The series originated due to two main factors - the widespread view that players were not paid sufficient amounts to make a living from cricket, and that Packer wished to secure the exclusive broadcasting rights to Australian cricket, then held by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
After the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) refused to accept Channel Nine's bid to gain exclusive television rights to Australia's Test matches in 1976, Packer set up his own series by secretly signing agreements with leading Australian, English, Pakistani, South African and West Indian players, most notably England captain Tony Greig, West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, Australian captain Greg Chappell and former Australian Captain Ian Chappell. Packer was aided by businessmen John Cornell and Austin Robertson, both of whom were involved with the initial setup and administration of the series.
After the death of his father Sir Frank in 1974, Kerry Packer assumed control of Channel Nine, one of the many media interests owned by the family's company Consolidated Press Holdings (CPH). With Nine's ratings languishing, Packer sought to turn the network around via an aggressive strategy that included more sports programming. Firstly, he secured the rights to the Australian Open golf tournament. He spent millions of dollars revamping the Australian Golf Club in Sydney as a permanent home for the tournament. Jack Nicklaus was hired to redesign the course and to appear in the tournament. Packer was a fan of cricket, which was undergoing a resurgence in popularity during the mid-1970s. In 1976, Packer sought the rights to televise Australia's home Test matches, the contract for which was about to expire. He approached the ACB with an offer of AU$1.5 million for three years (eight times the previous contract), yet he was rebuffed. The ACB felt loyal to the ABC, which had broadcast the game for twenty years when the commercial networks showed little interest in the game. Packer believed that there was an "old-boy network" element to the decision, and he was furious at the dismissive way that his bid was handled. The government-funded ABC could not hope to match a commercial network's bid, but they were awarded another three-year contract worth only $210,000, commencing with the 1976-77 season.
Determined to get some cricket on Channel Nine, Packer put an offer to the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) to telecast the Australian tour of England scheduled for 1977. His interest was further stimulated by a proposal to play some televised exhibition matches, an idea presented to him by the West Australian businessmen John Cornell and Austin Robertson. Robertson managed several high profile Australian cricketers such as Dennis Lillee.
Packer took this idea, then fleshed it out into a full series between the best Australian players and a team from the rest of the world. His mistrust of cricket's administrators deepened when the ACB recommended the TCCB accept an offer for their broadcasts rights from the ABC, even though the ABC was offering about thirty per cent less than Packer. For the first time, the game's officialdom had a demonstration of Packer's wherewithal: he immediately doubled his original offer and won the contract. But he never forgot the machinations involved in winning the bid.
By the time the Australian team arrived to tour England in May 1977, thirteen of the seventeen members of the squad had committed to Packer. News of the WSC plans were inadvertently leaked to Australian journalists, who broke the story on 9 May. Immediately, all hell broke loose in the hitherto conservative world of cricket. Not unexpectedly, the English were critical of what they quickly dubbed the "Packer Circus" and reserved particular vitriol for the English captain Tony Greig, for his central role in organising the break-away. Greig retained his position in the team, but was stripped of the captaincy and ostracised by everyone in the cricket establishment, most of whom had been singing his praises just weeks before.
It seemed certain that all Packer players would be banned from Test and first class cricket. The Australian players were a divided group and the management made their displeasure clear to the Packer signees. Dispirited by this turn of events and hampered by poor form and indifferent weather, Australia crashed to a 3-0 defeat, surrendering the Ashes won two years before.
Cricket's world governing body, the International Cricket Conference (ICC), now entered a controversy initially perceived as an Australian domestic problem. They met with Packer, Benaud and two assistants at Lord's on 23 June to discuss the WSC plans. After ninety minutes of compromise from both sides had almost created common ground, Packer demanded that the ICC award him the exclusive Australian television rights after the 1978-79 season ended. It wasn't in the power of the ICC to do so and Packer stormed from the meeting to deliver the following unadulterated declaration of war:
Had I got those TV rights I was prepared to withdraw from the scene and leave the running of cricket to the board. I will take no steps now to help anyone. It's every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.This outburst undid any goodwill that Packer had created during his earlier television appearance, and alarmed his contracted players, who viewed his scheme as being as much philanthropic as commercial. The ICC decided to treat Packer's scheme with contempt when a month later they decided Packer's matches would not be given first-class status and the players involved would be banned from Test match and first class cricket.
A number of the signed players now considered withdrawing. Jeff Thomson and Alvin Kallicharan had their contracts torn up when it was discovered that they had binding agreements with a radio station requiring them to play for Queensland. Packer moved quickly to shore up support, meeting with the players and taking legal action to prevent third parties from inducing players to break their contracts. To clarify the legal implications (including the proposed bans), Packer backed a challenge to the TCCB in the High Court by three of his players: Tony Greig, Mike Procter and John Snow.
The case began on 26 September 1977 and lasted seven weeks. The cricket authorities counsel said that if the top players deserted traditional cricket then gate receipts would decline. Mr. Packer's lawyers stated that the ICC had tried to force the Packer players to break their contracts and to prevent others from joining them. Justice Sir Christopher Slade considered the following nine points needed to be considered:
Justice Slade in his judgment said professional cricketers need to make a living and the ICC should not stand in the way just because their own interests may be damaged. He said the ICC may have stretched the concept of loyalty too far. Players could not be criticized for entering the contracts in secrecy as the main authorities would deny the players the opportunity to enjoy the advantages offered by WSC.
The decision was a blow to the cricket authorities as they had to pay court costs. English County cricket teams were pleased as their players who had signed to play for Packer were still eligible to play for them.
So the five-day matches became "Supertests", played by the "WSC Australian XI" and Richie Benaud set to work writing rules and playing conditions for the series. Most importantly, WSC was shut out of traditional cricket venues, so Packer leased two Australian football stadiums, VFL Park in Melbourne and Football Park in Adelaide, Perth's Gloucester Park (a trotting track), and the Sydney Showground.
The obvious problem was preparing grass pitches of suitable standard at these venues, where none had existed previously. By common consensus, it was considered impossible to create the pitches in such a short time. However, Packer hired the brilliant curator John Maley away from the Gabba ground in Brisbane, and he pioneered the concept of "drop-in" pitches. These pitches were grown in hothouses outside the venue, then dropped into the playing surface with cranes. This revolutionary technique was the unsung highlight of the first season of WSC - without them, WSC would have been a folly. Another unexpected element of the series was the emergence of a West Indian side. The concept was originally envisaged as Australia versus the rest of the world. When the West Indians were offered contracts that would pay them more than they could earn in an entire career, they all signed with alacrity. However, WSC erred by using the West Indian players in the World team as well, which contributed to the feeling that the matches were exhibitional in nature, ie. they were not (in Australian parlance) "fair dinkum" .
The first WSC game, a 'Supertest" between the Australians and the West Indians began at VFL Park on December 2 1977. The standard of the cricket was excellent, but the crowds were poor, which was emphasised by the stadium's capacity of 79,000. The official Test match played in Brisbane at the same time, featuring the weakened Australian team and India, attracted far more spectators.
... he had his jaw shattered by a bouncer from Andy Roberts ... Until that moment, WSC had looked suspiciously like a thrown-together entertainment package; Hookes' injury impressed the contest's intensity on all observers.This incident had another effect: the first helmets appeared on batsmens' heads. Initially, Englishman Dennis Amiss sported a motorcycle helmet when batting in WSC, and he was quickly followed by many other players. Protective cricket equipment developed rapidly, and by the end of WSC, virtually all batsmen in WSC and official Test matches were sporting some form of protective headwear.
WSC decided to place greater emphasis on one-day cricket than had been previously seen in Australia. A one day series, the "International Cup" featuring the Australian, West Indian and World teams, was played alongside six Supertests in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. The first day/night match, played at Melbourne's VFL Park, attracted some curiosity value, but generally the paying public were indifferent to the series. Many took a lead from the hostile press, and official cricket benefited from a dramatic Test series played between Australia and a touring Indian team. The ACB's masterstroke was the appointment of the 41 year-old Bobby Simpson as Australian captain, after a ten-year retirement from first-class cricket. He led a young, unknown team to a 3-2 series victory which was not decided until the last Test in Adelaide. Big crowds attended the Tests, and the media was very supportive of the ACB throughout the summer.
By contrast, Packer was seen disconsolately counting cars as they arrived in the car park at some of his matches. He held one glimmer of hope, however. The best attended matches had been the day-night fixtures, and this format would become the backbone of the programming for the second season. In hindsight, his organisation's ability to even stage the games at such short notice was a triumph and excellent fine-tuning for what was to come. So far, the ACB had enjoyed the backing of the press and the true aficionados of the game. But a series of misfortunes and poor decisions came to plague the ACB in their battle to stay ahead of Packer.
The official Australian team headed to the Caribbean under Bobby Simpson in March 1978. The West Indies cricket officials had no wish to buy into the ACB-Packer fight and decided to select all of their WSC players for the Tests.
The West Indies were the most financially vulnerable nation, and only voted for the original ICC in the interests of unity. The financial and political problems of the recent Australian tour led them to begin negotiations with Packer for a WSC series in the Caribbean during the spring of 1979. Initially, Pakistan took a hard line and refused to select their Packer players, but changed to a more pragmatic approach when WSC signed additional Pakistanis during the off season. Ostensibly, India were not involved as yet, but rumours abounded that their captain Bishan Bedi and star batsman Sunil Gavaskar had signed WSC options.
New Zealand's chief administrator, Walter Hadlee, had advocated a compromise from the start. Now he had no objection to WSC making a brief tour of his country in November, nor was he going to stop the Kiwis' best player, his son Richard, from appearing with WSC. The South Africans, banned from official cricket due to the apartheid policy of their government, were keen to see their individual cricketers compete with the world’s best. Some were prepared to acclaim South Africa as the best side of the world on the basis of the performances of some of their players in WSC.
Meanwhile, WSC continued to up the stakes for the embattled ACB, optioning a number of young Australians and signing more overseas players: they now had well over 50 cricketers under contract. After organising the tours of New Zealand and the West Indies, WSC began making noises about a tour to England and signing enough players for stand-alone England and Pakistan teams. A second tier tour was created for the 1978-79 season, taking the game to provincial centres around Australia and giving back-up players an opportunity to play regularly. This tour covered a 20,000 kilometre route between Cairns in Queensland to Devonport in Tasmania. WSC created the "Cavaliers" for this secondary tour, a similar concept to the Cavalier teams of the 1960s in England. The team captained by Eddie Barlow was made of recently retired cricketers, such as Rohan Kanhai, David Holford and Ian Redpath and occasionally young Australians such as Trevor Chappell. These matches brought cricket to venues that rarely saw big games.
Packer demonstrated his political clout by getting New South Wales premier Neville Wran to overturn the ban on WSC and allow matches to be played at the traditional home of the game, the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). To boot, Wran had his government foot the bill to install lights good enough for Packer to use. WSC also gained access to Brisbane's Test ground, The Gabba, and were offered use of the Adelaide Oval, which was rejected. Perth and Adelaide were dropped from the itinerary. A strategy of focusing on audiences in Melbourne and Sydney was now in place.
On the other hand, WSC, with its aggressive marketing, nighttime play and plethora of one-day matches, had increased both attendances and television ratings. The targeted audience of women and children flocked to WSC, which seemed to have updated cricket to the late twentieth century. The playing standard remained high, and most participants of the series later commented that it was the toughest cricket that they ever played, Tests included.
The Supertest final at the SCG between Australian and the World teams, played under lights, drew almost 40,000 spectators over three days. The sixth Australia-England Test at the same venue a week later was attended by just 22,000 people for four days of play. Later in the season, the ACB scheduled two Tests against Pakistan, which brought the number of Tests played by Australia to eight. This overkill further damaged the ACB's finances. The Pakistanis played their WSC men in what turned out to be an ill-tempered series.
WSC then headed to the Caribbean for a tense, hard fought series that players from both Australia and West Indies declared the best they ever played in. A riot marred the Trinidad Supertest, but the five Supertests and 12 one-day matches went some way toward reducing the debts of the West Indies board. The last cricket action of WSC occurred on 10 April 1979, the final day of a drawn Supertest at Antigua. The West Indies and Australia finished the series 1-1.
When the truce was formally announced on 30 May 1979, a surprise was in store for followers of the game. Not only had the Channel Nine won the exclusive rights to telecast Australian cricket, it was granted a ten-year contract to promote and market the game through a new company, PBL Marketing. The ACB capitulation infuriated the English authorities and the ICC as they had provided much in the way of financial and moral support to the ACB, which now appeared to have sold out to Packer. According to the 1980 issue of Wisden:
The feeling in many quarters was that when the Australian Board first found Packer at their throats, the rest of the cricket world supported them to the hilt; even to the extent of highly expensive court cases which cricket could ill afford. Now, when it suited Australia, they had brushed their friends aside to meet their own ends.The WSC Australian players (on tour in the West Indies at the time) had no input into the negotiations. This left some disillusioned and apprehensive that they may suffer discrimination from the ACB in the coming years. The ACB opted to not select WSC-contracted players for the tours of England (for the 1979 World Cup) and India (for six Tests) later in the year. Both tours produced sub-standard Australian performances, and both were led by Kim Hughes.
For the 1979-80 season, Greg Chappell was restored as Australian captain and the team contained an even mixture of WSC and non-WSC players. The season's schedule mimicked the WSC format. England and the West Indies toured, playing three Tests each against Australia, with a triangular one-day tournament (the World Series Cup) interspersed among the Tests. Australia's results immediately improved: they defeated England 3-0, having lost 5-1 the previous summer, although they lost 0-2 to the West Indies and failed to make the final of the one-day tournament. The format of the season received heavy criticism, but still made a healthy profit, much of which went to PBL rather than the ACB.
Night matches have become very common in most nations, and one-day cricket has become the most widely followed form of the game (though this is being threatened by Twenty20 cricket). Players are full-time professionals, and at least in the larger cricketing nations are very well-paid, mainly through television rights; broadcasters now have a huge say in the running of the game.
However, the traditional form of the game, Test cricket, is still played around the world, and in recent seasons has challenged one-day cricket for the interest of the public. Indeed, membership of a Test Cricket side is often seen as being more prestigious for players, both due to the more challenging nature of the format and the higher turnover rate of one day players. Kerry Packer described his involvement in World Series Cricket as "half-philanthropic".
Marketing was a major tool for World Series Cricket, and they revolutionised the way cricket in Australia was marketed, with the catchy C'Mon Aussie C'Mon theme song, the simple logo, the coloured clothing worn by the players and a range of merchandise. All of these techniques pioneered by World Series Cricket have become a staple of the way the game is now marketed in Australia.
In the Australian team, there was a division between the players who stayed loyal to the official XI and the Packer rebels. Especially between players such as Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, former WSC players and Kim Hughes who stuck with the official side. The division went on into the 1980s. Many of WSC's players fitted back into the official Australian side, though a handful of players from outside WSC remained at the highest level, most notably Allan Border.
The ACB continued to use the name "World Series Cup" to describe the one-day international tournament it held during each summer, usually involving Australia and two other international teams. This format was from WSC's International Cup. The name was used until the mid 1990's.
Rest of the World: Tony Greig (captain), Alan Knott, Derek Underwood, Denis Amiss, Bob Woolmer, John Snow (England); Mike Procter, Barry Richards, Clive Rice, Garth Le Roux, Eddie Barlow (South Africa); Mushtaq Mohammad, Javed Miandad, Asif Iqbal, Imran Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Majid Khan, Haroon Rashid, Sarfraz Nawaz, Taslim Arif (Pakistan).
West Indies: Clive Lloyd (captain), Roy Fredericks, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding, Viv Richards, Jim Allen, Collis King, Derek Murray, David Holford, Andy Roberts, Wayne Daniel, Lawrence Rowe, Joel Garner, Albert Padmore, Desmond Haynes, Richard Austin, Colin Croft, Bernard Julien, Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs.