Thursday, January 20, 2011

Winter Reads II - The Cricket War by Gideon Haigh

I must admit it’s been some time since my last winter read up here, in this time I stopped and started a book, that in the end I’m using it to keep my desk level. My journey to Australia over the Ashes had me wanting to think of other times, so picking up the Cricket War by Gideon Haigh gave me the perfect insight to cricket in 1977.

Haigh trawls painstakingly through players' memoirs, contemporary accounts and reflective thoughts, and adds more than a dash of drama from the events of 1977. A time when players were paid poorly and the opportunity to make a living from game was not available to all.

Kerry Packer wanted cricket on his TV channel, and with the ABC not willing to give up its boys club with the ACB, Packer took it on himself and signed 35 elite international players for his own televised series. Cricket had never been played under lights and players and never been paid this much to perform. The book moves though the highs and lows of those involved in World Series Cricket, as well as accounts of those left behind by the game, that shaped the game.

The rebel armies of Chapell, Grieg and Lloyd wore colored clothing, even providing cricket the first sight of a helmet and battled as hard on the field, as they did in the courtrooms to keep the game together. Looking back on this change in cricket is an interesting read, and with the IPL auction having finished just over a month ago, the comparisons in the ideals and motives seem similar. Franchises have been bought and players auctioned for head-spinning sums. Inevitably, it reminds many among us of the previous revolution in the sport and it makes re-reading of the Packer saga timely.

Gideon Haigh was a mere 11 years old when all this upheaval happened during the launch of WSC, and to think he was 26 when the first copies were published, it is a book of impressive detail and research, that allows the reader the hindsight of what has come after. But even Packer would never have imagined it would come to 20-over games.