The World Series Cricket tournament in the late 1970s, conceptualised by Australian media magnate Kerry Packer, ushered in television coverage, coloured kit and floodlit games, a hitherto unknown trend in the sport. Among the prominent performers in the Packer series was Greg Chappell, who tallied over 1,400 runs at an average of 56.60 with five centuries while facing the likes of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Imran Khan.
Chappell spoke to Sportstar about the overarching influence of Packer’s innovations, the impact it had on Australian cricket and more.
Where did the idea of World Series Cricket develop?
There was a feeling among players in the mid-’70s that we were not being given enough respect by the administration. We felt that our opinion on programming, playing conditions and remuneration was not being heard. Ian Chappell as captain had met with the board around 1975 and I, as captain, had done the same in 1977. On both occasions, we felt we were given only a cursory hearing and in the case of money we were completely disregarded. Sir Donald Bradman seemed to be the biggest stumbling block in the process.
Was WSC the closest thing to democracy that Australian cricket had in over a century?
Possibly. Kerry Packer was much more generous than the board, but he was still quite dictatorial (about) what he expected.
Although it was derided by the purists at first, in retrospect do you see the Packer series as a tipping point in the sport?
WSC was the biggest turning point, not only in cricket but sports television in general. It was the genesis of fully professional sport in Australia and was the catalyst for the huge increase in pay, conditions and a voice in the running of the game that the players have had since.
In the days leading up to WSC, there was talk among the Australian cricketers about walking off... Was there a feeling that you guys weren’t getting a fair share of the pie at the time?
We never discussed walking off, but we were frustrated with the way the board ignored our view on the game generally and how much the players were worth. We were never wanting full-time professionalism, but we did feel under-appreciated and underpaid.
How did you get on with Kerry Packer? What’s your favourite story about him?
Kerry delivered everything that he promised and more. He was a good but demanding boss. My favourite story is of a meeting that he had with Ian Chappell in 1977 as WSC was being formulated. Kerry invited Ian to his office to discuss players and other aspects of the concept. During the conversation, Kerry told Ian that he would be the Australian captain. Ian had retired from Test cricket and I was the Australian captain and suggested that perhaps I should be captain. Kerry responded by saying, ‘You don’t think this is a flipping democracy do you?’ That pretty much summed Kerry up.
Did Australian cricket suffer in the late 1970s without the Packer players?
No doubt it did. Twenty-odd of the best players had been taken out of the system, so players were thrust into positions in some cases before they were ready. It did give opportunities to some players who went on to become greats of the next era, Allan Border being a prime example.
Does the modern-day Twenty20 explosion have its roots in WSC?
No doubt it has been influenced by what happened in the late ’70s. Cricket is the only sport that I can think of which has three formats that work well at the top level. Kerry definitely showed what could be done with some imagination and promotion.
Were there any cricketing moments that stood out?
I think the overall standard of the cricket of those two years was the outstanding achievement of WSC.
Lastly, was WSC the first step towards establishing cricket as a viable profession?
No doubt. Kerry showed what could be done with imagination and promotion and showed how it could be run as a business. I have no doubt the game would not be where it is today without Kerry Packer and WSC.
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