A short history of Australian cricket | Daily News


 

A short history of Australian cricket

Don Bradman and Jack Fingleton. Bradman was not allowed to write in the media but Fingleton was by ACB.
Don Bradman and Jack Fingleton. Bradman was not allowed to write in the media but Fingleton was by ACB.

(continued from last week)

The Packers were hardnosed business people and Packer did what he did either for the love of Australia or because his newspapers may have been boycotted if he had played hard ball. You be the judge.

There are other examples of the high handed behaviour of the Board, for instance the dropping of Sydney Barnes from the Australian Test team “for reasons other than cricket”.

Fast forward to Bill Lawry’s tour of India that took place in the last three months of 1969. This was a gruelling tour where the team played five Tests. The travel arrangements and the accommodation was far from satisfactory. I believe that one player contracted hepatitis, nearly died, and never played cricket again. The team returned to Australia on the 28th of December and on the 4th of January left for a 3-month tour of South Africa where they were thrashed 4-0. Nothing gives the South Africans greater pleasure than to thrash the Aussies and the South African Board asked the Australian Board if they would agree to play an extra Test. The proposition was put to the Australian players, who by this time were totally demoralised. The players asked for some extra payment as the four Tests were what they had signed up to. This request was refused and the Fifth Test did not take place.

Bill Lawry wrote a long report to the Board pointing out some of the shortcomings of the tour arrangements, together with some recommendations to improve the situation on future tours. Bill showed the report to his vice-captain, Ian Chappell, who advised him not to send it, and if he did, the report should be signed by all the players.

Bill disregarded Ian’s advice saying that he was the captain and must shoulder his responsibilities alone. In the next series which was against England at home starting in summer of 1970 the Board sacked Lawry in the middle of the series.

This had never happened before in the history of Australian Cricket and, furthermore, Lawry heard about his sacking by reading it in the press.

Chappell took over the captaincy but his hatred of the Board was manifest and he swore that the Board would never do to him what they did to Lawry.

There was no doubt that, around this time, the Australian players were totally dissatisfied with their lot. Requests for a pay rise were met with derision with one Board member saying that the Board could get dozens of boys who would be only too willing to play for Australia.

This lead to the mild mannered Ian Redpath grabbing the secretary of the Board by the throat, pinning him against the dressing room wall, and saying “Yes, you can get dozens of others to take our place, but how good would the cricket be?”

Ian Chappell was asked to attend a meeting to give the Board the benefit of his first hand experience. When Chappell suggested that the dispute could be resolved by a small pay rise and some improvement in conditions the Board, ironically lead by Bradman, went into zombie mode.

As Chappell said, you would almost think that the money was coming out of Bradman’s pocket.

Then the stars aligned for the embattled Australian players, the knight in shining armour appearing in the form of media mogul Kerry Bullimore Packer.

In 1976, for purely commercial reasons Kerry Packer, proprietor of Channel Nine, wanted to get the TV rights to telecast Australian Test matches played at home, the contract for which was about to expire.

Despite his bid being significantly higher than the current holder of the contract, the Government owned Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Board awarded the contract to the ABC. Packer was incensed at the dismissive way his bid had been handled and also suspected that some “Old Boy” networks was in play.

Packer was determined to get some cricket on his television station and his interest was stimulated by a proposal to play some exhibition matches, an idea put to him by John Cornell and Austin Robertson, the latter being the manager of several high profile Australian cricketers including Dennis Lillee.

At the time the Australian players were in effect amateurs, and to cut the long story short, Packer signed up 35 of the world’s leading players including all the leading Australians. The signing up fee being as low as $25,000.

So World Series Cricket was born and cricket was changed forever. In the words of Kerry Packer, “It was the easiest sport in the world to take over……nobody bothered to pay the players what they were worth.”

The dispute was settled in 1979 with Packer getting what he originally wanted and more.

The biggest ramifications of the dispute were felt in Australia as there was lingering bitterness between those who had played for WSC and those who hadn’t, that blighted Australian Cricket into the mid 1980’s.

However, despite the players receiving significantly increased remuneration the relationship between the Board and the players, still being a “Master, Servant” one, did not improve.

In 1995 Steve Waugh believed that the players were still being undervalued. Allan Border was on a contract of about $90,000 whereas many Australian Rules Footballers were receiving payments of over $300,000.

The Australian players had never been united or desperate enough to form a Union but with Shane Warne and Tim May at his side Waugh and company formed the Australian Cricketers Association in 1997. The objective of the Association was to look after the interests of all First Class players in Australia, including women.

Almost immediately they went to war with the Board, now called Cricket Australia, and, after being pushed to the edge of strike action, secured an outstanding deal which had one golden thread - the players would receive roughly a quarter of the games revenue stream in Australia, the agreement to operate until 2017.

It became clear fairly early on in the period of the agreement that the players had secured a very good deal indeed. When the model was set up in 1997 the Australian cricketing price was around $50 million and in 2017 it was about $400 million.

Although the “Ugly Australian” probably started with Steve Waugh and his policy of Mental Disintegration, Cricket Australia exacerbated the situation by encouraging and insisting on a “win at any cost” policy with the belief that winning would increase the revenue stream.

As I have said previously, the Australians pursued an out and out “win at any cost” policy demanded by Cricket Australia with no better illustration than a furious CEO of Cricket Australia, James Sutherland, giving the Australian team a tongue lashing after the defeat by South Africa in Hobart in November 2016 saying, “We don’t pay you to play, we pay you to win”.

The on field behaviour of the Australian team when they won the World Cup in 2015 before a MCG crowd of 93,000 people, many from overseas was disgraceful. I know because I was there.

There ‘send offs’ of the Kiwi batsmen was nothing short of cringe worthy. The team was roundly criticised by the world’s cricketing press, but it was water off a ‘duck’s arse’ because their paymasters did not say a word.

I cannot recall any Australian player being censured between 2000 and 2018 and, further, what message do you send when you appoint David Warner, a man who sledges off scratch, vice-captain of the Test side?

The disgraceful ball tampering incident didn’t initially get much response from Cricket Australia who seemed to give the impression, “So what, all the sides indulge in ball tampering”.

It was the outrage of the everyday Australian Cricket supporter who, believing that this was the last straw, spurred Cricket Australia into action and saw them impose very heavy sanctions on Smith, Warner and Bancroft.

Under intense media pressure Cricket Australia commissioned a review of the Culture of Australian cricket by Simon Longstaff of the Ethics Centre and ex-Test cricketer Rick McCosker.

The Review found that the administrators were just as much to blame as the players for the Ball Tampering Incident. The review exposed the many cultural failings of Cricket Australia which was found to be arrogant and controlling with the players pocketing a fortune but living in a bubble and seeing themselves as a part of a machine.

It is said that a fish rots from the head and I have no doubt that Cricket Australia was primarily responsible for the disgraceful way Australia has played its cricket in the past two decades at least and I was glad to see the departure of David Peever, Chairman of Cricket Australia, CEO James Sutherland and Performance Manager Pat Howard. Maybe, in order to clean out the Aegean Stables the entire Board should have fallen on its collective sword!

Australia has always played its cricket with a greater intensity than any other nation and that must not change. Bradman and Benaud gave no quarter but played within the Spirit of the Game and, at that time, Australia was acknowledged and respected as the leader of the cricketing world. That reputation has been sullied and not just by what happened at the Newlands Stadium on the 24th of March 2018.

We have just seen the completion of, unarguably, the most exciting Ashes Series since WW2 which was, most importantly, played in very good spirit. The Australians had at least nine players who played in South Africa, including the villains of the piece, Smith, Warner and Bancroft.

So what’s changed to cause this epiphany?

Answer. The attitude of the Board of Cricket Australia which was born in that fist fight in 1912, but will it last, can a leopard change its spots?

*Mike Wille captained Royal College and made a hundred in the Big Match against S Thomas’ College before migrating to Australia in the late fifties/early sixties.


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