Australian Rules Cricket 

1 February 2002

Back in the 1970s, sport on TV was so much simpler. The only live football matches available were the FA Cup Final, some internationals and the occasional European fixture.

Back then, football didn’t embrace TV like it has in recent years; in fact you could say that football were not the pioneers of TV sport. Tennis and cricket noticed from very early on that TV was a way of extending the knowledge of their game.

Pre-war, the BBC had already covered the Championships at Wimbledon and test cricket; the first televised cricket match was from Lord’s in 1938, involving England and Australia. Three more tests in the following years were covered by BBC cameras, and after the war, in 1946 when test cricket resumed, the BBC cameras were back once again.

Even into the 70s, not much had changed; no more than 6 cameras appeared to televise the game, Jim Laker and Richie Benaud were regulars in the commentary box, but colour had been introduced. In Australia, it was almost the same. The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) was in a similar position.

They covered the test matches, and the irregular, newly invented one-day international version of the game. Also, the commercial stations, like Channel 7 and Channel 9, were allowed to cover the game at the same time, with ABC commentary. One man noticed how popular cricket was with the viewing public.

Kerry Packer was the owner of the Channel 9 stations in Sydney and Melbourne. In 1976, he approached the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) with a bid to televise international cricket in Australia for 5 years, a bid worth a reported A$500,000. The ACB refused, and gave the contract to the ABC, for a lot less money. Furious with this, and knowing that some Australian cricketers were disappointed because their own pay packets could have been boosted from a low level, Packer started to concoct a plan.

In the spring and summer of 1977, Kerry Packer set about creating his own cricket organisation, World Series Cricket. He had no players, so, signed up all of the best of Australian cricket talent – Dennis Lillee, Rodney Marsh et al. Plus, he signed up players from South Africa, the West Indies, and most notably, England, where the English captain, Tony Greig, was busy recruiting for Packer in England.

This caused much discord amongst the English authority the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB), that the English captain was actively recruiting for a breakaway organisation.

News broke of the breakaway in May 1977. The governing boards immediately banned players who signed up for “Packer’s circus”. By 1978, and after an extensive publicity campaign, he was ready to launch his new variety of cricket.

It was plain to see that it would be successful, but initially intriguing to the amazed public. The presentation, appearance and packaging of cricket on TV had been changed radically. Packer and Channel 9 introduced “Super Tests”, play under flood-lights (night cricket), players wearing multi-coloured clothing, black sight-screens, and a white ball. Many new innovations were introduced for the viewer.

The amount of cameras covering the game doubled, which included slow motion cameras to show the flight of the ball, and, almost unthinkably in that day and age, they introduced a camera at the other end of the ground, Packer is famously quoted as saying “Who wants to watch a batsman bum for half the match!”

Bright and breezy commentators came in, like Bill Lawry and Tony Greig, and the newly installed Richie Benaud. With the addition of the white ball, it made the playing object easier to see for the paying public, and more importantly, the viewer at home.

Microphones were also placed at the wicket, to let the public hear the sounds of leather on willow, plus all the other offerings a fast bowler would make to a Number 11 rabbit!

One of the innovations that horrified the establishment was Daddles the Duck, who made his appearance whenever a batsman was given out without scoring. The Aussie crowd was also cheering their team on with a new song, “C’mon Aussie, C’mon!” which was also part of Packer’s way of wooing the public. Young people attended games in their droves, an advertiser’s dream.

As much as the public warmed to World Series Cricket, they couldn’t really take it seriously, as too often it was only Australia versus a World XI or a West Indian XI. It wasn’t proper test cricket; it wasn’t The Ashes, no matter how appealing it actually was.

WSC was also having a detrimental effect on the official cricket side, still being run by the ACB. Second-rate players were brought into the national side, attendances were falling and results were not going their way.

By 1979, both sides were ready for compromise, as they were loosing money. Packer had got what he wanted; Channel 9 exclusively covering all Australian international cricket. The ACB got what they wanted, all the best players back in the fold. The players got what they wanted, improved salaries.

But Channel 9’s innovations continued, including the stump-camera; a small, telescopic camera placed in the stumps, side-on cameras for run-out decisions and with the advent of computer technology, improved graphics and on-screen statistics for the viewer were all embraced.

Today, the innovations and progress that occurred in televising cricket appear to have been taken for granted. Back then, sport was not as immersed in TV executive’s psyche as it is now. Indeed, given what happened to cricket in the 1970s, it was only in the 1990s that football in Britain realised what TV could do for their sport. It also took an Australian to help put his fledging channels on the broadcasting map to do this.

Channel 9 still broadcasts test cricket. In recent years, their expertise now produces televised cricket in India. Back in Australia, Benaud, Greig, Lawry (and Daddles) are still part of the make-up of the commentary box, along with newcomers and former test cricketers Ian Healy and Mark Taylor.

The broadcasting of cricket by Channel 9 has been refined and improved over the years. Nowhere on TV will you find so many technically advanced camera techniques and presentation.

In fact, you will always find that cricket is at the forefront of television innovation. One of the interesting aspects of the covering of cricket in Australia is that, to this day, only the final session of a day’s play can be shown in full in the city where it is being hosted – i.e. if the match is being played in Melbourne, then only the post-tea session in a test match can be shown live in Melbourne, but elsewhere in the country, you can view the whole day’s play.

This is done to maximise gate receipts at the ground, and only if the match is a sell-out in advance will people in that city see the whole game on TV. But there has never been a better time to cover the sport in Australia, as cricket is on a high.

A generation of Australians has grown up on the words and images from Packer’s channel, changing cricket from being a static, boring sport, into one of the most modern and lively events that you can find on TV.

And strange as it seems now, Channel 9 and Kerry Packer seem to be part of the norm, rather than the young rebels wreaking havoc on theestablishment.

You Say

1 response to this article

Boggenstrovia 4 October 2013 at 1:16 am

For anyone wanting to know more, a viewing of the mini series ‘Howzat – Kerry Packer’s War’ is a must on this subject. It is not only a good look into the cricketing side but how Packer and his team revolutionized television sport for the better.

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