Blog by: Divyajeevan
One of the lasting images of the World Series Cricket is that of Imran Khan in a t-shirt that read: “Big boys play at night”.
The proclamation was more than a mere funky message. It was a shrewd marketing gimmick, a sign of things to come.
In the late 1970s, the cricketing world Down Under was divided. On one hand was the Australian cricket establishment that had run the game for many years in Australia. Their rival was Kerry Packer, an Australian media magnate and a cricket enthusiast who believed he can change the way the game was being played.
Packer had signed several leading cricketers to play in the breakaway league, the World Series Cricket (WSC), organised by his TV network, the Nine Network. But despite the presence of big names like Dennis Lillee, the Chappells, Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Micheal Holding and Barry Richards among others, the WSC was unable to draw big crowds.
Packer’s deep pockets saw him through the losses of the first season, but it was imminent that something out of ordinary had to be done to be able to sustain the credibility of the rebel league. Then came the masterstroke.
On 28 November 1978, in a limited overs encounter, WSC Australians, dressed in wattle gold, took on WSC West Indians, who appeared in coral pink, at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney. The game was a day-night affair and accordingly, white balls and black sight-screens were used.
The novel idea proved to be an instant hit as over 50,000 people cramped themselves in the stadium to witness history being made. The ‘supertests’, though highly competitive in nature, were met with a lukewarm response, but the prospect of a relatively faster game with a dash of colour thrown in was too good to resist.
Soon after, Packer and the Australian Cricket Board reached a settlement and the WSC was abandoned, but it left behind a legacy. With its floodlit matches, coloured kits and the white ball, the rebel league had opened the pandora box. A year later, almost to the day, Australia and the West Indies competed in the first official day-night ODI at the same venue.
Though it was quite a while before the rest of the cricket world came to terms with the innovations, the Australian Cricket Board incorporated them in major limited overs tournaments in Australia, most notably during the World Championship of Cricket in 1985 and the World Cup in 1992, with resounding success.
Up until then, cricket was played in the traditional manner, wrapped up in its own idiosyncrasies. Players turned up in white flannels, looking more like office goers than sportsmen, and even took breaks to have lunch and afternoon tea. For a beginner it resembled a mundane, almost lifeless affair.
The spectators were expected to maintain the decorum and behave themselves on the stands. There wasn’t the carnival like atmosphere that one would associate with any other field sport like football or hockey. The notion that sports is basically a means of entertainment seemed lost on the cricketing establishment, and the gentleman’s game was meant only for the true connoisseurs.