World Series Cricket – Forty Years On But Still Relevant

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ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 24: A general view during day one of the Third Test match between Australia and South Africa at Adelaide Oval on November 24, 2016 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

This year is the fortieth anniversary of the World Series Cricket (WSC) schism and it seems apt that a new cricket chapter should open up. On the afternoon of December 2nd in Adelaide, the first day / night Ashes Test gets under way in Adelaide. It will be the seventh Test match to feature a pink ball whilst it will be the third such game to be hosted by the Adelaide Oval. The match will herald a new era of Ashes history as floodlights will feature for the first time. The advent of floodlights is not the only innovation that is synonymous with Kerry Packer’s cricket revolution. Inventions such as coloured clothing and safety equipment are just as intrinsically linked to that period. It can be argued that the game itself has just as much to thank World Series Cricket as players themselves.
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Floodlights

The proliferation of the shorter form of the game has been, at least partly, facilitated by floodlights. It is now commonplace to see cricket played at night and the Test arena is the next area of expansion. Packer’s World Series Cricket made their product succeed, and the cricket world’s view broaden, by the use of lights to attract spectators to cricket grounds. The first match to use floodlights dates back to 1952 but the late 1970’s saw the benefits realised. Despite the self-named ‘Supertests’ being a PR and financial disaster, the public were captured by seeing the cricket gods play at night. It was a match at the SCG, in 1978, that would finally light the way to the opportunity.
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Coloured Clothing

The longer form of the game continues to stick with tradition and ‘whites’ are still used. Limited overs cricket adopted the use of team colours a long time ago now. Again, it was Kerry Packer’s WSC that is responsible coloured clothing. The colours appear dated and kitsch but were de rigueur despite protestations from the many of the players at the time. The use of the white ball required a contrast but the novelty factor took quite a while to wear off. England refused to comply with the change for a while, even after the cricket world reunited in 1979, and it was 1992 before the Cricket World Cup was adorned in colour. It begs the question that it must only be a matter of time before Test cricket at least considers changing too.
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Batting Helmets

It now seems beyond madness for a batsman to face a bowler faster than a spinner without donning a batting helmet. World Series Cricket changed the batting paradigm forever. Bowlers such Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding charged in with menace. Their steely determination to hurt as much as take wickets would cause batsmen to precautions. The idea of head protection was not new. English batsman ‘Patsy’ Hedren first wore one in 1933. In the 1970’s, Mike Brearley trialled skull cap type protection. It was Dennis Amiss who consistently wore a helmet to bat during World Series Cricket. The unfortunate David Hookes had his jaw broken by an Andy Roberts bouncer and Packer immediately requested the manufacturer details from Amiss and ordered helmets for batsmen. Tony Greig believed helmets would cause bowlers to target batsmen whilst Viv Richards flatly refused to wear one at all. Tragedies such as the one with Phillip Hughes prove that accidents still happen but helmets have increased player safety immeasurably.

The cricket revolution that occurred because of the WSC period of 1977-79 is attributable to Kerry Packer. Although his motives were not altruistic, there was a genuine love for the game that ran alongside his commercial interests. Commerciality was already part of the game. Packer just redressed the balance between the authorities and the players. Other innovations such as the use of the white ball or drop in pitches could well have emerged without WSC. It was just that Packer took progress into his office, shouted obscenities at it before reminding it that it was on his payroll.

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