Those were the days, my friend

Last updated 12:09 03/04/2014
Dennis Lillee

ATTRACTION: Dennis Lillee, one of the stars of the World Series Cricket, was at pains to be pleasant in New Zealand.

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The Wellingtonian

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It was fitting that Sky TV played the two-part series Howzat last week, as the Twenty20 World Cup was beginning in Bangladesh.

OPINION: Howzat focused on Australian media magnate Kerry Packer and his influence on cricket.

Packer, annoyed he could not secure the television broadcasting rights for Australian cricket, formed his own competition, World Series Cricket.

It was an audacious and costly plan, but it eventually succeeded, as the television programme showed.

Packer ended up securing the precious broadcasting rights when a compromise was reached after a couple of years, and the Nine Network still has those rights.

Though he was cricket's public enemy No 1, Packer did a lot of good for the game, and one of the spin-offs, I'm sure, was Twenty20 cricket, which is so perfect for television.

World Series Cricket greatly increased the emphasis on one- day cricket and introduced coloured clothing, white balls, night games and restricted field placings.

In November 1978, the World Series troupe toured New Zealand for a fortnight.

Reading back on my writing at the time, I can see how confused we all were about Packer.

Cricket or circus? We still don't know was the heading on the story after the one-day match (40 overs each) match at the Hutt Recreation Ground.

Obviously others were unsure, too. Arthur Carman's New Zealand Cricket Almanack and Don Neely's Cricket Annual never mentioned the tour, though players of the calibre of Ian and Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee, Doug Walters, Lawrence Rowe, Clive Rice, Tony Greig, Mike Procter, John Snow, Derek Underwood, Alan Knott and our own Sir Richard Hadlee were involved.

Hadlee was a guest player, given permission by the New Zealand Cricket Council, whose chairman, Walter Hadlee (Sir Richard's father) excluded himself from discussions.

It was a progressive decision by the council, which had been bitterly opposed to the Packer group.

Indeed, it would not allow local associations to offer assistance during the World Series tour.

Two teams, Ian Chappell's Australian XI and Tony Greig's World XI, played eight one-dayers and a four-day match.

They played at Mt Smart Stadium (Auckland), Tauranga Domain, Pukekura Park (New Plymouth), Cooks Gardens (Wanganui), the Hutt Rec and Trafalgar Park (Nelson).

They used a white ball, but also wore white clothing - odd.

At the Hutt Rec, sheep trucks were backed into position to form makeshift sightscreens.

The crowds were small - 3800 at the Hutt was the biggest.

The players worked hard. Whereas previously Ian Chappell and Lillee had been difficult to deal with, on this tour they were on a massive charm offensive.

Nothing was a problem as they courted publicity.

Not only that, but they did coaching sessions before the games and spoke at dinners afterwards.

Before Packer arrived, one-day cricket was really only an afterthought.

Australia and England played no one-day internationals on their 1977 and 1978 tours here.

But with Packer's television station behind it, the one-day game took off.

That led eventually to Twenty20 cricket, and to brighter test cricket, as batsmen scored faster and fieldsmen really pushed themselves.

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It all seems a long time ago, so it was good to have the television series last week to remind us of this pivotal time in the game's evolution.

- The Wellingtonian


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