Cricket might have received its razzmatazz in the truest form decades later, clear hints around the same were pretty much evident during the World Series Cricket played between 1977-1979.
The tournament might not have lived long but encapsulated all the contemporary facets of cricket especially that of the T20 leagues being played around the world.
From players ditching national duties to novel tinkering with the rules of the game to drop-in pitches, World Series Cricket encompassed all the ingredients of a modern-day successful T20 league.
Commenced in the Australian summer of 1977, the multi-format tournament went on till 1979 before being called-off only to never resume again. Having said that, the tournament ditched the age-old notion of cricket not being a marketable sport and ended up providing ideas to administrators with respect to improving the finances of the sport.
The first season of World Series Cricket comprised of three primary teams in WSC Australia XI, WSC West Indies XI and WSC World XI. WSC Cavaliers XI joined as the fourth team in the second season of the tournament.
Kerry Packer World Series Cricket 1977-79
Kerry Packer was an Australia Media tycoon whose family owned a controlling interest in the Nine Television Network (commonly known as Channel Nine).
Australian Cricket Board (ACB) refusing Nine Network’s bid to gain exclusive Television rights for Australia’s Test matches in 1976 formed a primary reason behind the coming together of World Series Cricket. In a bid to entice the cricketing audiences to his channel, Packer secretly signed agreements with some of the leading cricketers of that time.
The probability of earning more money in a limited time period made Packer successful in signing plentiful sought after names of that period even when there wasn’t anything concrete planned about the tournament.
The then West Indies captain Clive Lloyd had laid emphasis on “clearly earning a more comfortable source of income” in an interview with Sydney Gazette.
World Series Cricket 1977-79 formats and venues
MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club), who have the copyrights of all cricket rules, denied to allow Packer to use the existing naming in cricket to the extent that the days match couldn’t be classed a “Test match”.
As a result, days matches in Packer’s World Series were called “Supertests”. While the Supertests followed the general rules in cricket, the format of the limited-overs matches were intriguing. Only 40 overs were bowled in an innings. However, each over contained as many as eight deliveries.
As far as the venues were concerned, it was improbable for Packer to conduct the tournament at international Test venues. It was due to the same reason that Packer leased two Australian rules football stadiums – VFL Park in Melbourne and Football Park in Adelaide.
With both the stadiums not being quintessential cricket stadiums, Packer introduced the concept of drop-in pitches. Renowned Gabba curator John Maley was the one who initiated the concept on Packer’s behalf as he was hired for the World Series Cricket.
World Series Cricket’s Contribution
While one can argue that the tournament didn’t last for more than two seasons and that players were back playing regularly for their country, there is no hiding to the fact that World Series Cricket contributed to the game in more ways than just one.
Coloured kits, protective helmets, field restrictions and day-night cricket, all of which are pretty common things in modern-day cricket were all pioneered during the World Series Cricket.
Fitness, which has become a must during these times of the sport being played throughout the year, also gained awareness during the World Series Cricket for the players were required to play a lot of matches during a limited window.
That being said, the biggest positive coming out from the tournament was the belief that the sport can be marketed successfully to gain affirmative results as far as the commerce was concerned.
The tournament might not have made a lot of money back in the day primarily because of it being ahead of its time but it did affect the business of ACB and some other Australian states which eventually saw the exclusive rights deal happening between the cricket board and Channel Nine.