Why Packer now sits at the right hand of Bradman

The Rest of the World squads for the Super Series against Australia will be named tomorrow. Thirty players will be included for both the Johnnie Walker Super Test and Super One-Day Series to be played in October, the idea being to heighten our sense of anticipation.

The Rest of the World squads for the Super Series against Australia will be named tomorrow. Thirty players will be included for both the Johnnie Walker Super Test and Super One-Day Series to be played in October, the idea being to heighten our sense of anticipation.

Doubtless the timing is incidental, but it would be jolly to think that somebody at the International Cricket Council had plotted the date as homage to the man who transformed the game. It would make his rehabilitation complete. The announcement is being made on the 28th anniversary of the launch of the first Super Tests - World Series Cricket, otherwise known as the Packer Circus.

On 9 May 1977, Kerry Packer, the Australian media mogul, split the game asunder by declaring that he had signed 35 of the world's leading players. It is difficult to imagine, whatever names Sunil Gavaskar reads out in Bombay, that the effect will be quite as cataclysmic.

Miffed at the Australian Cricket Board's dismissive treatment of his bid for exclusive television rights, Packer had decided to stage his own competition, to be screened on his station, Channel Nine. He had signed almost every decent cricketer in Australia, including 10 of the 11 who had beaten England by 45 runs in the recent Centenary Test, and five England players, including, most notoriously, their captain, Tony Greig.

All hell was let loose and the game was quickly divided: either you backed the establishment or you did not. The courts did not, and when Packer sought a High Court injunction to prevent the authorities banning the players he had recruited he won on every point.

At the time, Packer was regarded by cricket's establishment as beyond the pale. Why, the chap was in it only to make money, wore two-piece suits and bright ties. He was also very, very rich. The attitude to him and to the players he had recruited was summed up in the witheringly arrogant comment from the secretary of the Australian Cricket Board, Alan Barnes. To wit: "They are not professionals; they were invited to play, and if they don't like the conditions there are 500,000 other cricketers in Australia who would love to take their place."

Last week, Cricket Australia, as the board are now known, marked their centenary by naming the two most influential figures in their history. One was Don Bradman, the greatest batsman of all time, who transcended the game; the other was Packer.

Bob Merriman, the chairman of CA, was rather at odds with Barnes's verdict when he said: "Kerry still has deep passion for cricket. He still wants laws changed to make it more entertaining. He's proactive and his ideas are sensible."

This is due recognition for what Packer did in that bizarre period. He introduced floodlit cricket, coloured clothing, white balls, instant interviews. But his simplest innovation showed what a primitive state professional cricket was in. He placed cameras at both ends of the pitch for the first time.

Without him, the game would have struggled on but it might easily have lost a generation or two of followers. Packer's Super Tests, and especially the one-day matches, made cricket matches an occasion. Of course, some people have never forgiven him for that.

Packer also paid the players the proper rate for the job. Greig might have been slightly disingenuous when he said that he had jumped ship primarily to improve the lot of all cricketers. "I could have said, 'OK, I'm captain of England, I'm all right.' That would have been selfish. As a result of this action cricket may come in to line with tennis and golf. Then if a young man is faced with a choice of which game to play he can choose cricket with confidence."

Well, not quite, but there is no question that the lot of all cricketers has improved beyond the dreams of 1977. Any day now, the England and Wales Cricket Board should name Greig as one of the most influential figures in their history.

There is another significant difference between the two lots of Super Series. While the matches this October have been ratified as an official Test and one-dayers, Packer's have no status and have been airbrushed from history. Yet those who took part in them will testify to the intensity - not to mention the high standard - of the cricket. Perhaps, like Packer himself, they should be given some form of official status.

The ICC have put up a rational case for giving this October's matches official status. Not least, it gives them all additional kudos in the minds both of players and public. But their decision might also prompt some reconsideration of the classification of the series between England and the Rest of the World in 1970.

This five-match series, won 4-1 by RoW, replaced the scheduled tour by South Africa. The games were initially given unofficial Test status, and for nine years Wisden listed the matches under its "Test cricketers" section. Thus Alan Jones, of Glamorgan, was listed as an England Test player. He played just one match in the series (c Engineer b Procter in both innings, for 5 and 0) and never played again.

He was deprived of his status, the only man in the series never to play official Tests. The ICC point out that the Rest of the World side were hardly representative. True, they included only one Australian, but Australiawere pretty awful at the time and a side who had Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock and Garry Sobers were not exactly unrepresentative. If the 2005 Super Tests are official, Alan Jones deserves his cap.

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