'Cricket Outlaws' chronicle of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket

By: Blogger

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian
www.sunlive.co.nz

I have just finished reading one of the most intriguing sports books that I have ever read.

Called simply "Cricket Outlaws", it chronicles the short and sharp journey of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket in 1977, 1978 and 1979. 

Written by a West Australian by the name of Austin Robertson, who was one of Packers chief lieutenants, as the Channel Nine owner changed the game of cricket forever.  

Austin Robertson had a roller-coaster ride over the years as a journalist and sports promoter.

He had genuine cricket credentials, managing cricket legends such as Dennis Lillee, Alan Border and Shane Warne, amongst a myriad of other Australian sporting stars. 

World Series Cricket changed the face of cricket with 50 over games under lights, the introduction of helmets albeit motorcycle lids in the early days, coloured clothing and the introduction of the white ball. 

WSC came about in 1976, when Kerry Packer put in a bid of $1.5 million dollars to the ACB, for the rights for Channel Nine to screen test cricket.

The amount was eight times the previous contract and when he was rebuffed, came up with proposal to contract the best players in the world for a rebel series of games. 

The catalyst for signing the rebel players was the extremely poor rate of remuneration of test players who received just a daily allowance.

The road to professional rugby some 20 years later, was the same, of paying the players who provided the entertainment a fair share of the profits from the television pot. 

The book is a warts and all summary of the two seasons of WSC, before the two warring parties sealed a truce, with Packer getting cricket television rights for Channel Nine that still exist to this day. 

World Series Cricket came to New Zealand in November 1978 as a warm-up for the WSC 1978-79 season in Australia, including playing a game at the Tauranga Domain. 

The cricket rebels management faced the same problems in New Zealand, as at home, of securing grounds and no support from the cricket establishment.

WSC games were played at such as Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland, Cook Gardens in Wanganui and the little heard of venue of Te Whiti Park in Lower Hutt. 

World Series Cricket arrived in the Western Bay of Plenty on 9 November 1978.

Never before had such a galaxy of world stars appeared in Tauranga.

The WSC Australian team featured such household names as Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell, Ian Chappell, David Hookes and Rod Marsh.

Tony Greig led the WSC World X1 with stars such as Barry Richards, Lawrence Rowe, Michael Procter, John Snow and New Zealand’s own superstar Richard Hadlee. 

There is an interesting story about how Tauranga became one of the New Zealand venues for what was often referred to as the World Series Circus.

The Tauranga Netball and Tennis organisations, who were searching for funding for the (then) new pavilion at the Cliff Road courts, approached a professional fundraiser.

The fundraiser was also a promoter of the WSC tour of New Zealand and suggested the match as a fundraising venture.

This is how the WSC came to what was then one of the country’s smaller cities. 

The local organisers approached Tauranga Cricket for assistance, which created some problems.

With the WSC being in opposition to the New Zealand Cricket Council, restrictions were placed on local cricketers.

However, local cricket administrators quietly and unofficially assisted the organisers. 

For the record the WSC World XI batted first and were bowled out for 178.

In reply, the WSC Australian XI were removed for just 94 runs, with Richard Hadlee one of the stars of the show taking three wickets at a cost of 21 runs.