I found Henry Blofeld’s The Packer Affair on the bargain shelf of a second-hand bookshop a couple of years ago, and had been meaning to read it ever since. But there just never seemed any rush - it was overtaken by David Frith and Simon Hughes and Mike Atherton, and my knowledge of World Series Cricket remained sketchy at best. Until today.
I can now tell you all about the dastardly Tony Greig, I can tell you about Geoffrey Boycott and why Packer didn’t sign him up (it’s not why you think), and I can tell you about drop-in pitches and West Indians arguing over contracts (some things never change). I can even tell you about the Test in Kingston that the Windies drew after spectators rioted as their team was about to lose.
It’s a great story, and very much of its time. The amount of money involved is constantly amazing – in 1977, Blowers reports that Packer bought the exclusive Australian rights for the Ashes series in England ‘for £150,000’.
There’s also lots of talk of ‘crash helmets’, coloured clothing and day-night cricket – apparently ‘one or more of these innovations will stay’. There’s even a prediction of ‘a contest over something like 25 overs for each side’ designed for the American market.
So I can tell you lots of interesting things about WSC and its effect on Test cricket. Unfortunately though, I can’t tell you anything that happened after the first year of WSC, as the events in the book only run from May 1977 to May 1978. Of course, that wasn’t the end of the story – WSC went from strength to strength in its second year and its dissolution was just as interesting as its formation.
The book’s sub-title (‘a full account of the controversy that tore cricket in two) is therefore baloney. For the real ‘full account’ I think you need Gideon Haigh’s Cricket War. If I find that on the bargain shelf of a second-hand bookshop, I’ll buy that too.