Kerry Packer hosts a press conference at the Dorchester Hotel in London shortly after the news of World Series Cricket broke in 1977
Kerry Packer hosts a press conference at the Dorchester Hotel in London shortly after the news of World Series Cricket broke in 1977
How a little-known meeting between the two most influential men in Australian cricket changed the game's landscape
One Saturday morning in early 1996, Ray Martin's phone rang. On the other end was Kerry Packer, Australia's richest man, bearing good tidings for his television network's most bankable personality. During a trip to Adelaide, Packer had secured for Martin and Channel Nine what would be the last television interview with Sir Donald Bradman.
In his memoir Stories of My Life, Martin explained that despite their enormous influence on the game, Packer and Bradman had never previously met. "Each man thought the other hated him," Martin wrote, "because of the war that erupted over Packer's World Series Cricket in the 1970s." But when Packer and a mutual friend, Bob Mansfield, called into Bradman's Holden Street address in Adelaide's Kensington Park, the meeting quickly became, in Mansfield's words to Martin, an "absolute bloody love-in". A deal was done for the interview to be accompanied by a A$1 million telethon to help finish the Bradman Museum in Bowral.
"So Kerry, how was it? Did you enjoy meeting the Don?" Martin asked.
"I loved it, son," Packer replied. "It was truly one of the greatest days of my life. He had answers for everything. Now listen, son. I promised him, when the show is cut and before we put it on air, he can have a look at it. I told him that if he doesn't like it, for any reason, then we'll burn the bastard. Okay? So don't f*** it up, son."
Martin and his production partner Peter Wynne duly headed to Adelaide, and filmed over two days with Bradman and his wife Jessie the interviews that became the television special Don Bradman, 87 Not Out. Bradman had no need to utilise his option of final cut. It was a reverent piece of work, typical of the industry that expanded around Bradman's legend in the 1990s. Martin tried to cover as much ground as possible, but like so many others left much unsaid and less understood.
It's not hard to imagine Packer, as the jet closed in on Bradman's turf, muttering to himself: Don't f*** it up
Martin went over familiar territory, whether this was due to what Gideon Haigh has called the "deferential incuriosity" around Bradman, or the overwhelming weight of a visual document on the game's greatest batsman. He wasn't to know that in speaking to Bradman and Packer, he was a question or two away from a meeting of which little is known - well and truly a secret while both men were alive. Packer's enthusiasm for Bradman was genuine, but his depiction of their "first meeting" was not quite accurate.
Seventeen years earlier, on February 13, 1979, Packer had risen earlier than usual, and driven out from his family's Bellevue Hill compound in Sydney to Kingsford Smith Airport. Boarding his private jet, Packer settled in for a journey shorter than most he had taken over the preceding two years. The destination was Adelaide and a meeting with Bradman, in which they hoped to broker the peace at the end of the war that World Series Cricket (WSC) had sparked.
Cricket's eyes and ears were uniformly elsewhere: Packer's WSC Australians were packing their bags for the West Indies, while the establishment side led by Graham Yallop was contemplating a 5-1 Ashes series defeat from the glum vantage point of a rest day in Sydney. Thoughts of a compromise seemed far-fetched. In the considered opinion of Peter McFarline, who with Alan Shiell had broken the WSC story in 1977, the game's split would be enduring. "So the battle raged on," McFarline wrote in the closing passage of A Testing Time. "It will do so, I believe, for some years yet, as both sides go their separate ways. And the game of cricket will continue to suffer injury."
Like many others, McFarline reckoned without the power and influence of Bradman and Packer. Healing and dealmaking were on Packer's mind as the pilot swung south-west, over the bushfires ravaging much of country New South Wales that day. Though he never admitted it to anyone but close confidants such as Tony Greig, Packer wanted to put the WSC fire out as much as anyone. It's not hard to imagine him, as the jet closed in on Bradman's turf, muttering to himself that same phrase he offered Martin years later: Don't f*** it up.
Back at Packer's Sydney headquarters, Lynton Taylor alone knew where his boss was headed. As chairman and managing director of WSC, he was working assiduously at plans for season three, but also hoped for news of a compromise. Taylor was originally hired by Sir Frank Packer (Kerry's father) in television programming and acquisitions, before taking a progressively greater role in WSC's affairs. David Frith, who met Taylor in early 1979, described him for the Guardian: "Solemn without being unpersonable, open-faced, forty-fiveish, quietly dressed, he speaks measuredly and stands for discipline, organisation in all he says and by his every gesture."
The venue: Bradman's home on Holden Street, Adelaide, where he and Kerry Packer met in February 1979
© Aaron Owen
The venue: Bradman's home on Holden Street, Adelaide, where he and Kerry Packer met in February 1979 © Aaron Owen
Even as Packer flew, the season's plans were across Taylor's desk. In addition to West Indies and the World XI, a full Pakistan team was mooted, and so too was a significant Indian contingent. Sunil Gavaskar, India's then captain, had not only met Taylor but also facilitated talks with others in the team.
"Between them they were the six top players of the time in India, and basically we agreed terms and conditions for them to join us the following year," Taylor told the Cricket Monthly. "The likelihood is, we would have had a Pakistani team included and then the World XI would be made up of the South Africans, the English and the Indians."
The status of the Indian players takes on greater importance in view of the Australian Cricket Board's (ACB) tentative programme for 1979-80 - another visit by India, following the relatively successful series of 1977-78. Had a compromise not been reached, the likely scenario was for a gutted Indian touring party competing parallel to Gavaskar and company under the WSC banner. More publicised at the time was the threat of a series played in England to ambush the 1979 World Cup.
Nevertheless Packer and the ACB had circled each other for some weeks. At first the ACB's frontmen Bob Parish and Ray Steele did not seem open to discussion. They tried to negotiate but existing ill feeling clouded a meeting with Taylor and fellow WSC official John Cornell, and then Parish's next conversation with Packer. Parish's notes, reproduced in Gideon Haigh and David Frith's Inside Story: Unlocking Australian Cricket's Archives, related a bullish exchange: "Money is no object and KP is certain he can buy the best of our players even if, in some instances, he may have to wait two or three years. Cricket is only three per cent of his business and the net profits of the company have increased yearly."
Successive biographers have more or less ignored Bradman's role in WSC and the peace that followed
Eventually Packer concluded that the most effective means of progress was to go around Parish and Steele and deal with Bradman directly. He had a valuable board contact in the New South Wales (NSW) chairman Tim Caldwell, who also happened to be a senior executive with the Bank of NSW - Packer's bank. Caldwell promised to arrange a meeting, on condition of total secrecy.
It was something of a gamble. "We really had no idea where he stood, other than we knew he was the only one who could have any influence on Parish and Steele," Taylor says. "This all happened really quickly, it didn't happen over an extended period. Kerry was the only person who took part in the discussions with Caldwell to bring the meeting together, and he only confided in me after the meeting had been established. I assume his concern was, if it didn't happen he'd have egg on his face."
Packer had already outlined his prescient views on sport's true commercial value coming from television. As he watched the establishment XI collapse once more to the English in the sixth Test in Sydney, he explained to Alan Lee (who published the conversation in 1979's A Pitch In Both Camps) that TV, not gate receipts, was the way forward. "… The crowds at the ground are of secondary importance. Certainly it's great when they come, but it's television that counts."
Critically, he also offered some of the most conciliatory words since the start of WSC. "If we were to have a meeting at some stage," he told the Age on February 6, "I think it's everybody's responsibility to go in with an absolutely open mind as to what the compromise should be. Any compromise must be satisfactory to both parties and be of benefit to the game."
So Taylor waited patiently in his office, in hope as much as expectation.
According to most Bradman hagiography, the events of 1979 took place after his days in the game were over. Successive biographers have more or less ignored his role in WSC and the peace that followed, speaking of his declining health and his wish to withdraw from public life. This blind spot extended beyond books to numerous friends, particularly those in England. WSC had no more strident a critic than Doug Insole, head of the English board during the Packer crisis.
Packer's men: the WSC Australian team at St Kilda Football Ground in 1977
© Fairfax Media via Getty Images
Packer's men: the WSC Australian team at St Kilda Football Ground in 1977 © Fairfax Media via Getty Images
In Remembering Bradman, Insole told the author Margaret Geddes:
The Don never really put his head above the parapet in the Packer thing. He was concerned I think - well I don't think, I know - about possible legal action as a member of the board and although he was massively, vitriolically against, he didn't actually say so publicly. I think he saw himself as the pivotal figure, and that anything that he said would be massively more important than what anybody else said.
There was a rather more revealing tone struck in one of Bradman's last exchanges with Rohan Rivett, editor of the News in Adelaide. In letters reproduced in The Private Don: Don Bradman on cricket, investment, politics, the media, family and friends, Bradman wrote initially that "Packer's circus will fail". He went on to suggest a couple of editorial lines for Rivett to follow. "It is a pity that the whole truth of how well the players are doing cannot be told. One is not privy to the knowledge of the tax commissioner, but the stars like Lillee and co (who cry poor mouth) have undoubtedly been making enormous money by any standard."
Bradman's personal opposition to a professionalised game contributed to the curdling of numerous relationships. Apart from his oft-noted confrontations with Ian Chappell, there was the cooling of a long-time friendship with Richie Benaud, who had swung his considerable presence behind WSC.
Greg Chappell also felt the ice of Bradman's displeasure during correspondence following the 1977 Ashes. Chappell charged Bradman with instructing the tour management to be as unhelpful as possible to the WSC members of the touring party. The following response (published in Greg Chappell: The Biography) duly arrived in Chappell's Brisbane letter box:
Your own experience should make you realise that because of my prominence as an ex-player and administrator, the press sometimes tend to attribute matters to me when in fact I am in no way responsible and I am grossly misrepresented. This is a cross which unfortunately I've had to bear longer than you have been on this earth. It should obtain your understanding and not be used as a stick to beat me with.
Whatever Bradman thought of his own capacity to determine events, it is not difficult to establish his true influence at the time. While no longer chairman of the ACB, he joined Parish and Caldwell in forming the three-man Emergency Committee, convened for sharper discussions when the unwieldy 14-man board could not be summoned. "They," the former NSW administrator Bob Radford said in Remembering Bradman, "were really the big three in Australian cricket." Bradman's word was seldom anything but the final one.
Packer hosted executives and others with shoes off and feet up on the desk, grunting, bellowing or finding a register in between
This was the case even when Bradman took positions to surprise and occasionally confound fellow directors. At the ACB's annual meeting in September 1977, as the full force of Packer's legal and commercial machinery was crashing about their heads, Bradman spoke with a level of pragmatism that would have shocked Greg Chappell or Insole. The minutes, reproduced in Inside Story, state that Bradman "felt that the Board should remain with the ABC for the next year, but that the time had come for discussions on the question of exclusive rights" - which was exactly what Packer wanted.
Most surprising of all, at least to the board, was that Bradman entertained discussions with WSC representatives about the use of Adelaide Oval itself, potentially with the installation of floodlights (he was on the ground and finance committee of the South Australian Cricket Association, which had also elected to use the ground for rock concerts to help raise revenue). Terms discussed included a daily fee of $6000 to use the ground on nine playing dates in late December 1978. In The Cricket Revolution, Eric Beecher called this "a little like Hitler asking Churchill for use of British airstrips during World War Two".
Ultimately these plans fell through, as Packer lost interest in staging matches outside the more lucrative and better populated eastern states. But it left a distinct impression that Bradman was someone who might be dealt with. While he expressed harsh sentiments about the players and Packer to his friends, he did not take the risk of doing so publicly. Where many have interpreted this as not wanting to get involved, perhaps it was a case of keeping options open.
What must Packer have been thinking on the half-hour drive from Adelaide Airport to Bradman's house? He was about to meet the greatest batsman of them all, but needed also to reach a deal. Packer's love for sport was enormous, and he always carried a certain sense of reverence for those who had represented Australia. Asked once by Ray Martin whether he would have "given anything" to play for Australia, he replied, "Absolutely."
Martin pressed further: "In what sport?"
Packer said: "Anything. Marbles."
So the vast figure who knocked at Bradman's door was not just the rival in a conflict that had torn the game asunder. He was equally a man with a deep love of sport and an admiration for its best practitioners. Bradman had also been a former employee of the family. Robert Clyde Packer, Kerry's grandfather, had prevailed upon Bradman to accept a financial offer to remain in Australia rather than taking up a lucrative club cricket contract in England. Subsequently, Packer senior compelled Bradman to give up writing for his newspapers in order to avert a confrontation with the board and play in the Bodyline series. There was other common ground, of a more personal nature: both Packer and Bradman's son, John, had endured polio as children.
South Africa's Graeme Pollock signed with Packer at a time when his country was in the midst of sporting isolation. Players were offered sums their cricket boards could never afford
© Getty Images
South Africa's Graeme Pollock signed with Packer at a time when his country was in the midst of sporting isolation. Players were offered sums their cricket boards could never afford © Getty Images
Typically, guests at Bradman's home were ushered into the front lounge, with its decor little changed since the Second World War. As Jessie offered tea and biscuits, Bradman and Packer addressed their primary concern. Of the meeting, ACB minutes recorded simply: "February 13, 1979, Packer met Bradman in Adelaide."
Slightly fuller accounts have since emerged. In Remembering Bradman, Parish recalled:
When we did get to the stage of looking at a compromise, Mr Packer went across to Adelaide and spent about an hour with Don. When he came back I saw him [Packer] and he had a definite view that the ACB should control the game, provided he could get an agreement in regard to television.
Richie Benaud gave this account at a lunch held at the Bradman Museum in 2013:
When he got down there, Kerry put it to Don that the cricket establishment should completely take over. There wasn't any doubt that World Series Cricket had won, Don said 'that's correct', and Kerry said 'I want to give back to you and the people you represent, every part of the game that we have at the moment, and I want you to run it as you always have done. I will have the television rights, which I've been trying to get for quite some time'. Don said 'ok, there is a meeting of the Board in three days' time. It will be done.
The meeting lasted a couple of hours. "But I think from the conversations I had with Kerry about it," Taylor says, "the agreement to bring everything together took about five minutes, and the rest of it they talked about themselves, the history with Sir Frank Packer and everything else to do with cricket."
Packer left Bradman with the assurance that the ACB would administer the game, and Bradman left Packer with his guarantee that the deal for television rights and promotion of the game would not stumble at the ACB. The circumstances arrayed in front of both made their meeting and agreement logical, but it was still an extraordinary turnaround. They had acted in advance of public opinion, and well before many thought rapprochement was possible.
There may have been one other reason for the haste, a theory advanced by Greg Chappell after past conversations with the former board chairman Phil Ridings, among others. "Basically the board lawyers told them that directors would be personally liable for any further costs," Chappell told the Cricket Monthly. "Once they'd spent the board's money and went into debt they would be liable for it. That was a catalyst for somebody, and I have a fair idea who, to speak to the board chairman Bob Parish and say, 'You'd better get up to Sydney and have a talk to Kerry.'"
Chappell's theory is given credence by David Richards, the former ACB chief executive whose knowledge of the board's structure was such that when first appointed executive director in 1980, he would have the task of reshaping the ACB into a fully incorporated body. Had the board gone further into debt, Richards told the Cricket Monthly, then liability would have fallen upon the state associations. Of these, SACA and the Western Australia Cricket Association (WACA) had most to lose because their substantial membership bases and subscriptions were tied directly to the association itself, whereas in NSW and Victoria that revenue stream flowed into the coffers of the SCG Trust and the Melbourne Cricket Club. Bradman would never allow himself to be the man who sent the SACA broke.
The crowded hour at Bradman's home would reverberate for years afterwards. The peace treaty gave Packer and Channel Nine a rich controlling stake in the game
Even if things had not yet reached that juncture, the board and its state associations were in a dire state. The ACB's balance sheet for mid-1979 would show losses of $35,748.42, which included 48 baggy green caps valued at a total price of $648. The Australian badge had undoubtedly been devalued, and it was to be a telling item of the subsequent deal that the emergent WSC logo was retained as a recognisable trademark from the era.
The crowded hour at Bradman's home would reverberate for years afterwards. The peace treaty gave Packer and Channel Nine a rich controlling stake in the game for the next decade and more, even as the ACB retained theoretical control. Exactly how much would become clearer once Packer's jet made its approach back to Sydney.
Packer's third-floor office on 54 Park Street was bedecked with paintings of an enormous bull elephant and a lion rampant. He hosted executives and others with his shoes off and feet up on the desk, grunting, bellowing or finding a register in between to manage affairs of the day and deals of the future. The experience of waiting for Packer in the anteroom was enlivened by a third painting, of dogs tearing a sheep to shreds. Sometimes this unsettling sight was accompanied by the sound of a verbal excoriation from the other side of the door.
That day, though, Taylor was not to find his boss in an angry mood. Some five hours after departing for Adelaide, Packer had glad tidings on return. Taylor remembered an exchange not dissimilar to Ray Martin's in 1996, as Packer the dealmaker competed with Packer the cricket lover. After regaling Taylor with the story of the day, Packer got down to business.
"We'd come to an agreement in principle through that meeting to work through a full agreement as to how it would operate," Taylor says. "But at that meeting there were no details. All Bradman needed to do was to get his committee and then the full board to agree that the discussions could take place and an agreement [be] reached.
"[Packer] said to me, 'You're going to be our representative on this committee of five with Parish, Steele, Tim Caldwell and Bradman, the only requirement I have is long-term television rights.' That was the last time Kerry had anything to do with the negotiations, because he then said to me, 'You've got to meet with Parish and Steele and get a deal done. I've agreed, we've shaken hands,' and he laid down four or five criteria that were essential to him."
David Richards, who had been on ACB subcommittees on television rights in the '70s, went on to become the ICC's first CEO
© Getty Images
David Richards, who had been on ACB subcommittees on television rights in the '70s, went on to become the ICC's first CEO © Getty Images
These included securing the rights to broadcast cricket in Australia, and the rights to broadcast Australia's away commitments, for a period beyond the short two- or three-year deals that were then commonplace. Other conditions included the handing over of administrative control to the ACB, and the splitting of revenue based on the idea that WSC - shortly to be renamed Publishing and Broadcasting Limited Marketing (PBL) - would promote the game in a way that was beyond the board's capabilities. It was also essential that no WSC player be prejudiced against in future selection discussions.
When Parish next met Taylor on February 23, the impact of Bradman's meeting with Packer was evident, as Taylor offered to shut down all rival cricketing activity. After first stating that the ACB wished to regain control of running the game, Parish added that it would be difficult to do so without a morass of legal issues. In Inside Story his notes record Taylor's unexpected reply:
LT appreciated the legal problems and then surprised me by saying that they, too, believed that cricket would be better controlled and run by the various cricket boards and that they believed that Test cricket should be the ultimate and with the current division the image of Test cricket could be irreparably damaged… Because of this, WSC were prepared to pay out all their players, honour all their obligations and close activities as cricket promoters. They would do this if the Board was prepared to enter into a long-term contract (say 10 years) to allow the WSC Channel Nine organisation to televise, market, arrange sponsors and generally promote ACB cricket.
So there the ACB had it. Packer would allow cricket to return to its custodians in exchange for an effective monopoly over its television and commercial affairs. Taylor worked with Packer's lawyer John Kitto to add detail to these basic terms, and by February 28 had his proposal in firm enough form to submit it to the board's committee. Alongside Harry Chester, Packer's deputy chairman, Taylor met Parish, Steele, Caldwell and Bradman in Sydney, where the WSC/PBL "wish list" was unveiled.
Taylor remembers his proposal being pulled together as something of an ambit claim. His ideas for revenue-sharing included the appointment of PBL Marketing as the commercial agent for the ACB for a period of ten years - with the option of another five - to secure sponsorship and broadcast deals. This meant that a Packer-run company would decide who broadcast cricket in Australia, leaving potential bidders incredulous at the possibility of winning out over Channel Nine. Guaranteed minimum amounts of money would be passed on to the board, and a little extra - $150,000 a season - tipped in when profits did not reach a $1 million threshold. But any extra revenues went to PBL.
"Don said very succinctly, 'I don't care what we have to give away to get this deal done, I want it done.' Now that's not a very good thing to say at the first set of negotiations, but he was adamant that he wanted the deal done"
If these terms sound harsh, Taylor stressed that he had expected some debate, some give and take. That there was not had a great deal to do with Bradman. "That meeting lasted about an hour and a half," Taylor says. "I gave them a list of requirements, a two- or three-page document, for us to settle. The meeting went back and forwards about what was likely to be agreed and what wasn't. I said, 'You have my conditions, it's up to you to consider.'
"At that point, Don said very succinctly, 'I don't care what we have to give away to get this deal done, I want it done.' Now that's not a very good thing to say at the first set of negotiations, but he was adamant that he wanted the deal done... pretty simple attitude, but typical of the Don as I came to realise in the meetings I sat in subsequently with him after we'd done the deal.
"I knew then basically we could get what we wanted. So I didn't give in on anything, and that's why it's not something one would normally say. But he was doing it totally in good faith in the interests of cricket. I still think the deal we did was in the interests of cricket. We did provide the board with more income than they'd ever had before."
For Bradman, the guaranteed minimums settled any doubts. The board and the state associations would indeed have more money than before. This seemed a reasonable buffer against market fluctuations, and did not appear to tie the ACB to PBL's profits or lack thereof. For a career stockbroker who experienced the Great Depression, as Bradman had, it made sense. But Bradman and the board had little idea of exactly how much money could be derived from a commercialised game, particularly from television.
A major absentee in the process was Richards, one of the few board men Packer and Taylor thought capable. First employed by the Victorian Cricket Association (VCA) as secretary, he had been involved in ACB subcommittees on television rights while also helping to market the successful international summers of 1974-75 and 1975-76 for the VCA. During the WSC years he coordinated a national marketing campaign. Three times he was approached to join WSC as general manager and three times he declined. Instead, Richards continued to work assiduously for the VCA, and one January morning in 1979 was standing on a chair to change the TV channel in the viewing room at the MCG. It slipped, he fell and cracked his sternum, necessitating a six-week sick leave. So while early talks went on, Richards convalesced with his family in the small Mornington Peninsula beach town of Merricks. He had only the occasional phone conversation with Parish.
"I was out of action for the whole of February and into early March," he told the Cricket Monthly. "In that period I'm sure there were heavy negotiations going on between members of the Emergency Committee and Lynton Taylor in particular." When Richards returned, the basics of the deal were settled, and he was not to have any influence over the finer print either - he was immediately occupied by the task of managing Australia's 1979 World Cup campaign. He returned to a vastly changed landscape, and would eventually get to know Taylor's capacity to drive a hard bargain.
While Bradman himself was deprecatory about his influence on administrative matters, it was true that his word was seldom anything but the final one
© Getty Images
While Bradman himself was deprecatory about his influence on administrative matters, it was true that his word was seldom anything but the final one © Getty Images
"Lynton was a very good and capable businessman who would not give much ground in those circumstances. The bottom line is that the deal did mean all the states were better off than they had been previously. From the position we were in after the second season of WSC, it was understandable that they accepted the terms on offer."
There were still a few hiccups before the deal evolved into the peace treaty. Government scepticism about its anti-competitive elements was to be the cause of numerous hurried visits to Canberra by both parties, and on March 2, Caldwell related to the board Chester's concern that neither party should be taking "ANY RISKS AT ALL" in finalising matters. As it was, Packer's relationships with government at state and federal levels were enough to smooth a path. Jim Thynne, of the legal firm of Allens Arthur Robinson, was largely responsible for the fine print. Essentially this entailed drafting two agreements: a version to be seen by the Trade Practices Commission and another, more expansive version kept under lock and key with the ACB and PBL.
All that then remained was the formality of documentation from Channel Nine expressing interest in television rights, and the board's response in acceptance. The new paradigm was to be summed up with some bitterness by those now on the outer, namely Talbot Duckmanton, the ABC's general manager and to that point an ally in the board's fight against Packer. "I asked for the opportunity to discuss our proposals further with the board before a final decision was made to accept an offer from a commercial network," he told his staff in a memo circulated around the public broadcaster. "I was not given that opportunity."
The angst was no surprise. One element of the deal was that ABC was required to pay PBL a yearly fee of $1 million for the rights to broadcast cricket to regional areas that Channel Nine could not reach. A year after Duckmanton's retirement in 1982, the ABC adopted Bradman's Test average as its post office box number. They had the odd chuckle about that at 54 Park Street.
At the public announcement of the deal on May 30, Taylor was asked to express his view about who had won the war. "I don't think either side won," he said. "I think the game of cricket won. It is peace with honour." Privately Packer's lieutenants were far more triumphalist. Greig would tell friends later that Packer's famous line about the deal by which he sold his television network for a billion dollars to the businessman Alan Bond only to buy it back three years later for a quarter of the price ("You only get one Alan Bond in your life and I've had mine") was not quite true - he had the ACB as well.
Having dropped their cups of tea in unison when WSC first emerged in 1977, the other cricket nations were flabbergasted to read of a partnership only a matter of weeks after the two parties had been in such dispute. Wisden noted acidly:
"The feeling in many quarters was that when the Australian Board first found Packer at their throats, the rest of the cricket world had supported them to the hilt; even to the extent of highly expensive court cases which cricket could ill afford. Now, when it suited Australia, they had brushed their friends aside to meet their own ends."
Had they known about some of the specifics of the deal, they may well have stepped up their criticism. While the ACB was to be delivered annual dividends rising from $1.3 million in 1979-80 to $1.86 million in 1988-89, plus 50% of all profits from merchandising rights, this was but a fraction of what PBL/Channel Nine expected to pull in. Greig's son Mark wrote in Tony Greig: Love, War and Cricket that while two years of WSC had cost $34 million to run, this sum was comfortably recouped within the next two.
"I loved it, son. It was truly one of the greatest days of my life"
Profits mounted even though PBL was now responsible for paying fees to touring nations. Packer's fondness for West Indies was to be shown in frequent invitations: the best team in the world toured Australia in six of the next ten seasons.
"What nobody realises is, we funded between 60-80% of all the tours in those first ten years," Taylor says. "In other words the West Indies wanted more money, the English wanted more money, and PBL put that money in so the board didn't have to put it all up. Yes, we were getting a very good income from the rights we'd negotiated, but we did put an enormous amount of money back in to pay the teams that came to Australia."
With PBL's help, the board was expected to secure at least two touring teams per summer, enough to allow a schedule that was a rough approximation of the old WSC model - six Tests and up to 20 ODIs. At the same time, Parish and Steele battled to justify their dramatically changed stance to the ICC and the English board, who were now being asked to tour alongside West Indies for Tests and ODIs in the first summer after the deal. Refusal to put the Ashes on the line for a series of only three Tests summed up English resentment.
"I was taking a pragmatic view. This is the way the landscape was, and part of my job through my time with the ACB was to ensure we delivered the programme of cricket we'd contracted to do," Richards says. "That varied from relatively easy to almost impossible, but it happened right through the period."
Coloured clothing was another clause the English opposed, leading to the bizarre sight of Australia and West Indies initially appearing in compromise white uniforms that featured vestigial coloured piping on arms and legs. Not even that placated Insole and the captain, Mike Brearley, so England wore their traditional whites with the exception of coloured pads. Such traditionalism had been expected from Bradman, yet when Parish asked if he had any concerns, he responded: "Why should I? The Pinks played the Blues in Sydney in 1892."
What Bradman and the board had achieved was a deal that both guaranteed and limited the scope of cricket as a business. Players would be better paid, but within limits. The ACB would grow over the next ten years, but it would remain a contained organisation that battled to contend with the growing demands of players and a decade of inflation. Having overseen the arrival of the peace treaty, Bradman elected to move on. When the board met for its first annual meeting since the deal, Bradman offered his resignation as a director, ending nearly continuous service over 30 years.
Greg Chappell sums up the change in the game over the subsequent Australian summers in a simple way - by reciting how much cricket he was playing before, during and after WSC. In 1976-77, he played 42 days, including two one-day matches. Wearing the WSC cap, he played 44 and 43 days over two seasons, with a higher proportion of one-day matches. After WSC, Chappell was confronted with a schedule that felt a lot like serving two masters.
Australia's rebel tour to South Africa in 1985-86, led by Kim Hughes (right) came about after some players were unhappy at not being able to secure better contracts
© Associated Press
Australia's rebel tour to South Africa in 1985-86, led by Kim Hughes (right) came about after some players were unhappy at not being able to secure better contracts © Associated Press
In 1979-80, Chappell's calendar featured 46 days of long-form cricket and ten one-day matches. The following summer he played 62 days of Test and first-class cricket and 18 one-day games. In the space of five seasons, the playing demands on him had nearly doubled, though the season itself had not expanded.
Professionalism hit Australia's cricketers hard. Where once they imagined themselves playing and practising more like golfers, they found the new deal not unlike a sweatshop. Rather than push himself further, Chappell chose to partially withdraw. He did not venture to England for the 1981 Ashes, heralding an unhappy period of shared captaincy with Kim Hughes, the establishment's choice as leader over Rod Marsh. When he retired in 1984, Marsh remarked that he would have played on had he been given the chance to lead. He also remained adamant that his WSC affiliation had shunted him behind Hughes in the leadership stakes.
Marsh's duel with Hughes was emblematic of the ACB's fight to maintain control of the game, in an environment where Taylor and PBL's general manager Tony Skelton had an enormous amount of financial clout. They were aided by the fact that Richards, now the board's executive director, was not inclined to push back. He was greatly impressed by the professionalism of PBL and Channel Nine, and saw little point in disputing a deal set in stone for at least a decade. Incredibly, one of Richards' battles was to successfully secure the ACB's rights to its own logo, the mirror-image batsman emblem dreamed up by PBL to complement the WSC ball and stumps.
PBL's expanding influence was reflected in an attempt to gain control of junior cricket, a concept championed by Taylor and, from the board, Caldwell. Having served as a link between Packer and Bradman, Caldwell now advocated a scheme whereby PBL would bankroll Australian youth programmes, to the value of $300,000 and more. Barry Knight, a mentor to Allan Border and latterly Packer's son James, was put forward as a potential director. But PBL's intentions were as much about branding as about the identification of future Bradmans.
"He [Taylor] said that Mr Packer was concerned with his image in cricket and despite efforts to alter this, was not succeeding," Caldwell is reported as saying in ACB minutes reproduced in Inside Story. "It was generally reported that everything that goes wrong with cricket was due to PBL influencing the ACB. If PBL were seen as good people behind the promotion of youth cricket, this may solve the problem."
Influenced by the opposition of Graham Halbish, a young executive at the time, the ACB filibustered the offer by referring it to various committees. The board then embarked upon its own sponsorship drives, leading to several deals for junior cricket, the first time the ACB had successfully pushed back against Packer since peace broke out.
No longer a part of the ACB, Bradman remained a fixture on SACA's ground and finance committee until 1986, and continued to correspond with administrators around the country. He made sure to stay in touch with the board chairman of the day. One such was Col Egar, chairman between 1989 and 1992, who recalled that often, Bradman's advice was summed up with the words, "Don't spend the money."
In Western Australia, WACA's first general manager, John Rogers, remembered receiving a letter with a similar directive, amid discussions about the installation of lights at the ground. He wondered why things were still so financially tight in this age of commercialised cricket, and in early 1984 set to find out.
PBL had just accepted Channel Nine's renewal of the broadcast deal for three more years, but with the terms of the peace treaty still secret from all but the smallest circle - ACB directors, Richards, Packer, Taylor and their legal teams - few knew where the game stood. Working alongside the seasoned political advisor and investigative journalist Bill Mitchell, Rogers sought details of the deal, and at the same time examined television contracts elsewhere, particularly for sports in the US.
At the end of his research, Rogers produced a report - "Three Proposals for the Advancement of Cricket in Australia" - with chilling findings for the ACB. Rogers estimated that Channel Nine/PBL had extracted somewhere in the region of $134 million in advertising revenue over the first five years since the deal, yet the ACB had seen only about $2 million of that windfall. By way of comparison, MLB and NFL had both negotiated five-year television deals in 1982-83 worth US$1.1 billion and US$2 billion respectively. Moreover, baseball's custodians received around 50% of all money earned through television advertising during matches, much of which flowed through to the players.
Despite these findings, the status quo remained for the term of the deal, for reasons summed up by Richards. "There's no question because of the increased volume of cricket, the popularity of one-day cricket and day-night cricket, every state was much better off," he says. "It then became a moot point whether they could have been two times better off or four times better off, a waste of space as far as I was concerned. There was no point making an argument about it, the deal was done, it was set in stone for ten years and I think Australian cricket prospered. There was one time to sort it all out and that was at the end of the agreement, not before."
Little known outside board circles, Rogers' report deserves to sit alongside the Bodyline cables and the Argus review as vital documents in the story of Australian cricket. For the first time, administrators and board directors were made more aware of what the game was worth, and how television money had so dwarfed the gate money as a source of revenue. As significantly, they were shown the broad sweep of a trend that had left the ACB and state associations increasingly reliant on handouts from PBL. Rogers' report concluded this was not just an issue of finances but control:
Directly, through its promotional role, PBL earns as much from the game as cricket itself. Separately, PBL interests have received TV rights for a peppercorn payment of 1% of annual advertising revenue from cricket telecasts. On present trends, unless action is taken, PBL could be in effective control of top cricket before its contract expires. The ACB has a duty to take action to acquire sufficient control over cricket's total earnings to be sure of effective future control over the game itself.
Never was this more evident than in early 1985. Hughes' captaincy had imploded, leaving a reluctant Border with the job. Despite facing one of the greatest sides in Clive Lloyd's West Indies, Border followed defeat in Adelaide with a scrambled draw in Melbourne and a spin-inspired win in Sydney. Just as he seemed to be pulling a team together, shortly before the start of an Ashes tour the announcement of a rebel tour to South Africa disrupted progress.
James Packer (middle) held the view that his father Kerry treated the ACB harshly
James Packer (middle) held the view that his father Kerry treated the ACB harshly © AFP
Each player was to be paid A$200,000 after tax for two years of touring, far greater than anything they could earn in official cricket. Hughes, Rodney Hogg, Geoff Lawson and others had grappled with the board for improved player contracts ahead of the 1984 West Indies tour, and could not believe the repeated insistence of Richards and others that there was no money once the state associations had taken their annual share. For players generally unencumbered by political sensitivities, there was little hesitation to sit down with Ali Bacher.
When Packer and Taylor got wind of the tour, their response was instructive, and commercialised. Rather than working with the board on a collective solution, the decision was made to focus on salvaging players considered to be of best commercial value, while also safeguarding the future. Graeme Wood, Wayne Phillips (thought to be the most bankable batsmen after Border) and Dirk Welham (an insurance option for the captaincy), who had all signed on for the rebel tour, were approached.
In Cricket Rebels, Chris Harte and Warwick Hadfield outlined the offer they couldn't refuse. "The player's net earnings for the next two years would be deducted from $200,000, with the balance payable to him. Also there would be a minimum five years employment with the Packer organisation, if it was required."
A decision was also made to sign a handful of young players to insulate them against South African overtures. After being identified by Greig, Steve Waugh, Mike Veletta, Dean Jones, Robbie Kerr and Peter Clifford all accepted PBL contracts worth $45,000 over three seasons. For Waugh in particular, this deal and its underlying circumstances would be difficult to forget, especially as the contract allowed him to buy the land on which he built his first home.
"[ACB] always cried poor, citing a need to look after grassroots cricket and saying they were paying us as much as they could afford," Waugh wrote in Out Of My Comfort Zone. "Part of the story might have been true, but their financial situation was fairly and squarely their fault."
Of this commercial cherrypicking, Richards says, "We weren't invited to take a view about that at the time." All he could do was make sure that Halbish, his deputy and eventual successor at the ACB, was left in no doubt about the priority for the next deal in 1994. Television rights were to be separated from marketing rights, and the board was to take back control of how the game was sold to the public - whether PBL liked it or not.
No one knew more intimately how ruthless Packer could be than his son, James. Packer foresaw a sparkling cricket career for his heir, and was intent upon stealing every advantage. Bruce Francis, Barry Knight and Trevor Chappell, among others, coached him at Packer's Sydney home. Having teed up his sibling for the task, Ian Chappell paid a visit one afternoon to see how it was progressing. He watched a session in the compound's personal artificial turf net, which Trevor decided would end with some training against the short ball from a bowling machine.
This contraption had been imported from the US for Packer, whose idea of recreation was to set the machine to its maximum speed - about 120mph - and deal with the projectile. He once demonstrated his prowess to Clive Lloyd, who reflexively declined the offer to have a go himself. As Trevor cued up the speed to around 65mph, to work James up to greater velocities, Ian watched Packer intervene, insisting the machine be cranked up to maximum right away. Both Chappells tried to reason with Packer, Ian arguing it would leave James "scared shitless" of bouncers. Packer insisted, and James was struck several times.
Coloured clothing was another clause the English opposed, leading to the sight of Australia and West Indies initially appearing in compromise white uniforms that featured vestigial coloured piping
By 1990, when Packer bought back Channel Nine, James' cricket had faded but he was growing into a business protégé and partner. He took an interest in the state of the game, spending time with Halbish and the board chairman Alan Crompton. Given his own experiences with his father, it was understandable that James came round to the sympathetic view that the board and players had been treated harshly.
"When Kerry repurchased Nine in 1990, I started preparing the negotiations for the renewal," Taylor says. "It was during that period that James started to get involved. He had this view that Kerry and I had been too hard on the board and should become friends with them. So he basically took over the negotiations, and that's when things started to slip away. Crompton and Halbish started talking to James about the fact I was too tough, they didn't like negotiating with me. That was the end as far as I was concerned."
The ACB's successful operational, sponsorship and marketing effort at the 1992 World Cup also contributed to a growing sense of emancipation. Taylor remained in charge for the following summer, and when Crompton met him to express the board's desire to run its own marketing, he offered a thinly veiled threat, as the minutes of the next meeting, published in Inside Story, showed: "Mr Taylor observed that Nine/PBLM were regarded as one entity re cricket and that if the ACB did not accept that, then Nine would not carry ACB cricket in future, but it would carry cricket."
Richards was aware of Taylor's attitude before his departure, and counselled Halbish to be firm. "The message that was very clearly delivered at that point was that the nexus between a marketing and a television agreement was going to be broken. Lynton wasn't at all happy about that, because I think he was trying to perpetuate the deal that had been done back in 1979. But that's the way it panned out. That's the basis on which Australian cricket is organised these days, has been for a very long time, and the way it should be done."
Subsequent events showed Packer had no desire for another breakaway and Taylor eventually met his Waterloo via the sort of due diligence that reflected how far the board had evolved. With the help of the media rights expert Jim Fitzmaurice, Halbish confirmed that apart from its annual revenue-sharing arrangement, Channel Nine/PBL owed the ACB around $3 million in unpaid rights fees for overseas tours. After getting little response from Taylor, Crompton and Halbish were invited to meet Packer by Channel Nine's managing director David Leckie.
As Crompton said in Inside Story: "Within five minutes he'd come back and told us, 'Tear up that invoice. We'll send you a credit note for the same sum. And by the way, I've just sacked Lynton Taylor.'" When Packer said he would take over talks personally, Halbish pushed back, saying he was already making progress with Leckie. Impressed, Packer gave gruff approval.
Tony Greig (left) played a key role in negotiating with players and getting them to sign with World Series Cricket
© PA Photos
Tony Greig (left) played a key role in negotiating with players and getting them to sign with World Series Cricket © PA Photos
The fruit of their talks was a new deal in March 1994, which lifted the ACB into the sort of comfortable financial position it has enjoyed ever since. The PBL tie was severed, and Channel Nine agreed to pay broadcast rights worth $55 million over five years, while also pledging advertising support. Finally Australian cricket could get a share of the game's revenue commensurate with its value. Finally Australian cricket could determine how it sold and programmed itself. Finally Australia's best players would be paid something comparable to the money available in other national sports.
After returning to Melbourne from the meeting that ended Taylor's years in cricket, Halbish received a call from Leckie, which he recalled in his autobiography Run Out: "Kerry wanted to let you know that he thinks Australian cricket has finally grown some balls."
The new landscape was redrawn swiftly, from the drafting of a new ACB logo and the formulation of the board's first non-PBL advertising and marketing campaigns, to the early planning for a new captain in Mark Taylor. Bradman's legacy, meanwhile, was in the process of being preserved for all time. His museum at Bowral was under construction, but with uncertain funding. During the winter of 1994, Packer and Greig stepped in with an idea - a testimonial match between a Bradman XI and a World XI, under lights at the SCG.
Greig threw himself into the project, assembling a rare collection of luminaries: Brian Lara, Sunil Gavaskar, Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Abdul Qadir, Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell, Jeff Thomson, Doug Walters and David Hookes among them. There were a host of novelties about the day, from the teams playing in baseball kit to the use of a multicoloured ball, to mics on players to enable chatting to the commentators.
Bradman did not attend but had a say in the organisation: he was particularly eager for Lara to play. What he thought when Lara was dismissed by the female allrounder Zoe Goss nobody knows, but he was satisfied at 17,456 spectators turning up and gate receipts of $278,000. The ground was provided free of cost, while PBL/Channel Nine agreed to pay for players' flights and accommodation. The links formed over the course of this match would evolve into Ray Martin's interview with Bradman and the telethon a little over a year later.
Some remarked at the time how ironic it was that the most Packer/PBL-styled event of the summer was a venture designed to venerate Sir Donald Bradman. Had they known the story behind it, the arrangement might not have been so surprising. Intentionally or not, Bradman had once looked after Packer. Years later, Packer looked after Bradman.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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