Monday, 20 August 2012

Howzat! Kerry Packer's War from a Kid's Perspective.


Kerry Packer's War from a Kid's Perspective.


Owen Zupp

There were a couple of advantages to being born in the mid-1960s. Firstly, you were able to get a handle on the Metric system before feet and inches had been firmly burnt into your brain and secondly, you were a young teenager when World Series Cricket exploded onto the scene.

When the news broke of the WSC signings, it was May of 1977 and the Australian cricket team were on tour in England. For me, that meant listening to the broadcast on my radio which was slipped beneath my pillow, willing Doug Walters to achieve that elusive first century on English soil. Doug played for our local club, Cumberland, when he wasn't on representative duties and I would ride my bike to catch a glimpse of the boy from Dungog. Now I listened intently with fingers crossed as the school day loomed only hours away.

When Doug returned to Australia, he had still yet to record a Test century in England, but that was a mere sub-paragraph compared to the real story of World Series Cricket. As WSC set about establishing its competition, the Australian Cricket Board busily began building an Australian Test team without the vast majority of its key players. As both camps bullied for position, they also pro-actively sought the support of the general public and specifically, the youth.

World Series Cricket led the way with a slick marketing campaign on the back of their theme song, "C'mon Aussie C'mon". There were caps and badges, autograph books and board games, free tickets and coaching clinics. Not to be outdone, the 'Establishment' ramped up their bid for an audience and followed suit with giveaways and personal appearances by the players.

In an era when the extent of sporting paraphernalia was 'Footy Cards' or the jersey of your favourite team, now entire shelves at supermarkets were crammed with offerings. Cans of fruit had labels to collect and every newspaper had a competition of some form. As a kid it was a wonderland and I personally attended coaching clinics from both sides of the cricketing divide.

I would watch Sheffield Shield matches and chat with the new generation of Test players like Peter Toohey, but similarly when WSC night cricket came to the SCG, I was there too; including that famous first night when there was standing room only. Those night games were particularly magical. At the end of a school day, I would jump on a train and then 'leg it' to the ground from Central Railway Station while the masses queued for buses. 

I can still recall sitting in the top deck of the Noble Stand when Tony Greig lofted an on-drive straight at my Adam's Apple. Fingers pointed up, I was certain that ball was mine until it faded and fell short. Or the night when Hookesy was cheered to the wicket by 50,000 voices, only to be dismissed cheaply and lamented all the way back to the pavilion by the same 50,000 voices in a lowered tone.

You were free to wander around the sacred Member's Stand and mingle with the players after the match. I spoke to Richie Benaud about the ground at North Parramatta that bears his name and Viv Richards about that 'S-S' bat. One evening, the usually 'forthright' Ian Chappell took some time out and let two of us walk into the front of the Member's and pointed out various aspects the Australian change room through glass. It was a fantastic public relations exercise one that is still with me thirty five years later.

For the game it was a time of upheaval, but as a kid it was a golden age. Now many of my mementoes of that time are dusted off and set to be displayed at the International Cricket Hall of Fame's upcoming WSC exhibition. Once commonplace, these pieces now speak of a time past when cricket fought its own revolution and the face of the game changed forever. However, undoubtedly it is the memories that remain with me the strongest and as I watch my own children grow, there are a whole new set of memories just waiting to be captured.

...and maybe that's another reason 'Why Cricket Matters'.

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