1977-78: World Series Cricket shakes the foundations
When media mogul Kerry Packer approached the Australian Cricket Board in June 1976 with a handsome offer to televise Australian cricket, the administrators dismissed him without misgivings, content with their existing relationship with the national broadcaster. They underestimated Packer's determination. Taking advantage of growing disgruntlement about pay and conditions, he secretly recruited dozens of players from Australia, West Indies, South Africa, England and Pakistan to participate in a punishing schedule of made-for-TV matches in Australia, including the first played at night under lights and in coloured clothing with white balls.
Administrators were immediately hostile, their rhetoric turning into bans and court actions, and World Series Cricket was slow to take off in the 1977-78 season, despite boasting the cream of the world's players. But in 1978-79 it became a success, as the official Australian team, denuded of talent, were badly beaten in the Ashes. Forced to sue for peace, the ACB agreed to welcome back their prodigal sons and award broadcast rights to Packer's Nine Network - rights they have retained to this day. The legacy of the enterprise was growingly acute understanding of the value of the sport as a television property, which others might exploit if cricket failed to do so, and better pay for elite cricketers. GIDEON HAIGH
From Wisden 1978: Notes by the Editor (Norman Preston)…
As things stand at the time of writing at the New Year no solution would appear to be in sight and the cricket authorities, particularly those in England, who spend thousands of pounds raising young talent to the top level, run the risk of losing players to any rich entrepreneur, for Packer could be only the first in the line. I feel that those who signed for Packer were placed in a dilemma - loyalty to those who nurtured them or the attraction of financial reward for playing another kind of cricket that excludes them from first-class recognition because it is outside the bounds of the International Cricket Conference.
…and The Packer Case, by Gordon Ross
At this point the only cricketing subject being discussed from the highest committee room in the land to the saloon bar of the tiniest inn, was "Packer", and from all the multifarious points raised, one was likely to be proved the dominant factor in the end. In this age of extreme partisanship, had non-partisanship cricket any future? Does the world not want to see England beat Australia, or Arsenal beat Tottenham, or England beat Wales at Twickenham - or vice versa, according to particular loyalties? Could a collection of players, however great, stimulate public interest, when there was nothing on the end of it, except a considerable amount of money for the participants? The fact that tennis players and golfers are a constant attraction was irrelevant; they are individuals playing for no one but themselves. And moreover, the whole crux of this matter was linked to big business - the business of television, and not so much to the furtherance of cricket or cricketers.