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Tuesday, 27 December, 2005, 07:48 GMT
Press turns on Packer
A night game at Sydney Cricket Ground
Media outrage turned to admiration for night cricket

Ian Wooldridge remembers 9 May 1977 with great clarity, and the headline on the front page of the Daily Mail that day: "World's top cricketers turn pirate".

Kerry Packer's plans for World Series Cricket leaked to the public earlier than their architect had planned.

It was such a major story, and it had all been done so secretly

Daily Mail journalist
Ian Wooldridge
That was caused in part because rain at Hove the previous day left the touring Australians inactive, and the trailing press corps were left with time to follow up the rumours of a rebel series.

"I heard the rumours, and phoned Richie Benaud to see if he knew anything, as it was an amazing story," Wooldridge recalls.

"Initially he said he didn't know anything, but he phoned me back a couple of hours later and asked me round to his house.

"In the meantime he had obviously been in contact with Kerry Packer and confirmed that he could reveal what was going on."

Unknown even to his friend Wooldridge, former Australian captain Benaud was the cricket brain of Packer's ambitious project.

It was he who advised on how to deal with the Australian Cricket Board in what were ultimately unsuccessful negotiations, and also on the logistics of playing cricket in a far from orthodox fashion.

After his discussion with Benaud, Wooldridge was able to reveal the names of 15 of those who had signed World Series contracts.

"I couldn't believe it," he says, "because it was such a major story, and it had all been done so secretly."

'Treachery'

The news from Fleet Street was followed by the Australian newspapers 12 hours later.

Peter McFarline of Melbourne's Age ran with a story quoting an unnamed English player as forecasting "The biggest explosion in cricket since WG Grace".

Richie Benaud
Benaud was the cricket brain of Packer's operation
But it was autumn in Melbourne, and the main story of the weekend was a victory for Australian Rules Football side Collingwood.

The biggest cricket news ever to break was relegated to the inside back cover.

Much of the press reaction, both in England and Australia, was hostile to the plans.

"Words like 'treachery' were bandied around and there were some awful things said on television," says Wooldridge.

"Much of the press was against it but we weren't.

"I remember writing in a column that it was inevitable because cricketers were so poorly paid."

Greig villified

Respected Guardian writer John Arlott was the first to coin the world "circus" in relation to the series.

"It is virtually certain that if a circus scheme were launched in competition to Test cricket, it would fail," he said.

EW Swanton
Swanton was violently opposed to packer
"The English cricketing establishment could almost certainly destroy any such threat to the international game.

But he was liberal in contrast to the Telegraph's EW Swanton, who was a committeeman at Kent and felt that Packer's sole motivation was to gain the television rights to Test cricket in Australia.

Tony Greig, Packer's recruiting officer, was soon stripped of the England captaincy, and was the centre of journalists' ire.

And Greig's friendship with Swanton was severed immediately.

Hostility continued as the season began with rival Tests - the WSC's version in Melbourne and an official match between Australia and India in Brisbane.

Revolution

But the critics were mollified slightly when, on 14 December, VFL Park hosted the first game of floodlit international cricket, Grieg leading the World XI against Ian Chappell's Australians.

"The Atmosphere was Electric," proclaimed the front page of The Age.

"Even though WSC did not get out of the blocks as its starter would have liked, under the power of 1000 lux the revolution took on some meaning.

The Cricketer's Eric Beecher later reflected, "Just as the sun seemed to be setting on WSC's first disaster-filled season, someone turned on the lights."

After two years of turmoil, a compromise was reached. Many of Packer's players rejoined their teams, and their former employer finally secured his television rights.

But Wooldridge for one believes there was more than simply business motivating Packer's actions.

"He was doing something that had to be done but of course there was some self interest," he says.

"Over the years he won everything."

BBC Sport Online marks the 25th anniversary of the Kerry Packer saga

How it began

Cricket visionary

England divided

Sporting circus

Looking back

Family connection

VIDEO

SUPERTEST STATS

PHOTO GALLERY

SPORTS TALK
Links to more Cricket stories are at the foot of the page.


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