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Fact is indeed stranger than fiction.

When Steve Waugh's Australians thrashed Pakistan in the final of the 1999 World Cup at Lord's, their compatriots went berserk. While it is difficult to measure degrees of happiness felt by different human beings, it is certain that one particular Australian would have experienced a greater level of ecstasy than others after this triumph. He was Kerry Packer, whom posterity will remember as the man who transformed the game of cricket in the 1970s. The media tycoon was born dyslexic. He would cite this condition throughout his remarkable career to explain his lack of interest in reading books. It was probably this condition that was responsible for his unawareness of every negative word in the English language.

Packer, who passed away in his sleep last week at the age of 68, was an entrepreneur who did not believe in taking 'No' for an answer, from anyone and everyone. He inherited his father's Australian business empire in the early 1970s and quickly detected cricket's extraordinary potential as a 'television' sport, and realized what it could do for Channel Nine, his television baby. He went on to make a fantabulous offer of Aust $ 2.5 Million to the Australian Cricket Board for exclusive TV rights of all cricket in Australia for a period of five years. It was an offer most organizations could not have refused. But the ACB did, citing their contract with the Govt-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation, from which they were getting only Aust $ 207000. It was an era that witnessed some extraordinary cricketers and utterly ordinary administrators.


There was considerable angst among the cricketers, who were convinced that they were not being compensated adequately for filling up the cricket grounds. Cricket boards the world over had got used to running the sport like their personal fiefdoms. Cricketers were expected to toe the line, not ask too many questions and be satisfied with whatever financial crumbs were thrown at them.

Packer changed all that. Rebuffed by the ACB, he retaliated with an explosion that split the world of cricket vertically. Aided by associates John Cornell and Austin Robertson, Packer signed sixty prominent international cricketers to participate in a 'World Series' of one-day and five-day matches. Practically the entire frontline Australian and West Indian teams of the period signed up. They were joined by some Pakistanis, some Englishmen and some South Africans. The players were offered astronomical amounts to enlist, and not many of those approached turned down the offer.

The cricketing 'establishment' was aghast, but Packer couldn't care less. When the Packer signatories were banned from playing 'official' cricket in England, Packer took the ICC and English Cricket Board to court and won. The ICC and TCCB could not effectively counter the argument of Packer's legal sleuths that 'trade could not be restrained'. Packer's willingness to stand up for his players won him the admiration of the entire cricketing community. He was unlike any administrator they had seen.

Packer would not accept defeat in any situation, however adverse it may have seemed. When the Australian Board denied him permission to play at the traditional cricket grounds, Packer booked football arenas like the VFL Park in Melbourne and Football Park at Adelaide, and had portable, drop-in pitches installed with the help of giant cranes. When he organized the first-ever 'floodlit' one-day encounter at the VFL Park, a game between Australia and the West Indies where white balls and black sightscreens made their first appearance on a cricket ground, the local council threatened to switch off the floodlights if the match didn't finish by 10:30 pm. They even sent a representative to the ground to ensure that the needful was done. As the match drew closer to a nerve-tingling climax with the West Indians pursuing an Australian target, Packer was informed by Andrew Caro, his Chief Executive that they were running against the cut-off time.

Packer reacted as only he could. "Slow down the clock!", he ordered Caro. His instructions were followed, and the giant stadium clock that everyone was watching, was slowed down by a few minutes. The match went right down to the wire with the West Indies snatching an improbable win off the penultimate ball.

The first season of World Series Cricket in 1977-78 was not the sweeping success that Packer expected it to be. But the subsequent season more than compensated. Night cricket, coloured clothing, white balls, black sightscreens, sleek TV coverage with a slew of former legends in the commentary box, noisy spectators at the grounds, and a whole new breed of cricket-addicts, particularly women, glued to the TV in their respective drawing-rooms, became a regular feature. Packer's piece-de-resistance in the 1978-79 season was the first-ever day-night match at a traditional cricket ground. The trust that had taken over the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1978 allowed him to erect light-towers. The lights first shone on 28th November 1978, during a game between Australia and the West Indies. The crowds began to line up in the morning, and the queue assumed the shape of a gigantic serpent in the matter of hours. As it became increasingly clear that the serpent would not dissipate, Packer ordered the gates to be thrown open, so that everybody could get in and watch the spectacle of cricket under lights.

It was during the World Series Cricket years that cricket commenced a relationship with commerce that continues to flourish. The cricketers, once an underpaid, insecure and agitated group of individuals, took the first few steps towards superstardom. The doors of the game were opened, not only to a whole new community of cricket-lovers, but also to sponsors eager to establish an association with an attractive sport. Cricket was no longer a mere game, it was now an industry, a drama in itself with its own band of entertainers. Even music was a part of the proceedings, as proven by the success of the WSC anthem 'C'mon Aussie C'mon', which captured the imagination of the fans and inspired the players.

The 'establishment' had no option but to plead for a rapprochement. The vertical split in world cricket was stitched and mended in April 1979 when the ACB accepted Packer's offer for exclusive TV rights and demand for an annual triangular one-day series involving Australia and two touring sides. Packer in turn disbanded WSC. But cricket had changed forever.

Nowhere was the change best exemplified than at Lord's, the institution that revered the traditions of the sport, and for many years, reviled Packer and his 'pirates', when it hosted the final of the 1999 World Cup. The final of the game's premier event, played at the game's Headquarters, featured coloured clothing, white balls and black sightscreens. Could anyone have imagined this in the WSC era? There is no doubt that Packer must have laughed his guts out.

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1 AustraliaAustralia 118
2 IndiaIndia 112
3 cricketPakistan 111
4 EnglandEngland 108
5 AustraliaNew Zealand 98
6 SouthSouth Africa 92
7 sri LankaSri Lanka 85
8 West IndiesWest Indies 65
9 BangladeshBangladesh 57
10 ZimbabweZimbabwe 48
1 AustraliaAustralia 123
2 new ZealandNew Zealand 113
3 ZimbabweIndia 110
4 South AfricaSouth Africa 110
5 EnglandEngland 106
6 sri LankaSri Lanka 102
7 BangladeshBangladesh 98
8 countryWest Indies 94
9 cricket Pakistan 87
10 AfghanistanAfghanistan 49
1 New ZealandNew Zealand 132
2 IndiaIndia 128
3 west IndiesWest Indies 122
4 AfricaSouth Africa 119
5 EnglandEngland 116
6 AustraliaAustralia 110
7 Pakistan Pakistan 104
8 sri LankaSri Lanka 96
9 AfghanistanAfghanistan 78
10 BangladeshBangladesh 74

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