The <i>Sydney Morning Herald</I> reports on preparations for the first night match at the SCG, a a World Series Cricket game

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the preparations for the SCG's first night game, November 1978

© Sydney Morning Herald
6

Essay

Do we remember the cricket in World Series Cricket?

Forty years on, the rebellion, the innovation, the technology, the coloured clothing seem to be all we can talk about

Gideon Haigh |

It's joked that if you can remember the 1960s, you weren't there. Something similar may apply to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket. Never has so much cricket talent been assembled in one place. But of the cricket, who holds other than impressions? Moments stand out, like Andy Roberts breaking David Hookes' jaw, and Wayne Daniel's last ball six, the West Indies in coral pink and the World in electric blue. The rest is a kaleidoscopic jumble.

Paradoxically, the commonest sentiment about WSC is that "the records should be official". In November 2015, Cricket Australia foreshadowed that they would be included in their statistical tabulations. Two years later, they are still not there. Everyone grasps that the 56,126 runs and 2364 wickets were hard won, by dint of the players' uniform excellence. But providing any sort of framework for them has proved harder still.

Wisden collapsed everything into 20 pages across two editions in the vicinity of the annual USA v Canada scoreboard; it gave three lines to a game at VFL Park on December 14, 1977 without noting it was the first international played at night. It's arguable, of course, that the salient figures were dollars and cents. But it's surely odd, after 40 years, to have reached such perfect stasis, where everyone agrees about these records that something should be done yet nobody does anything.

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All-star WSC XI

WSC may here be a victim of jaded perceptions. Its innovation and experimentation has been accentuated to the exclusion of its content. Dwelling on the audacity of the enterprise overlooks that a great deal of the cricket was decidedly "traditional", taking place by day, in white clothing and using red balls. Only one of the five-day "Supertests" and five of the 50-over "International Cup" matches involving the WSC Australians, West Indians and World were played in coloured clothing, and the Australians wore yellow caps because Packer would not condone the use of anything resembling a baggy green.

"You've got to earn those, son," he said when it was suggested. And if the cricket could be gladiatorial, the cricketers were expected to mind their ps and qs. "There'll be no swear words," Packer insisted. "These are professionals and they'll behave as professionals - or they're out."

Television was the driver here: to WSC's impresario, the quality of Channel Nine's coverage was paramount, and it duly set new standards. Yet WSC can be distinguished very sharply from the cricket manufactured for television in the last decade. Domestic T20 is driven by the telegenia of big hits, with six counters spinning like fruit machines, and ranging devices fetishising distances and details. While Packer's professional troupe made some concessions to spectacle, such as field-restriction circles, the skill it accentuated was fast bowling - relentless fast bowling of the calibre of Roberts, Holding, Garner, Croft, Daniel, Julien, Imran, Procter, Snow, Sarfraz, Le Roux, Rice, Lillee, Pascoe, Walker, Gilmour, Prior, briefly Hadlee, and at the end Thomson. Tailenders found themselves in the firing line for the first time. Helmets were adopted not just for the protection of the batters but of the business. Greatness outed. Greg Chappell made 1416 Supertest runs at 56.6 and Viv Richards 1275 at 55.34; among those who played five matches or more, only two others averaged over 40. Dennis Lillee and Andy Roberts each took 54 limited-overs wickets, at 14 and 15 respectively.

All about the fast bowling: Ian Davis takes on the WSC West Indies in 1979

All about the fast bowling: Ian Davis takes on the WSC West Indies in 1979 Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

WSC was played in three geographic areas, starting its second season in New Zealand and finishing in the Caribbean. Players thoroughly earned their corn. Weekend double-headers were standard; the last five one-day matches were spread across just seven days at venues in three countries; if you were not chosen in the capital cities, the only way to press for selection was by making runs out of town. A satellite competition, the Country Cup, fixtured in regional centres, was WSC's equivalent of first-class cricket - a place to find form, prove fitness and generally to spread goodwill. Again, this was almost entirely played in white clothing; none of it was systematically televised.

In the second season, a fourth XI was created, the Cavaliers, captained by Eddie Barlow. Here's an irony: the cricket attraction that portended the game's transformation into a mass-market, telecentric urban spectacle was the last to take cricket to Australia's already neglected smaller cities. Viv Richards made a hundred in Rockhampton; Majid Khan hundreds in Canberra and Mildura; Imran and Procter bowled with scary speed in Orange.

Despite sotto voce mutterings about contrivance of results, WSC also rather defied prediction. In 1977-78, the WSC Australians were scheduled to play six Supertests, three against the WSC West Indians, three against the WSC World. The assumption, perhaps, was that the Australians would dominate the West Indians as they had in the Test series two years earlier. In fact, the hosts were twice crushed in three days. The results made it hard to conceive of a World without West Indian reinforcement, so Tony Grieg's team ended up studded with Richards, Greenidge, Lloyd, Roberts, Garner, Fredericks and Daniel. Thus one of WSC's better remembered interludes: the fabled bat-off between Viv and Barry Richards at Gloucester Park in January 1978.

December 18, 1977: the final day of the second Supertest, which WSC West Indies won by nine wickets; and Majid Khan's hundred in the Country Cup in Canberra

December 18, 1977: the final day of the second Supertest, which WSC West Indies won by nine wickets; and Majid Khan's hundred in the Country Cup in Canberra © Sydney Morning Herald

In 1978-79, World Series Cricket was geared towards finales in both competitions, WSC World winning the Supertest final, WSC West Indians successfully defending the International Cup; WSC Australians were defeated each time. There were hints of a future shift from longer to shorter forms. Packer's triumphant coming to the SCG had little to recommend it as cricket - one-sided, three runs an over, 16 overs unused - but 50,000 attended anyway; Barry Richards' superbly skilful Supertest final century ten weeks later was watched by 14,000. Yet WSC's Caribbean tour was still anchored by five Supertests, and the crowds for the ten one-day matches were poor by comparison, reflecting the players' growing indifference.

World Series Cricket then is more often invoked than understood. The consequences of its foreshadowings - the sway of private capital, the imposition of mass-media values - are still being played out. In that way it has retained an uncompromisingly contemporary character. But 40 years after events, the cricket played is overdue recognition as history in its own right.

Gideon Haigh's The Cricket War is published by Bloomsbury

 

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  • POSTED BY Harsh on | December 3, 2017, 8:15 GMT

    My best memories of WSC cricket are Barry Richards 207 and unbeaten 125 ,Greg Chappel's unbeaten 246,Viv Richards 170 and Dennis Lille's 7-23.They revealed cricketing skill at its highest peak. In 1977-78 Viv Richards was arguably the best batsmen since Bradman while in the Caribbean in 1979 super tests no batmen ever was more prolific than Greg Chappell against the great Calyposo pace stack when he amassed 621 runs.It was harder for players to succeed in WSC compared to conventional test cricket as the opposition was more challenging.West Indies had become the unofficial world test champions when wining the Garfield Sobers trophy in 1978.

  • POSTED BY Harsh on | December 3, 2017, 7:57 GMT

    World Series Kerry Packer cricket made a dynamic transformation to the game and was a historic landmark.It tok competiivity in cricket in every department of the game to its highest zenith.Wisden must add the performance in WSC to official records which would do true justice to greats like Viv Richards,Barry Richards Greg Chappell and Denis Lillee.The best performances of al those 4 stars came out here..WSC sowed the seeds of West Indies emerging as a super power and in the rise of Imran Khan as a superstar.

  • POSTED BY craig on | December 3, 2017, 0:02 GMT

    I don't think these should be considered Tests. I'm no conservative, but they were rebel games then and shouldn't be re-written as Tests now, just as the SA rebel tours aren't considered Tests.

    These games have become so mythologised that people automatically think they should be given official status, yet the only argument is "the quality of the cricket". Why?

    In fact, shouldn't the quality be a reason NOT to include the records? Australian batsmen had to play against great bowlers in a World 11 on somewhat dubious pitches and only one averaged over 40. So their Test records would be unfairly worse off.

    Most importantly, when we look at the career of the players, their role & performance in WSC should be kept separate from Test match cricket. Otherwise there is the potential to lose these games in statistical records. Let G Chappell's WSC average sit alongside his test record and tell it's own tale - of quality and of the rebellion. That is how it was then and how it should be now.

  • POSTED BY Bennett Mendes on | November 30, 2017, 22:28 GMT

    They were highly competitive matches featuring Superstars from several participating countries. There was no respite to batsmen as they were subjected to fast bowling of the highest caliber. Packer, a businessman, would not tolerate anything less than the highest performance from his contracted players.

    1. British newspapers did not give much coverage nor do they extol WSC because England did not approve of this novelty.

    2. The point of the matches was to assemble Rock Stars from all over the world and unleash them on each other. Competition and Entertainment. Not selfish accumulation of statistics. Nor the myriad of Test Matches which feature no-name players who will be forgotten in 5 years, perhaps even less.

  • POSTED BY GV on | November 30, 2017, 14:47 GMT

    Richard, couldn't agree more. In the last season, GS scored 621 runs and the series was tied 1-1. Immediately afterwards, the teams came over to Australia and West Indies walloped them 2-0, and GS Chappell was a shadow of his former self, the West Indies bowlers were yards quicker, and Richards had woken up from a slumber, and the results were stunning. When players play for their country, there is something extra - greater purpose and steel, i suppose.

  • POSTED BY Richard on | November 30, 2017, 8:21 GMT

    A couple of points. (1) Just how widely were the matches covered ? I can't recall seeing any scorecards in the British papers and to this day I haven't seen any match details. (2) What was the point of the matches ? It wasn't Australia v West Indies, it was eleven players from Australia playing elevn players from the West Indies. Their performances would not form part of their career statistics. In effect they were exhibition matches without any national significance. The same can be said of many 20-20 matches which is why I don't follow them.