There was a time when cricket used to be dull over long spans, exciting in patches and the game used to progress at an easy pace…………till World Series Cricket happened……cricket was never the same again, it got a new life…….
“BIG BOYS PLAY AT NIGHT”, read one of the T-shirts in the crowd that had come in to soak in the sun on grass banks outside of the ground with a box of beer at one of the World series Games. It had a Dennis Lilee pic in the backdrop and was selling like hot cakes. There was a song dedicated to the Aussie tem which goes something like….” C’mon Aussie C’mon” …..It was getting to be a POP culture and it is by far the best thing to have happened to cricket after the invention of the game and perhaps the legends who flocked it. It was a botox shot to the gentleman’s game which was dying a slowly and miserably.
Rebel would be the first word that is associated with the cricketing circus that rocked the very foundations of the cricketing world from 1977 till the spring of 1979. What it brought with it was a cultural shift and a definite change in the mindset to approach the game. Intensity and Professionalism….. two words that sum up the league perfectly.
The quality of cricket was arguably the best because the cream of the talent from that era were stacked in just three teams. It set standards which were to be benchmarks for another decade and a half easily till the One day format started taking its toll in the mid nineties.
Ferocious battles, racing helmets, coloured clothing, cricket under lights, flamboyance and some more garnishing….. made it one hell of a spectacle. Those were indeed the days of glory and not shame. Tony Greig needs a special mention, not because of his cricketing prowess, but for his work behind the scenes to facilitate the pool of world class players.
Well the genesis of the World series cricket story was two pronged….On one side we had a strong headed but exceptional programming(Not the one that we relate to the cyber world but the one that is concerned with the Television and TRPs) who was denied a monopoly status in the Australian cricket broadcasting and on the other hand the players who were grossly underpaid, even by the standards of those days they were no-where near what other athletes in varied sports were getting paid world over. There was nothing like a players’ union or a body that catered to the rights of the professional cricketers in those days and hence they had no solid platform to negotiate over what they would have labeled as their ‘rights’. The cricketing administration was adamant and Don Bradman, who was an influential figure there blasted the demands for a hike in the pay by stating that the pride of representing the country in the sport was a honour in itself and that the players should not look beyond that honour for selfish motifs. There was the unrest brewing and the offer from Mr. Packer was too tempting a proposition….. A playing fee of 5000USD per SUPERTEST was a very handsome amount for cricketers of that era.
The idea began with a pool of Australia’s top notch cricketers and trickled down to having a pool of the finest that the world cricket had to offer. Needless to say the official cricket boards looked at it as a threat beyond Australia as well, buoyed by the ECB and the erstwhile ACB, who were the big brothers in cricket then. Players signing up the World series Contract were banished and labeled ‘rebels’. While some countries like India and New Zealand were able to stop any damage to their national squads, the Australian and West Indian sides were completely shaken.
There were plenty of South Africans there, this was the only opportunity for them in the 21 years of their cricketing exile to showcase some class at the international level…Of those who were there Barry Richards, Greame Pollock, Mike Proctor and Garth LeRoux made some heavy duty impact. Pakistani players like Imran Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Asif Iqbal(who had retired that year), Javed Miandad and Wasim Bari also were a part of the league as the only participation from sub-continent. It was a galaxy of stars who had abandoned their national loyalties for some modern royalties.
It was not a smooth sailing for the World series, especially initially when they had to play in the non-traditional grounds like the VFL park in Melbourne. The inexperience with curators was a huge blow in the first season, when the pitches were not well seasoned and it was a nightmare for the batsmen. However this was a blessing in disguise as it pushed the best in the world to explore newer limits and improve their game to different mark altogether. For the bowlers it was a great time to bowl as the conditions favoured them, but they also had to make sure that they didn’t get carried away and bowl in the right areas…. For the first time so much of emphasis was laid on the bowlers putting it on the money…..Dennis Lillee and Andy Roberts were the most feared bowlers of that time not because they were the fastest, but dead accurate …so much so that they would target the head blocks and the new helmets were like a waving teaser to those raging bulls. Complemented by some of the fastest bowlers of that era in Jeff Thomson, Michael Holding and a young tear-away in Imran Khan, the task for the batsmen was to first ensure their safety and then try and score a bi
This however changed over a period of time when attack became the best form of defense and it was highlighted by the likes of Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Ian Chappell and Greame Pollock to name a few who struggled earlier.
The success of the league pretty much depended on how the West Indies fared because they were the barometer, they were the benchmark… closely chased by Australia and then glimpses of talent from the rest of the world, quite evident from the fact that Kerry Packer had to personally give them a mouthful of his choicest words when he paid them a visit after a continued flop show in the earlier stages. This brought in a much needed spark in the bellies and the rest is history.
————————-A BRIEF HISTORY(courtesy: David Frith) ———————————————–
In May 1977 the cricketing establishment was shaken to the core with the announcement that Kerry Packer, an Australian media magnate, had signed more than three dozen of the world’s leading players for a rival tournament to run head-to-head with the 1977-78 Australian season.
The series originated because Packer’s attempts to secure TV rights for his Channel Nine network had been dismissed by the Australian Cricket Board in favour of a long-standing, and some said far too cosy, relationship with state broadcaster the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Packer set about using his corporate wealth to establish a rival attraction for his network, a job made easier by the poor financial rewards offered to players at the time.
Through the second half of 1976 and early 1977 Packer signed up dozens of leading players, and remarkably the secret was kept until the eve of the official announcement. Packer’s main agents were Tony Greig, at the time the England captain, and Ian Chappell, the former Australian captain, who did the bulk of the local recruitment.
The news broke on May 9, 1977 as the Australians prepared for their Ashes series in England – 13 of the 17 had signed for Packer. The media reaction was generally unwelcoming while the establishment were unable to hide their fury. World Series Cricket soon became known as Packer’s Circus, Greig was stripped of the England captaincy, and was singled out for vitriolic attacks by the press, while many wanted all those who had signed banned from playing anywhere. Over the summer more signings emerged, while Australia, a far from happy side, lost the series and the Ashes 3-0.
Packer had undertaken a PR offensive in the UK in May and June 1977 and while many regarded him as cricket’s antichrist, there was no denying his passion and eloquence. Against a slick media operator, the cricketing establishment looked like floundering dinosaurs. His cause was further aided by signing the highly-regarded Richie Benaud as his advisor.
The ICC as slow to respond to what it initially saw as an Australian affair, but as recruiting increased it became apparent WSC affected the game across the world. The ICC met with Packer in London on June 23. Initially, it seemed that the two sides might reach agreement but talks broke down over Packer’s insistence that Channel Nine be awarded TV rights for the 1978-79 season. That was outside the ICC’s powers. Packer stormed out with a clear message: “It’s every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.”
Those comments polarised opinion and fired up the establishment. In July the ICC ruled that any Packer matches were not first-class and that anyone taking part would be banned from first-class and Test cricket.
For a while many players wavered. Packer acted quickly to protect his interests and launched his lawyers against boards and the ICC. Greig, Mike Procter and John Snow, backed by Packer, took the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB – the forerunner of the ECB) to the High Court claiming restraint of trade.
For seven weeks from September 26, 1977, the case was played out with massive global interest. Packer claimed the ICC had tried to force his players to break contracts. On November 26m, Justice Slade delivered his verdict, finding for the plaintiffs, arguing that professional cricketers need to make a living and the ICC was wrong to stand in the way just because its own interests may be damaged. The cost to the establishment was close to £250,000 as costs were awarded against them.
Not everything went Packer’s way. He was barred from describing the games as “Test matches” nor could he call the side “Australia”. He rebranded the games “Supertests” and the team “WSC Australia XI”. Such was the take-up among West Indies players that Packer was able to add a third team – WSC West Indies XI – to his tournament, although some of these players doubled up for the WSC World XI which rather tarnished the credibility of the matches.
He was also locked out of the traditional grounds, having to lease non-cricket stadiums in the major cities. The authorities thought that would undermine the standards as those venues did not have cricket squares, but Packer’s groundsman, John Maley, devised drop-in pitches. Grown in greenhouses, they saved WSC, despite initial scepticism.
Some players were barred from grade cricket – Ray Bright was forced to keep in touch by playing for Footscray Technical College, Richie Robinson for North Alphington.
On November 24, 1977, two trial matches took place without major hiccups, and on December 2, 1977 the first official Supertest between Australia and West Indies got underway at Melbourne ‘s VFL Park. To the delight of the establishment, attendances were derisory, with barely 2000 people in the vast 79,000-capacity venue. What’s more, the crowds at the official Test between what amounted to a second-string Australia side and India were good.
The imbalance was short lived. Packer poured money into marketing and advertising, using established names to back the media push. It was all about big hitting and fast bowlers. Spinners or grafters hardly got a look in. It was brutal , especially for the batsmen who were subjected to a bouncer barrage – WSC even removed the ban on bowling short at tail enders. Within weeks extra protective equipment started appearing, and horrific broken jaw suffered by David Hookes at the hands of Andy Roberts only served to speed the arrival of helmets.
Packer also changed tack from Supertests to one-day cricket. Again, initial response was lukewarm, although day-night matches had shown a more healthy turnout. It was to help shape the second season.
The Australian media had, by and large, sided with the board and so WSC was fighting on two fronts – cricket and media. What is more, the official Australia side, under the recalled veteran Bobby Simpson, had a gripping 3-2 series win over India, who had no Packer defections to content with.
The first cracks in the establishment hardline came in March 1978 when Simpson’s young side headed to the Caribbean. With the WSC season finished, the West Indies board picked their full-strength side, including all Packer’s rebels.
While England refused to pick their rebels – Greig, Derek Underwood, Alan Knott and Bob Woolmer – in the 1978 summer, many WSC-contracted players turned out in county cricket. Pakistan also refused to pick Packer players but relaxed when more players were signed between seasons. The other main World XI contingent came from politically-isolated South Africa, with New Zealand and India unaffected.
Packer used the off-season to sign more players – at the peak there were more than four dozen – and rumours grew that he planned to field two more full XIs from England and Pakistan. So many players were contracted that a second-string WSC tour was arranged to take the game to outlying areas of Australia. The side, led by Eddie Barlow, was called the Cavaliers and featured a mix of recently-retired and up-and-coming players. Packer also organized a short tour to New Zealand and a much more substantial one to West Indies in the spring of 1978-79.
Ahead of the 1978-79 season WSC finally got a foothold inside the establishment camp with an agreement from the New South Wales government that he could use the SCG, complete with newly-installed lights, and soon after WSC gained access to the Gabba. Perth and Adelaide were jettisoned from the itinerary and WSC concentrated on the population centres of Sydney and Melbourne.
Without doubt, the Australian Cricket Board had won the 1977-78 war. However, it was thumped the following season. The official side, now under Graham Yallop, were trounced by Mike Brearley’s England five Tests to one in a fairly turgid series, while WSC’s day-night cricket, after a slow start, really caught the public’s imagination. On November 28, 1978 a crowd of 44,377 watched Packer’s Australian and West Indies side play at the SCG – the first floodlit game at a traditional venue. The drubbings of Yallops side also swung the media who now demanded the return of the Packer defectors to bolster the side.
Packer’s marketing also hit home, targeting women and children. By the end of the summer it was clear that the ACB were on the back foot. The final Supertest between Australia and the World attracted 40,000 over three days; the final official Test 22,000 over four days. Desperate to redress the imbalance, the ACB hastily scheduled two Tests against Pakistan, who fielded their Packer rebels.
The WSC circus then upped and headed to the Caribbean for a series that was remorseless on the field and fiery off it. The five Supertests and 12 ODIs were popular with the public and, most importantly to the region, bailed the West Indies board out of a financial hole.
At the end of the season the ACB was hemorrhaging cash and goodwill. Its finances were limited and at risk of being reduced by WSC while Packer continued to pour money into his project. During March the two parties started a series of meetings that resulted in an announcement of a truce on May 30, 1979. It was clear who had won. Channel Nine had not only gained the rights to broadcast Australian cricket but Packer was granted a ten-year deal to promote and market the game. While the news was received with relief in Australia, the ICC and TCCB, which had taken a hard line in backing the ACB, felt they had been sold out.
If there was an uneasy peace at the top, the players were not all as happy, especially the Australians who feared they would be victimised by their board. The signs were not good when the ACB’s World Cup team contained not one WSC player, and later in the year the squad to tour India was equally sans rebels. Kim Hughes, who led the two sides, paid a price as in many people’s minds he became the face of the establishment.
By the time England toured for another hastily-arranged tour in 1979-80 – with the Ashes not at stake much to the ACB’s anger – Greg Chappell was back in charge and WSC players were in the team. Learning from WSC, the ACB added many more ODIs and those, dotted between two concurrent three-Test series against England and West Indies , caused much unease. Crucially, it made the ACB a profit. The new era had arrived and Packer’s influence, via the marketing and promotions contract, was there for all to see.
———TIMELINE: 1977 (Courtesy: David Frith)———————————————————-
December 1 The West Indies Board state they will not contribute to the costs of any appeal against the High Court judgment. They will select WSC players in the Tests against Australia in the New Year, and will shift match dates if required to allow Australia to include their WSC players.
On the eve of the first Australia-India Test match, Australia’s captain, Bob Simpson, says, “Australian cricketers are tired of being branded as slobs. From now on there are certain bounds on dress, language, and slinging off at opponents while they are batting.” Ian Chappell, captain of the WSC Australia side, responds by saying, “It’s the policy of the Australian Cricket Board to knock this series and Simpson is just carrying through that policy.” He adds: “Winning is the thing in cricket and it makes no difference whether you wear jeans and T-shirts off the field to be comfortable.”
It is disclosed that the Trade Practices Commission in Adelaide persuaded Mullins Clarke and Ralph, advertising agents for World Series Cricket, to issue corrected advertisements after the appearance of promotional matter featuring Dennis Lillee when he was not due to play in the match in question.
December 2 While the first Test match starts in Brisbane in front of a crowd of almost 9000, fewer than 3000 watch the first `Super Test’ at VFL Park, Melbourne, where Roberts dismisses McCosker for nought with the second ball. WSC Australia make 256, Ray Bright top-scoring with 69, Roberts taking 3 for 52, Holding 4 for 60.
In Rockhampton, Queensland, A Rest of the World XI make 186 (Barry Richards 93), Graeme Watson, who came into the WSC troupe after Redpath’s injury, taking 7 for 26. An Australian XI are 184 for 7 in reply. Only 1000 people watch.
John Curtain, 37, a WSC administrator concerned with the organisation of the Country Cup matches in 13 towns, resigns, alleging inefficiency and lack of assistance, and also blaming personality clashes.
In London the TCCB set up a special account for donations received from the public to help pay the High Court costs.
The Full Bench of the Federal Court makes new interim orders restricting World Series Cricket Pty Ltd in its advertising of matches. WSC matches may not be referred to as `Tests’ or `Super Tests’ without clear distinction from matches controlled wholly or in part by the ACB or the ICC, and a similar condition prevails over the use of `Australian team’, `Australia’ etc.
Television Corporation Ltd’s latest annual accounts show guaranteed payments, at balance date, to cricketers under contract to WSC amounting to $2,916,500.
December 3 WSC West Indies score 214 in the first `Super Test’, a first-innings deficit of 42. Viv Richards makes 79. WSC Australia are 138 for 4 at the close. The Saturday crowd is 5088; the Test match in Brisbane draws 9104. After their dismissals in the WSC match Gordon Greenidge and Andy Roberts both criticise the umpire’s decisions during TV interviews.
December 4 WSC West Indies beat WSC Australia by three wickets in three days, with two to spare. David Hookes makes 63, Roberts takes 4 for 52, Holding 3 for 72. In WSC West Indies’ second innings Richards makes 56, Lloyd 44, Fredericks 42, and Deryck Murray a vital 36 not out. Lillee follows his first-innings 2 for 77 with 2 for 100. The aggregate attendance over three days was 13,886. The WSC organisation issues a statement claiming their match was “far superior” to the concurrent Brisbane Test match because only 17 boundaries were hit yesterday at Brisbane, whereas 46 were hit in the WSC match.
The WSC Australia v Rest of the World match in Rockhampton is won by the overseas side by 86 runs, Underwood (6 for 34) finishing the game off with a hat-trick. Only 3000 spectators attended during the three days.
Phil Tresidder, in the Sydney Sunday Telegraph, writes that the Australian board “continue to be more conscious of backsides on seats rather than the wider-embracing medium of television”, while pointing out that “on the other hand they (WSC) are budgeting for $2.2 million from the turnstiles, calculated at the rate of 10,000 spectators daily over the 88 days of play”. Qantas become the fourth major sponsor, taking World Series revenue past $1 million.
December 5 A second World Series executive, Chris Forsyth, who issued the statement concerning boundaries hit in the respective matches on December 3, resigns as public relations director.
Tony Cozier joins the Channel 9 commentary team.
December 6 Clive Lloyd says he will ask Kerry Packer to release West Indies players for the 1978-79 Test tour of India.
Graeme Pollock is released from his WSC obligations as he wants to be back in South Africa in January. Though having played in none of the matches, he is paid the full £15,000 first-year fee. The injured Redpath, out for the season, is also paid in full.
December 8 Pakistan’s Control Board lift their ban on their five Packer players and invite four of them (Asif Iqbal having retired from Test cricket) to return to play in the Tests against England. At Bendigo, Asif makes 56 and Barry Richards 61 in WSC World XI’s match against WSC West Indies. Tony Greig, reappointed as Sussex captain, calls for a compromise between world cricket authorities and players in the breakaway group. He says he, Asif, Eddie Barlow and Mike Procter “can view the battle from both sides”.
December 9 WSC West Indies (225 for 4; Fredericks 106 not out, Lloyd 75) win their two-day match against WSC World XI.
December 10 WSC World XI (204 for 9; Greig 59, Knott 46) beat WSC Australia (155; Underwood 4 for 31) in a 40-overs match in Adelaide.
December 11 WSC Australia (203 for 8; Greg Chappell 45) lose to WSC West Indies (204 for 4; Fredericks 64, Greenidge 48) in a 40-overs match in Adelaide.
December 12 Trevor Chappell and Martin Kent score centuries, and Bruce Laird 81, in a two-day match against WSC West Indies at Albury, NSW.
December 13 WSC West Indies (368; Fredericks 93, Holford 72, Julien 58) lose by 17 runs at Albury.
December 14 The first WSC floodlit evening match draws 6300 (1500 at the 2.30 pm start) to VFL Park, Melbourne. The lighting cost over $1 million to install, with 200 3.5kw lamps in use. As daylight faded, the ball was replaced with a white one, and the sight-screens changed to black. WSC World XI’s 207 (Zaheer 52) was overtaken by WSC Australia (210 for 4; Ian Chappell 69, Greg Chappell 59 not out, McCosker 45) at 10.30 pm, when Greg Chappell hit a six. Underwood took 4 for 32.
December 16 A crowd of 7250 watch WSC Australia make 251 in the second `Super Test’, at Sydney Showground. Top-scorer David Hookes is forced to retire with 81 after being struck by a bouncer from Andy Roberts. His broken jaw has to be wired in hospital, and his damaged cheekbone set. Marsh makes 59, Roberts and Garner take three wickets each, and WSC West Indies are 33 for 0 at the close.
In Canberra, WSC World XI (203; Amiss 51, Mallett 6 for 55) go on to take a two-run first-innings lead over WSC Australian XI.
December 17 A Saturday crowd of only 6700 at Sydney Showground see WSC West Indies make 336 (Viv Richards 88, Lloyd 58) and WSC Australia 12 for 0 in their second innings. In Canberra, where five spectators interrupt play by carrying placards protesting against South Africa’s racial policy, WSC World XI amass 357 for 9 dec (Majid 152, Mushtaq 65 not out, Amiss 52).
December 18 WSC West Indies, watched by 9500 spectators, beat WSC Australia by nine wickets to go 2-0 up in the series and win $16,606. McCosker (56) tops WSC Australia’s second innings of 182 (Garner 4 for 58) and Fredericks (49) and Greenidge (46 not out) ensure victory for WSC West Indies in three days, with two to spare.
In Canberra, WSC World XI dismiss WSC Australian XI for 147 (Langer 50) to go to the top of the Country Cup league table. Bob Woolmer fields at short leg wearing Dennis Amiss’s crash-helmet.
December 20 It is announced that the special meeting of the TCCB planned for January 6 to discuss whether to appeal against the November 25 High Court decision will now be postponed until January 17.
December 21 At Mildura, WSC World XI make 356 (Imran 97, Knott 67) against WSC Australia.
December 22 WSC Australia make 357 for 8 to beat WSC World XI. Ian Chappell scores 97, Rob Langer 90, Ian Davis 64, and Ashley Mallett is knocked unconscious by a bouncer from Imran Khan. He is detained in hospital overnight. In London, Sarfraz Nawaz says that he has received an offer to play WSC cricket after the current season, and will give it consideration.
December 26 WSC Australia v WSC World XI one-day match is washed out in Melbourne.
December 27 WSC Australia v WSC West Indies one-day match is washed out in Melbourne after 25 balls (Australia 12 for 1).
December 28 WSC World XI (184) lose to WSC West Indies (187 for 5; King 62 not out, Viv Richards 52) at Adelaide Football Park, watched by 7166 people. In the World XI innings Barry Richards, Alan Knott and Tony Greig wear crash-helmets.
December 31 Third and final WSC Australia v WSC West Indies `Super Test’ starts in Adelaide, with 4092 in attendance. Ian Chappell is 126 not out and brother Greg 55 in Australia’s 261 for 3. In Geelong, Amiss scores 76, Asif Iqbal 58, and Walters takes 4 for 52 in WSC World XI’s 255; in reply WSC Australian XI are 247 for 7 (Ross Edwards 64, Walters 62).