Kerry Packer's one-day legacy lingers on
By John Mehaffey
February 22, 2007
LONDON, England (Reuters) - At a tribute dinner 24 hours before retiring from international cricket in early 1994, Australia captain Allan Border reflected on the changes he had witnessed during two turbulent decades.
"I'm quite indebted to Kerry Packer for his involvement and for giving cricket a good kick up the backside," Border said.
"In a strange way he is responsible for my being here tonight. Who knows where we would all have ended up without that impetus?"
A generation earlier the mention of Packer's name at an Australian Cricket Board (ACB) dinner would have guaranteed outrage, expulsion and possible excommunication for the miscreant.
Now, 30 years after the late media billionaire's breakaway World Series Cricket split the cricketing world, one-day cricket remains essentially the game forged in those two distant Australian summers.
During World Series cricket day-night matches were introduced with a white leather ball instead of the traditional red. Because of the difficulty of sighting the ball against white clothing, coloured uniforms were designed, including a fetching pink for a singularly unimpressed West Indies side.
Packer's Channel Nine put cameras all round the grounds and, in a short-lived experiment, placed microphones in the stumps before the Australians' salty language forced a hasty rethink. In another startling innovation, pitches nurtured in glasshouses were dropped into Australian Rules grounds after the ACB refused permission to use the traditional Test venues.
Packer launched his audacious venture after the ACB had again turned down his bid to televise Test cricket instead of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Although he paraded an unprecedented array of top players, including nearly all the current Australia and West Indies sides, spectators stayed away from the five-day so-called Super Tests, preferring a consistently entertaining series between the official Australia side and India.
A day-night one-day match on November 28, 1978, at the Sydney Cricket Ground proved a defining moment. Packer had successfully negotiated a deal to play at the ground, rated second only to Lord's in fans' affections, and installed six floodlight towers.
Around 50 000 spectators crammed into the SCG to watch Australia beat West Indies, a noisy, excited crowd revelling in the sensation of watching cricket under lights on a hot Sydney night.
The path from Sydney stretches back in time to England and forward to the Indian subcontinent, the economic centre of the modern game where one-day cricket now rules.
English three-day county cricket was moribund in the 1950s and spectators were deserting the grounds to explore alternative attractions. The solution, after a series of special reports, was a knockout one-day competition, introduced in 1963, more attuned to the quickening pace of a new decade.
The format appealed to the restless intellect of England captain Ted Dexter, a cavalier in an era of roundheads as a batsman although a paradoxically conservative captain. Dexter took Sussex to one-day titles in 1963 and 1964.
He quickly realised that while other captains persisted with conventional attacks and field settings, stopping runs rather than taking wickets was the key.
Tactics had advanced little by the time Australia and England staged the first one-day international in 1971, a 40 eight-ball overs match, hastily arranged after the first three days of the Melbourne Test were washed out. Significantly it was the Australians, with minimal experience in limited overs, who won.
Ian Chappell, who struck 60 in the Melbourne match, led Australia in the first World Cup in 1975 but, in line with the thinking at the time, he made it clear that his side's primary task was to defend the Ashes later in the summer.
World Series cricket finally persuaded Chappell and his team mates that one-day cricket was here to stay - a conviction reinforced when Packer made his peace with the establishment and won his coveted television rights.
An annual tri-nation one-day series, staged early in the New Year in Australia, was introduced and relentlessly promoted by Channel Nine. West Indies were frequent visitors, crowds poured in and behaviour, fuelled by strong Australian lager, degenerated, particularly in Melbourne's notorious Bay 13.
West Indies, winners of the first two World Cups, essentially translated their Test tactics to the one-day game with four wonderful fast bowlers possessing the skills and control of medium-pacers, choking the life out of their opponents.
Spinners were squeezed out of the one-day game and even in Test cricket West Indies rarely bothered with a slow bowler. Instead medium-pacers, such as the young Steve Waugh, extended their repertoires, experimenting like baseball pitchers with deliveries of differing paces employing an identical action.
India's upset win over West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final triggered an explosion in one-day cricket on the Indian sub-continent.
One-day cricket spread to Sharjah, tapping into the passion generated by the workforce pouring in from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Oil money drew the world's top teams to the Sharjah Cup, staged on a patch of green isolated in the brown of the desert. It also attracted the gamblers who were at the heart of the match-fixing scandal of the early 2000s.
With Border in charge and Bob Simpson as coach, Australia won the 1987 World Cup, instilling the discipline and focus which spread into the Test arena and laid the foundations of 20 years of sustained success.
New Zealand used off-spinner Dipak Patel to open the bowling at the 1992 Cup and burly left-hander Mark Greatbatch, the prototype pinch-hitter, to open the batting.
Greatbatch's role was refined at the 1996 World Cup by the altogether more accomplished Sanath Jayasuriya as Sri Lanka chased and overhauled totals that would have previously been deemed out of reach. Stocky, powerful with quick hand and eye coordination, Jayasuriya flayed the ball during the early fielding restrictions.
On the slow Indian sub-continent pitches, Sri Lanka brought spinners into the play with Muttiah Muralitharan backed up by Jayasuriya's quickish left-arm and Aravinda de Silva's flat off-spin.
Muralitharan and Australian Shane Warne had revived the vanished art of spin in Test cricket and it was by now clear that a class spinner could hold his own in one-day cricket.
Today Australia set the pace, having won the 1999 and 2002 World Cups and, despite recent reverses, are favourites to complete a hat-trick in the Caribbean.
Under Steve Waugh, they deliberately upped the run rate in Test cricket. With Ricky Ponting in charge they are setting new targets in one-day cricket.
Australia concentrate on performing the basics correctly. American baseballer Mike Young has further refined the fielding skills, the bowlers keep tight lines and the batsmen, who have glimpsed new possibilities from Twenty20 cricket, are upping the ante.
"Big, strong blokes hitting the ball," said Ponting. "The game is changing.”