting flights to a dinner party he gave at the Sandy Lane Hotel, Barbados, using his visit to put his case on television, and to win over his receptive audience. Events followed events and immeasurably widened the gulf between the Board and the Packer players. The West Indies Board, so far the only ICC member to play their Packer men, were now realising they were on a collision course. There was precious little evidence that Packer was looking for an amicable compromise.

The international position at this moment was that Australia, England, and Pakistan were not playing Packer players, West Indies, though having done so, were now in line with the others; India, New Zealand and South Africa were not specifically concerned, though India and New Zealand could conceivably be in the future. South Africa, not playing Test cricket, would not.

An important factor was to affect the thinking of both the West Indies and Pakistan Boards; the opinion of cricket followers in both countries. Clearly, throughout the Caribbean, sympathy was with the Packer players; or more precisely with West Indies always fielding the best available side in Test cricket. The same applied in Pakistan; if anything, feeling was heightened by the palpably poor performance of the Pakistan side in England. Attempts were made by Pakistan's supporters to make martyrs out of the discarded Packer players and ridicule the team, at a time when it needed firm support. Clearly, something had to be done, especially by the West Indies Board who faced the stark reality of a huge financial loss on the series with Australia; it was rumoured to be in the region of £100,000.

It was not so much a turn-about, therefore, as facing reality when the West Indies Board recommended that dialogue between the International Cricket Conference and World Series Cricket be re-opened at the earliest opportunity; and, if necessary, on the initiative of the ICC. The second resolution offered the Board's services to initiate such discussions. Meanwhile, WSC, which had named Deryck Murray as its Caribbean representative, was writing to the clubs responsible for the major grounds in West Indies, plus Antigua at St Lucia, to set up a West Indies v Australia WSC series in 1978-79. The West Indies Board were to have the enemy of their doorstep - if enemy they were to be - doing irreparable damage to the future of organised cricket in West Indies. It left the Board with virtually no option but to seek a peaceful solution.

World opinion and interest was now focussed on the International Cricket Conference meeting that was to begin at Lord's on Tuesday, July 25, and this was not without its dramatic overture. On the eve of proceedings, Mr David Clark, president of MCC and thus chairman of the ICC, resigned from the Kent County Cricket Club committee, on which he had served for 30 years, following Kent's decision to offer new contracts to the three WSC players; Asif, Woolmer and Underwood. Mr Clark's position, in the light of this decision, left him with no option but to resign, otherwise he could have been accused of double-dealing.

Kent's decision to make their policy known when they did was considered by many to have political implications; it was felt they were trying to influence ICC thinking, and perhaps give the impression that all English counties felt the same way. There were also rumours that the players concerned were bringing pressure to bear on Kent during the week before the Benson and Hedges Cup final at Lord's; Kent were finalists and obviously would not want disruptions during the run-up to a final. The county had previously met legal requirements by offering contracts of only one year to Packer employees; Knott, being one of them, withdrew (for the time being at any rate) from first-class cricket. Among other aspects, it seems that Kent had not solicited the views of the Cricketers' Association, whose opinion, as a thoroughly responsible body, should have been sought.

It subsequently transpired that David Clark and Jack Bailey had, prior to the meeting, gone to the United States to hear the WSC proposals for an amicable solution, both parties being particularly anxious that the meeting should be a matter of great secrecy. These proposals, given in detail below, are so ludicrous, as to evoke intense speculation as to what WSC hoped to achieve by them. Was it that Packer had no wish for an agreement, and was confident of his own future without any need to placate anyone in cricket? If he was looking for a middle-of-the-road settlement, then these absurd proposals would generate contempt rather than stimulate a mood of reconciliation and lead to sensible discussion. The Packer package was as follows.

WSC ask for fully representative teams (to be selected by WSC) to be available for WSC matches on the following basis:

  • A - October-November: India, New Zealand and Pakistan to play a preliminary knockout competition in one of these countries to provide a winner to participate in the one-day internationals and super Test series in Australia later in the season.
  • B - December 22-January 24: Australia, England, West Indies and Pakistan (or whoever may be the winners of the preliminary competition) and a World XI to play in a series of one-day internationals, avoiding actual dates of official Test matches in Australia.
  • C - February 2-March 12: Australia, England, West Indies and Pakistan (or whoever may be the winners of the preliminary competition) to play in a WSC super Test series. These teams, plus a World XI, would also play further one-day internationals.
  • D - Assuming Australia were winners, for approximately three weeks in March-April, May-June, September-October and October-November, the winners of the WSC Super-Test series to play in West Indies, England, India and Pakistan respectively.

The ICC gave their reasons for finding these proposals totally unacceptable, though elaboration was hardly necessary. This was the dignified reply.

  • 1 - Any official tour to Australia would be disrupted by having to release some or all players for a number of days in December and January. The leading Australian players would also be unavailable for their domestic cricket in this period.
  • 2 - No official tours allowing free selection of teams could be arranged between member countries between mid-December and mid-March (the prime period in most countries) because of the necessity for national teams to remain intact while touring other countries.
  • 3 - It would be virtually impossible to arrange any worthwhile official tours prior to mid-December, bearing in mind the proposed WSC commitments of India, New Zealand and Pakistan and the super Test tour to Pakistan.
  • 4 - Official tours after mid-March are not feasible other than in West Indies (until late April) and in England (May until August). The WSC programme would involve the super Test champions visiting West Indies in March and April, and England in May and June.

Despite the two sides poles apart, it was agreed that the dialogue should be continued, and that WSC be asked to reconsider their proposals. A sub-committee was to be set up to monitor all future developments. It had, in any case, been understood by both parties that no alteration to tours already arranged for the coming winter was possible. Andrew Caro, managing director of WSC, gave his version of events as showing the first real chink of light (some chink, and some light, a few would say!) and followed at a Press conference by calling the WSC proposals a working document and giving a few nebulous alternative ideas.

Just what sort of a hand was WSC playing? Did they hold all the honours or not? If they were contemptuous of organised cricket, and in no need of it, why bother to submit proposals? The plot deepens. One feasible explanation could be that Packer, like a good union official or shop steward, must put on a good front on behalf of his players and be seen to give them confidence in the future. Clearly, such terms as those outlined above would create the impression of negotiating from strength, while, at the same time, playing for time. Packer would obviously want to know how WSC matches fare in Australia with an official Australia v England series going on. That would give him some guide as to the depth of his roots.

It was said in the early days that Packer resented the use of the Word Circus in relation to his cricket, which was to be serious stuff at the highest level. Hardly the highest level in September when his stars went to New York and, as World All Stars, met an American All Stars XI for a rather undistinguished trophy given by a Brooklyn sporting goods shop - and lost! Mr Greig announced that he would be back in a year's time - and win. Perhaps with players like Greig, Sobers, Hookes, Majid Khan and Fredericks in the Packer contingent, it was better mileage to lose, so creating a big story. Who knows?

In the meantime, Pakistan, smarting from the very poor showing of their side in England, turned back to their Packer players. General K. M. Azhar, responsible for cricket in Pakistan, said: "We do not have the schedule of the Packer series, but if there is no clash of fixtures and nothing in their [the Packer players'] contracts to stand in the way, then we should welcome them." Five Pakistani players were then under contract to Packer - Imran Khan, Majid Khan, Mushtaq Mohammad, Zaheer Abbas and Asif Iqbal.

It had already been rumoured that Richard Hadlee, who had improved his reputation in England in the summer of 1978, was now on the Packer list of potentials. It was said that Hadlee's involvement would be limited to a series of professional matches to be staged in New Zealand between November 2 and November 16; before WSC opened their second Australian season. There was also talk that Geoff Howarth, the other New Zealander to play well against England, was a candidate. With Richard Hadlee's father, Walter Hadlee, chairman of the New Zeland Board, it was a ticklish situation for him, and one he would almost inevitably want to leave to the other members of his Board, hoping they could reach agreement without needing the chairman's casting vote.

In England, at the end of the summer, attention was focused on two players at the opposite ends of the earth; Dennis Amiss in Warwickshire and Jeff Thomson in Australia. Amiss was told by Warwickshire that, as a Packer player, he would not be retained by the county in 1979. Thomson, despite being under contract to the official Australian Cricket Board, signed a three-year contract with World Series Cricket. It was announced that the Board would be seeking legal advice.

To take Warwickshire first. The announcement that Amiss would not be retained caused a furore amongst Warwickshire members. Their view was: Why should Warwickshire deplete their ranks when Kent, who had just won the Championship, were retaining their Packer men, as were a few other counties. It seemed that Warwickshire cricket was split right down the middle, and it was no great surprise when a Special General Meeting was convened for Tuesday, September 26. The surprise was that at the request of Amiss himself, the meeting was called off. Why? There is a ready answer. It appears, almost for the first time since the Packer saga began, that the Cricketers' Association was able to play a substantial part in striving for peace.

They apparently advised Amiss that if, during the winter, talks between WSC and the ICC could establish some sort of peace, Warwickshire would obviously be happy to retain a player who had scored over 2,000 runs for them in the summer; especially as the player himself wanted to stay. If nothing was achieved, then Amiss could re-think the situation. In any event, the Cricketers' Association had one or two crucial resolutions to deal with at their next meeting, and they felt that these would be better kept on ice until the outcome of any talks during the winter.

It seemed that both the Cricketers' Association and some of the Packer players were anxious for WSC and the ICC to get together as soon as possible, to see if the framework of an agreement could be worked out. Warwickshire were alone in standing on principles, but their supporters' view that what is good for the goose is good for the gander is readily understandable. Dennis Amiss, at this point, emerged from the furore with honour, as did the Cricketers' Association.

Thomson's move, however, represented yet another twist in his topsyturvy relationship with Packer. First he signed; then he withdrew on the advice of his agent, who was taken to court by Packer. Now, on the eve of an Ashes series, he has defected again in breach of another contract. The Australian Board are particularly unfortunate, because obviously Thomson was Australia's principal drawing-card in the series against England. Packer knew this well, and countered with a contract and a cheque book; in 1978, the two together seem to be a passport to anywhere.

Swiftly on the heels of Thomson's defection, the Australian Cricket Board issued the following statement:

"It was announced last Friday, September 29 that World Series Cricket had entered into a three-year contract with Mr Jeff Thomson despite its awareness that Mr Thomson had agreed to play only in matches controlled by the Board and state associations during the 1978-79 Australian season, and despite the publicity given to the fact that the Board had refused Mr Thomson's request that he be released from his contractual obligations to the Board."

"The Board would naturally have preferred to resolve this matter without resort to the courts and, in order that Mr Thomson's contractual obligations to the Board should be respected, the Board sought an assurance from World Series Cricket that it would not select Mr Thomson to play cricket in any of its teams until after the conclusion of the Australian cricket season on March 31, 1979. World Series Cricket has declined to give such an assurance."

In the subsequent court action, Mr Justice Kearney decided, after a twelve-day hearing, that Thomson, who has said he will never play Test cricket for Australia again, was bound by a contract he signed with the Australian Cricket Board earlier in the year. He could not, therefore, play for Packer until April. Judge Kearney said that some of Thomson's evidence before the court had been quite unreliable. He awarded costs against Thomson and World Series Cricket. Thomson replied by saying that he would probably spend the summer as a professional fisherman off the Queensland coast rather than play grade cricket; in the words of the famous Bing Crosby song - 'Gone Fishin".

Meantime, it was rumoured that the WSC organisation was busy recruiting Indian players who were at that time on tour in Pakistan. Bedi, the captain, in particular was mentioned, as was Gavaskar, the opening batsman. It was also said that a prominent Pakistan cricketer close to the organisation was acting as the recruiting officer. No official confirmation was issued either way at the time.

So, amidst litigation, rumour, resignations and Press conferences, this long-drawn-out saga rolls relentlessly on, first in one direction, then another, as apparently it will continue to do for a long time to come.

© John Wisden & Co