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Cricket World Revisit: How Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket changed the sport forever

England's Tony Greig seen here commentating in 2001 was one of Packer's original 30-odd cricketers
©Reuters
 

Coloured clothing, floodlit day-night matches, white balls and drop-in pitches - cricket, as we know it, mostly began during Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket staged between 1977 and 1979.

 

In 1977, a man in his late 30s had recently inherited the business of his father and was looking to stamp his authority over the setup. He launched a very successful women's magazine, but was after the big move to make his name. And, in sport, Kerry Packer found the perfect match.

 

Packer never minced words about why he was in the business of sports at the first place. He was not the typical lover of the game, wanting to make a difference. In fact, World Series Cricket was built in direct opposition to international cricket.

 

Packer initially entered the arena with the aim to acquire the broadcasting rights. And, when he did not have his way, he hit at the most important yet sensitive prerequisite of the game - its players.

 

Packer initially signed 30-odd players as a tool to negotiate with the national cricket organisation, but when the cricket body's answer was the banning of players, he took the challenge head on. What initially started with the idea of a series between Australia and the Rest of the World, with the signings of Tony Greig, Derek Underwood, Alan Knott and John Snow, ended up getting much bigger.

 

Top players around the world including Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Andy Roberts, Imran Khan, Barry Richards and Mike Procter soon joined the caravan. In the words of Godfather, Pecker made them an offer they couldn't refuse. And, before the Suits knew, they had lost the currency of the sport.

 

Packer called off the WSC - that ultimately hired 70 players for 16 “Supertests” and 38 one-day games over two seasons - after getting the exclusive authority over broadcast rights.

 

But in those two seasons, the bullish Australian revolutionised cricket forever. A game that was shot with one camera that showed the view from behind the bowler's arm for six balls and behind the batsman's back for another over, was now generously employing replays. If the working class didn't have the time to attend the matches during the office hours in the day, flood lights now meant that they could catch up on live action during the night, with friends and family. It was nothing less than a fare.

 

The traditional white flannels were out of the one-day format and replaced with coloured kits. Drop-in pitches grown in greenhouses meant that the ball stated to come on to the bat much more nicely and more boundaries were on the offing.

 

For the players as well, it was a win-win situation. England players who were earning £210 per Test before the WSC were not getting over £1,000 per match. 

 

The way Packer and his team advertised the WSC, it took no more than two years for the public to buy into the dream. They swarmed in numbers for the games, often crossing the 50 K mark. Some credit of bringing helmets into the game and making batsmen fearless in turn also goes to him.

 

All the franchise cricket that is currently going on in the world - and there's a lot - has Packer to thank for the template.

 

"The fact that I have entered into IT-related business is proof that businesses have to evolve and keep with time. One has to re-invent continuously," Packer once said. And, he lived by these words: changing, evolving, reinventing.

 

A sport that was meant for the entertainment of a few bored men at the first place, had been turned into a spectacle. It became a business in its own right. At the centre of it was the viewer, who now had the best seat in the house.

©Cricket World 2020


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