Kerry Packer~~s one-day legacy lingers on

Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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London:At a tribute dinner 24 hours before retiring from international cricket in early 1994, Australia captain Allan Border reflected on the changes he had witnessed during two turbulent decades.

''I'm quite indebted to Kerry Packer for his involvement and for giving cricket a good kick up the backside,'' Border said.

''In a strange way he is responsible for my being here tonight.

Who knows where we would all have ended up without that impetus?'' A generation earlier the mention of Packer's name at an Australian Cricket Board (ACB) dinner would have guaranteed outrage, expulsion and possible excommunication for the miscreant.

Now, 30 years after the late media billionaire's breakaway World Series Cricket split the cricketing world, one-day cricket remains essentially the game forged in those two distant Australian summers.

During World Series cricket day-night matches were introduced with a white leather ball instead of the traditional red. Because of the difficulty of sighting the ball against white clothing, coloured uniforms were designed, including a fetching pink for a singularly unimpressed West Indies side.

Packer's Channel Nine put cameras all round the grounds and, in a short-lived experiment, placed microphones in the stumps before the Australians' salty language forced a hasty rethink. In another startling innovation, pitches nurtured in glasshouses were dropped into Australian Rules grounds after the ACB refused permission to use the traditional test venues.

Audacious venture: Packer launched his audacious venture after the ACB had again turned down his bid to televise Test cricket instead of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Although he paraded an unprecedented array of top players, including nearly all the current Australia and West Indies sides, spectators stayed away from the five-day so-called Super Tests, preferring a consistently entertaining series between the official Australia side and India.

A day-night one-day match on Nov. 28, 1978, at the Sydney Cricket Ground proved a defining moment. Packer had successfully negotiated a deal to play at the ground, rated second only to Lord's in fans' affections, and installed six floodlight towers.

Around 50,000 spectators crammed into the SCG to watch Australia beat West Indies, a noisy, excited crowd revelling in the sensation of watching cricket under lights on a hot Sydney night.

One-day cricket spread to Sharjah, tapping into the passion generated by the workforce pouring in from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Oil money drew the world's top teams to the Sharjah Cup staged on a patch of green isolated in the brown of the desert. It also attracted the gamblers who were at the heart of the match-fixing scandal of the early 2000s.

With Border in charge and Bob Simpson as coach, Australia won the 1987 World Cup, instilling the discipline and focus which spread into the Test arena and laid the foundations of 20 years of sustained success.

New Zealand used off-spinner Dipak Patel to open the bowling at the 1992 Cup and burly left-hander Mark Greatbatch, the prototype pinch hitter, to open the batting.

Greatbatch's role was refined at the 1996 World Cup by the altogether more accomplished Sanath Jayasuriya as Sri Lanka chased and overhauled totals that would have previously been deemed out of reach. Stocky, powerful with quick hand and eye co-ordination, Jayasuriya flayed the ball during the early fielding restrictions.

On the slow Indian sub-continent pitches, Sri Lanka brought spinners into the play with Muttiah Muralitharan backed up by Jayasuriya's quickish left-arm and Aravinda de Silva's flat off-spin.

Muralitharan and Australian Shane Warne had revived the vanished art of spin in Test cricket and it was by now clear that a class spinner could hold his own in one-day cricket.

Today Australia set the pace, having won the 1999 and 2002 World Cups and, despite recent reverses, are favourites to complete a hat-trick in the Caribbean.

Under Steve Waugh, they deliberately upped the run rate in test cricket. With Ricky Ponting in charge they are setting new targets in one-day cricket.

Australia concentrate on performing the basics correctly.

American baseballer Mike Young has further refined the fielding skills, the bowlers keep tight lines and the batsman, who have glimpsed new possibilities from Twenty20 cricket, are upping the ante.

''Big, strong blokes, hitting the ball,'' said Ponting. ''The game is changing.''


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