World Series Cricket - The Revolution

Kerry Packer.  Many things have been written about him. Many good words and many not so good. He was without doubt a man with foresight.  His love of sport and by the nature of owning a television channel his ability to promote sport; was one of the greatest assets Australia’s  television industry achieved.  For the first time the affiliated television stations programming under the banner of a network were made to operate as a network.  To ensure his investment in World Series Cricket (WSC)  got the best exposure he wanted a team, one team, to produce the coverage right round the country. Nowadays  that is a pretty well accepted recipe. But in 1977 the thought of travelling equipment and crew and commentators to every venue was flouting financial disaster. Well, it very much probably was. But the product needed the best treatment. Every major city television station had its own production crews. All of whom thought they were totally competent but to have a product such as WSC lob on your doorstep and for you to produce a five day coverage without any prior experience of the subject would have been a complete disaster. Hence ‘ the cricket’ became the benchmark for network productions and network integration Australia wide. As to the sport, WSC cricketer David Hookes once said  "Every cricketer in the world should get down on bended knees at night and thank Kerry Packer." 

This photograph more than any other probably represents the beginning of World Series Cricket. It is the only time that all players were collectively photographed. The three teams Australia, West Indies and a representative World Team would play out a Supertest and One Day series. (Click on photo to enlarge.)
This was the other team. The production team was chosen from the best at Channel 9's Sydney and Melbourne. The three most important members are front row Kerry Packer on his left John Cornell and on his left David Hill. The pinnacle of those three would be Kerry and David.
Click on photo to enlarge.

From the very beginning travelling the world to sign up the top cricketers, the court cases in England and the securing of venues in Australia it would not have been unreasonable for any man to throw away his wicket and walk off towards the dressing room. That in itself is a most intriguing story. Not to be told here though. Once the court umpire in England waved his hand forward and said “Play!” the ball started rolling. The cricket pitches that had been nurtured in a greenhouse were put into Melbourne’s VFL Park at Waverely and a new team player emerged, Richie Benaud. He had been involved all the way down the line. Who better could you have on the team than a man who was so experienced in both television and cricket. From within the ranks of Channel 9 another person emerged, David Hill. Sydney born, a Daily Telegraph copy boy, a Wollongong TV newshound, a Melbourne ABC Sports Night reporter and finally a Melbourne Channel 7 sports news presenter. David became the Guru of sports production at Channel 9 and thereby threw down the gauntlet to the other networks to challenge the standard of presentation he created with WSC and eventually Wide World of Sports productions.

L to R top of photo. Bill Lawry, Richie Benaud, Fred Trueman, Tony Greig, Ian Chappell, Mike Proctor, Tony Cozier, Keith Stackpole

David Hill the Executive Producer of Wide World of Sports explained his attitude to successful teslevision as being made up of a few simple factors. Concept. Preparation. Teamwork. Put them together and you're off and running. They were never more evident than in the first summer of World Series Cricket. Modesty probably allowed David not to include talent. He was without doubt the person most responsible for the second immaculate conception.  The writer having already been in television production for twenty one years had never before witnessed  such creative ability as ‘Hilly’ produced - and under such pressure as was confronting him by making a success out of WSC. His chosen commentary team included Richie Benaud. An ex-cricket Captain of Australia, journalist, very experienced radio and television commentor. Bill Lawry aka 'Phanto' ex-opening batsman Captain. Tony Cozier an accomplished journalist and broadcaster resident of Barbados in the West Indies. 'Fiery' Fred Trueman a test playing English fast bowler. Keith Stackpole another Aussie opening batsman Vice Captain. Sprinkled throughout the season Ian Chappell -Captain of the Australian team, Tony Greig - Captain of the World Team and Mike Proctor one of the World Team playing members were invited guest commentators. Tony and Mike were South African born and were playing in the English Counties competition. Tony was also Captain of the England test team prior to joining WSC.   

The first two seasons of 1977/78 and 1978/79 were the most rewarding for television but not so for spectator numbers. The venues were not the traditional grounds to which people would normally attend to see a cricket match. A cricket wicket is the very first ingredient required to stage a first class match let alone a first class international match.  The guru of curators John Maley was hired and given the task of creating transportable wickets which could be inserted into arenas such as Gloucester Park trotting ground in Perth, Sydney Showground arena,  Football Park in Adelaide and VFL Park in Melbourne. These brilliantly prepared pitches were just one of many other firsts to be associated with top class cricket. The cameras capturing never before seen action of superb fielding, bowling techniques and batting prowess. Interviews with dismissed batsmen a most intrepid challenge to say the least. Batting helmets.  Recorded insightful interviews of bowlers and batsmen to be used during play. Historical and current on screen information of match results, statistics, animations of bowling deliveries, fielding postions. Plus the ultimate replays by the then slow motion video-disc. All to culminate with a match under lighs between a World XI and the WSC Australians on January 23rd before a crowd of 25,000 spectators.

 

VFL Stadium Melbourne. Click on photo to enlarge.

The cameramen chosen to cover WSC were the most experienced who were currently employed at TCN Sydney and GTV Melbourne.  In the beginning there were only seven cameras used. We had a couple of days practice whilst the teams were doing their own batting and bowling practice. It was very unformulated and devoid of any continuity of a cricket match. Nor was it at full pace. The cameramen by name were Greg Cameron, Terry Higgins, Craig Watkins, Mal Tennant, Randle Churchill, Warwick Bull and A.N.Other. It isn’t easy to stand out in the noon day sun for seven hours a day for five days and maintain peak concentration staring at a camera’s black and white viewfinder; a scant 200 millimeters from your face, and anticipate just where a little gray dot, representing a red cricket ball, could go. It could be anywhere in a 360 degree angle moving at speeds of up to 140 kilometers per hour.  The camerawork developed into being superb. Bill Lawry’s catch cry was “ Catches wins matches !”  I can assure you “Catches on a television telecast wins an audience as well.”  Not only but also we were capturing angles that had never hitherto been seen on cricket coverage. The crowning glory though was the Kerry Packer decision to cover a match from both ends of the ground. That in itself was a masterpiece.  

The Sydney Cricket Ground under lights. One of the most impressive sights of any sporting venue in the world.

The 1979/80 season of cricket brought an end to the WSC venture in as much as the Australian Cricket Board convened a press conference on the 30th May 1979 to explain a new order.  Earlier that year Kerry Packer lunched with the Australian Cricket Board at the Melbourne Cricket Ground during the Australia v Pakistan 1st Test.  Peace was declared.  World Series Cricket’s One Day games, coloured clothing, night cricket with the best cricketers in the world had won through.  The players were keen to return to official test cricket. A mixture of the two was to rocket cricket into a refreshing interest in the game as never before. Plus Channel 9 had being awarded the television rights. For historians who wish to read the full story Gideon Haigh's book is excellent reading.

 

 

 

The return to official cricket allowed such talented cricketers as Lennis Lillee to receive just rewards for a back breaking career of top speed bowling. Dennis passed Richie Benaud's Test record of 248 wickets 10th February 1981 at the MCG. Whilst the ground announcer was acclaiming the achievement Dennis turned toward the Channel 9 commentary box and in recognition of Richie's marvellous career gave him the victory sign.

 

 

They did meet up later in the Team room. The two greatest Australian wicket- takers.

Dennis Lillee reached another milestone at Melbourne's MCG when he went past another record. It belonged to West Indian Lance Gibbs who had the world record of 309 Test wickets.
L to R: Richie Benaud, Dennis Lillee, David Hill, Brian C. Morelli, Lance Gibbs.

Unbeknown to almost everybody David Hill, the entrepreneur of television production, had secreted Lance Gibbs into Sydney Australia from the West Indies to surprise Dennis in anticipation of him passing Gibbs’ 309 wicket world record. Dennis didn’t take enough wickets in Sydney to crack it for the title. The next match was in Melbourne days later.  Further cloak and dagger arrangements were implemented to keep anybody and everybody from recognising Gibbs. It did eventually happen at the Melbourne Test.  Dennis became the highest Test wicket taker with 310. David cued the audio director to play  We are the Champions by Queen as Lance Gibbs walked out of the players race onto the MCG heading for Dennis. It was Sport with show biz plus. A great moment in cricket history.  

Another Australian bowling champion, Shane Warne, came onto the scene and created a world record of 600 wickets whilst playing a Test match at Gaul in Sri Lanka. He was soon overtaken but finished his career with an astonishing 708.

Our return to ACB cricket for 1980/81 season brought the inevitable increase in crew numbers and quality of coverage.