Monday, August 20, 2012


A Different Perspective on Howzat 

Firstly, Sniff N The Tears’ one and only hit was Drivers Seat, which charted in 1978. Playing it during Channel Nine’s ‘Limited Series Event’, Howzat, in a scene set in 1976 was optimistic by about two years.

And that’s almost my only gripe.*

I remember the years of World Series Cricket so vividly. I was 12 in 1977, living with my mother and grandparents in a small country town. The whole family loved their cricket, and I can’t imagine a summer when we weren’t crowded around the old black and white television in the lounge-room, watching the test matches, and sometimes the Sheffield Shield games, on the ABC.

Our access to commercial television was limited: back in those days, well before regional networks had formal affiliations, and still more than a decade before regional aggregation with metropolitan networks, NEN9/ECN8 picked what programming they showed. “Channel 8”, our local commercial station, showed little sport; it was all Days of our Lives and the Young and the Restless, Lost In Space, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie and the Brady Bunch. After tea, we’d settle in for a night of Great Temptation, followed by The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, The Paul Hogan Show, The Sullivans, or Certain Women.
In 1976-77, colour television was still new, and Countdown was the pivot around which my week revolved. If the cricket ran past 6pm on a Sunday night, and Countdown was delayed, I’d be furious.

When we first started hearing about this World Series Cricket business, we had no choice but to be vehemently against it. Practicalities aside, my grandparents were of the same generation as The Don, and cricket belonged on the ABC like sauce belongs on a pie. Cricket had honour and tradition, and all this crazy talk about One Day games that would be telecast in living colour had nothing to do with honour and tradition. Cricket at night time had even less credibility.

To make matters even less appealing, the players involved were not less than acceptable to my grandparents. These men had long hair flapping all over their collars and faces, unruly moustaches, shirts open halfway down to their belly buttons, and gold chains bouncing around their necks. They probably listened to rock n roll music too.

According to Grandpa Rex, that Lillee chap was the worst of the lot, with his ridiculous runup, and Jeff Thomson was almost as bad with his blonde hair always in his eyes. They were fast-bowlers, which was fine, but like those Poms under Douglas Bloody Jardine, Lillee and Thommo bowled at the batsmens’ body. It was Leg Theory; Bodyline by another name. That’s not cricket. Of course, Dougie Walters was just a larrikin, though; he was almost a local, so he was forgiven.

And that was that. Mucking around with the traditional game of cricket was not acceptable. Basically what the Australian Cricket Board, now known as Cricket Australia, wanted was only right and proper, and these upstarts with their money and their fancy ideas should bugger off.

Don’t forget that there was no guarantee that our local commercial station would even show the new commercialised cricket, so we had no choice but to side with the Establishment, or risk losing our cricket coverage altogether.

So we were firmly on the side of the Establishment, and when the Packer Traitors became ineligible to play “official” cricket, the ACB was forced to choose a young side of unproven players lead by Graham Yallop, a man with a short, inglorious test cricket history. His young team was comprehensively trounced in the Ashes series that year, although it was during this demeaning season that we first met fastbowler Rodney Hogg, and future captains Kim Hughes and Allan Border.

As it turns out, NEN9/ECN8 didn’t show the World Series Cricket until after the Reconciliation, so while the world was tuning into Packer’s Cricket Circus, complete with One Day Games, Day Night Games, coloured clothing, a white ball, a female commentator (gasp!) and the best players in the world, we watched, with great hope and loyalty, as the “official” Aussies had their arses handed to them, test after test, by an English team that featured Derek Randall, Bob Willis and a young David Gower.

World Series Cricket was a change that had to come, and Kerry Packer was the only man with the vision and the budget who could make it happen. As a cricket tragic, I’ve read about the great Cricket War of the 70s, and I was old enough to remember the names and the bitter antagonism with which the whole thing was conducted. It’s a different story to the one we’re watching on Channel Nine now, a sadder story. It’s also a story of how cricket was transformed, how the sacrosanct nature of the game was shattered for all time, leaving in its place both a rich heritage, and a positive future.

*My other gripe? Nine’s Howzat feels more than a little one-sided. Where is Don Bradman, the man whose legendary status influenced every decision made by the ACB, from 1932 until well after the Cricket Wars of the 70s? Where is the angst that must’ve existed for everyone close to the game? I hope Part 2 lets us see more than just the vicious glory that is Kerry Packer in full flight.

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