Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket only ran between 1977 and 1979. For a brief time, it tore the world of cricket apart and led to players being banned from playing for their countries.
But given that no-one talks about it these days, did it really have much impact?
Its first aim was to earn money from cricket. It sought to do this by paying the players much more than they were used to. In the late 1970s cricketers, even the best in the world, were paid appallingly and treated poorly by their national associations. The event which led to the creation of WSC was the ABC’s low offer for the rights to televise cricket – had they not offered such a low amount (only $210,000) over three years – the Packer Circus as it became known, would not have gained such traction among players. After WSC national associations woke up and pay for top cricketers increased. Not by much, in countries like England, but enough to prevent another breakaway.
So the first legacy was more money for players.
The threat of breakaway had been contested in the High Court: three players involved in the WSC plans took the TCCB to court in 1977 – the first time players had taken the authorities of cricket in England to court over such a plan. The events that followed shook the cricket authorities so badly they tried to ensure it could never happen again. In 2007 a “rebel” cricket league, the Indian Cricket League was started, but was strangled at birth by swift movement from the Indian cricket authorities, who responded with their own, authorised tournament – the IPL, the world’s biggest 20Twenty tournament. So lessons had been learned.
The second legacy was tighter control by central cricket authorities.
Cricket in the 1970s was still very sedate. Matches were only played during the day. Limited Overs Cricket, despite the introduction of a World Cup in 1975, was frowned on as not quite the real thing. Cricket was always played in whites. World Series Cricket jazzed cricket up substantially, introducing day/night games, coloured clothing, music and, for the first time, a serious focus on entertainment as well as sport. These changes took a long time to come fully to fruition, but now, they are regarded as normal for Limited Overs Cricket. Without Packer, this would have taken much longer.
The third legacy, therefore, was to change the culture of cricket deeply.
None of this happened overnight, with the exception of Australia, where, as the centre of World Series Cricket, and the home of Kerry Packer, the presentational changes happened immediately. This was aided by Packer’s Channel Nine by then having the rights to televise cricket in Australia.
Whether the legacy is good or bad is for people to decide by themselves – but without the money brought in by more Limited Overs Cricket played in a more sensational style, it is doubtful whether we would have the Test Cricket that many cricket fans regard as the real centrepiece of the game.