ODI cricket's year zero

Rastaman vibrations at Lord's Getty Images

"Would the new deal mean that the weak would go under because they would have too little television appeal?" A contemporary question, if ever there was, one that could be asked by any cricket lover currently living outside Australia, England or India.

In fact, Gordon Ross penned those words for the 1980 Wisden, while examining what the good book called, somewhat snootily, "The Packer Case". Ross was lamenting the Australian Cricket Board's (ACB) decision, once the volcanic World Series Cricket eruption ended in May 1979, to delay India's tour by a year and instead book the box-office-friendly West Indies. Nothing is new under the cricketing sun.

The most reverberative meeting in cricketing annals took place on April 23 and 24, 1979, when the ACB decided that the war with Kerry Packer was unwinnable. Cue, in rapid, almost breathless turn, the cessation of hostilities, an exclusive contract for Channel Nine and PBL, respectively, to cover and market Australian cricket, a happy Packer (albeit reportedly £600,000 poorer), the end of World Series Cricket - and even an entirely new game.

And how speedily the gospel spread, filling coffers, radicalising the game and giving it a future: day-night matches, white balls, black sightscreens, fielding circles, drop-in pitches, day-glo togs, and more than a few dodgy-looking cricketers. Not to mention batting helmets and much, much better wages, for some if not all.

Eight months later, England and West Indies were both down under, competing in a three-sided 50-over tourney called, in hype-ful if fitting memory of the revolution, the World Series Cup. This took the decade's total of ODIs to 82. In the 1980s there would be 516; in the 1990s, 933. Even after T20 barged in, the surge continued: the 2000s saw 1405.

Here, in other words, was cricket's Year Zero. The ODI era, the game's most profound and far-reaching innovation, had begun in earnest.

Granted, the benefits of the new age in Australia would accrue primarily to the leading players: full professionalism was still decades away. "It would be churlish, though, to deny that WSC benefited the official game," acknowledged Gideon Haigh in The Oxford Companion to Australian Cricket.

"Cricket was made accessible to a new public, not previously part of its core constituency. Authorities were awakened to the possibilities of one-day international cricket, to the efficacy of marketing in attracting sponsorship and sustaining the game's public prestige at a time when many other sports were about to clamour for expanded audiences and markets, and to the potential of TV rights as a source of revenue."

"I'm over the moon," declared Tony Greig, Packer's chief recruiting officer, who had given up the England captaincy to lead what so many stuffed shirts derided as a circus. "I only wish I was in England to see how my critics are reacting to the compromise they swore would never come." In the Daily Mail, Ian Wooldridge summed matters up with exquisite sardonicism: "The problem, from the outset, was that Establishment cricket was blinded by outrage. Its English administrators, most of whom cast their votes for private enterprise at the last [general] election, panicked badly when actually confronted by it."

As it happened, peace broke out just in time. The official announcement that grievances had been sheathed and handshakes exchanged came on May 30; the second World Cup was due to commence ten days later.


"The 1979 [World Cup] was seen as a unifying force," attested Stephen Thorpe in The Wisden History of the World Cup, "a coming-together of the brotherhood of cricket." Judging by Patrick Eagar's delicious overhead shot of the eight teams at Lord's, neat(ish)ly lined up behind their captains, the scars lingered. Australia, Canada, India and Sri Lanka are all in their national blazers; Pakistan are much the most dapper in their matching pale grey suits; West Indies, England and New Zealand sport a melange of cream, grey, beige, brown and blue. Peer closely and you can even spot a safari jacket (we salute your bravery, Deryck Murray, if perhaps not your taste).

"While the Pakistan and West Indies boards, neither flush with cash, instantly welcomed back the Packer defectors, their English and Australian counterparts were in no mood for such forgiveness"

The faces, too, are a study in contrasts. Some live up vividly to reputation: Gordon Greenidge gazes turfwards, entrenched in thought as ever; chin high, proud and impassive, Majid Khan is every bit as noble as we greybeards remember; Malcolm Marshall oozes maleficence.

Others intrigue. A moustachioed Ian Botham seems perversely meek, almost angelic; Derek Randall is recast, shockingly, as a suicidal clown; Kim Hughes closes his eyes and smirks, having apparently told an extremely filthy joke; three spots to his right at the front stands Asif Iqbal, whose pursed lips and wincing expression suggest he heard it all too well.

Between them are Clive Lloyd and Mike Brearley, stout and stoic, exuding wisdom as they rise effortlessly above the schoolboy giggles. The former's hands are clasped, protecting his crown jewels, gaze darting left as if alerted by a streaker; the latter fixes Eagar with those soft but piercing brown eyes. A bespectacled Bishan Bedi might easily be mistaken for a trainee accountant on a jolly; Mohinder Amarnath, too, has hands thrust in pockets, his countenance at once defiant and wary. Shirt-top button laddishly undone, tie loosened, Viv Richards peers across at the competition and decides it doesn't amount to much more than a very small hill of beans.

India's bid to host the tournament having foundered on concerns over the quality of light, England was once again the stage. "These sporting jamborees are all the better for doing the rounds," proposed John Woodcock in the Times, "and, although the costs of internal travel would be very much higher than in England, it would be a splendid adventure to take the great carnival to the Caribbean with the final in Trinidad." That it took nearly three more decades remains much to the game's shame.

From Worcester, meanwhile, came an itch in urgent need of scratching. A fortnight earlier, Brian Rose, the Somerset captain, had left New Road with mission accomplished but image in tatters: in an ingenious if repugnant ruse to maintain his side's overall scoring rate, and thus secure qualification for the knockout stages of the Benson & Hedges Cup, Rose closed the visitors' innings at 0 for 0, sacrificing, as Wisden would fume, "all known cricketing principles". The eight World Cup entrants agreed unanimously: declarations were out.


This was the first World Cup to require qualification. Played on club grounds in the Midlands, the ICC Trophy saw 14 Associates compete for two spots. Fiji drew more attention than most, if largely due to a new-ball duo whose names translated as Back from Wars and Great Whale's Tooth.

To no surprise whatsoever, and despite refusing to play Israel on political grounds, Sri Lanka advanced as winners; Canada, the runners-up, also progressed. Drawn from Asian and Caribbean migrants, they boasted the services of John Valentine, a French teacher from Montreal and son of an Anglican bishop whose left-arm mediums would not only humble Brearley but york Majid. His batting colleagues were less inspired, surviving doggedly into the 41st over against England but still succumbing for a pitiful 45.

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, would outwit India, who entered the tournament having played just ten ODIs, easily the fewest among the Full Members (England led the way with 41, with Australia second on 28). Rousing indeed were the merry smiting of 16-year-old schoolboy Sudath Pasqual, the Cup's callowest participant, and the bowling of legspinner Somachandra De Silva, the first de Silva to make his name in wider circles. Within three years, Tests would beckon.

Some bemoaned the continued exclusion from the main event of South Africa, whose prime minister, John Vorster, the man who had banned Basil D'Oliveira to kick-start isolation, had just resigned over "Muldergate", a slush-fund scandal. The other main bone of contention was the uneven impact of the Packer truce.

While the Pakistan and West Indies boards, neither flush with cash, instantly welcomed back the defectors, their English and Australian counterparts were in no mood for such swift forgiveness. The hosts had been coping fine without Greig, Dennis Amiss, Alan Knott, John Snow and Derek Underwood (albeit against depleted opposition), but the absence of Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh and the Chappells robbed Australia of heart, soul and might.

"All at once the air over our cricket grounds is sweet; free from the smell of war," rejoiced John Arlott in the launch issue of Wisden Cricket Monthly, published shortly before the terms of the truce were confirmed. "The game of cricket has left its sickbed and is taking gentle exercise," chimed in its more circumspect editor, David Frith. "The convalescence will take some time. The hundreds of thousands of friends and relatives who looked on helplessly while the patient struggled for breath were divided among themselves. Many, indeed, will find it difficult ever to speak to each other again. But, cricket being the essentially friendly, companionable game that it is, the majority of animosities will fast disappear."

Much was made of those animosities and how they might pollute the tournament. As Thorpe notes, "fears were expressed of an undercurrent of ill-feeling - or a possible bumper war - between the Packerites and the traditionalists". Happily, despite some impolite comments from Mushtaq Mohammad about Joel Garner's action and the scars left by a fractious Test series between Australia and Pakistan, all was mostly sweetness and light.

It would be a stretch, nonetheless, to describe the tournament as eagerly awaited. Just as the Daily Telegraph relegated its opening-day preview below Kenny Sansom's appointment as captain of England's Under-21 football team, so you wouldn't have known, upon inspecting Frith's spiffing new mag, that a World Cup was impending, until Arlott's column on page seven.

The weather that fortnight was mostly bleak and wet, the upshot just four totals of 200-plus in the 11 completed group fixtures; that only three spilled over into a second day and just one was abandoned (West Indies v Sri Lanka) was a sizeable miracle. As a consequence, aggregate attendance dropped to 132,000, but few remember that either, or even a cracking pair of semi-finals that saw New Zealand run England to the wire and Pakistan unnerve West Indies. Thanks primarily to the majesty of Richards, the impudence of Collis King, and Garner's relentless blockhole missiles, that contemptuous Caribbean triumph in the final would eclipse all other memories - bar, that is, the sight of a becapped Boycott dismissing Hughes.

Money, though, remained a thorny issue. Shortly before the tournament, Clyde Walcott, the West Indies team manager and future ICC president, approached Lloyd somewhat sheepishly. "He said he'd been told by the board to offer £50 to me as the captain's fee! It was as if Packer had never happened.," Lloyd said. "Fifty quid! Well, I said, 'No thanks' and they later came back with an irresistible offer. They doubled it! It just showed you what these cricket officials thought about us."

This lack of appreciation would wreck board-player relations and emerge as the most reliable pointer to the long-term diagnosis for Caribbean cricket. Never since, no less sadly, has the World Cup, the launching pad for dominance, danced so groovily to the sinewy, sensuous rhythms of those rastaman vibrations.

This article was first published in 2014