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When the publishers of Wisden asked me to anthologise the almanacks since the Centenary Test of 1977 –terrain barely covered by previous anthologies–the prospect appealed on several scores.First,it is ne ver a chore to read Wisden –how quickly one is dr awn into the great games of the past.Second, by the early 1970s cricket was for me already an obsession.I remember as a fourth-former being chastised in a geog raphy lesson for listening to a Test in the great Ashes series of 1972 on the radio.These are my heroes, my history. As I made my choices I remembered where I was dur ing each of those games,thoug h I will for the most part spare you the personal details, even for the semi-final of the 1979 World Cup between West Indies and Pakistan at The Oval –the greatest assembly ofcricketers I ha ve ever seen in the flesh,and a mat ch for which I got a ticket from a tout at less than face value.T ruly,a joyous, unforgettable, buoyantly multicultural experience. The third reason was the publisher’s brief: to make this not just a compendium of facts and figures, a jumble of memories, but a coherent picture of a sport that has been transformed in the past 30 years. Lik e the game itself,the book must be fun but fun with a purpose.
My first suggestion was that the book begin with the Kerry Packer “circus”, as its many critics at the time called it. World Series Cricket,to use its official title, was the alternative circuit with which Packer,the late Australian television mogul, successfully challenged the established order .He turned the cr icket world upside down,and much ofwhat followed in the decades after its inception in 1977 flowed from Packer.The quaint days of chaps with three initials running the game were numbered. Money, commerce,helmets, coloured clothing ,TV calling the shots, the dominance of international over domestic cricket –a new world was dawning, and Wisden often hated what it was seeing .
As I began to make selec tions, my initial belief that moder n cr icket more or less began with Packer in 1977 appeared naive.Indeed, as I discuss in my introduction to the section on what I ha ve termed “The Packer Experiment”, there is a good argument to be made that it was the revolution already under way in cricket that had entic ed the big man and his even bigger bucks.The safest conclusion to draw is that Packer crystallised and accelerated many ofthe changes:they happened in three years, rather than the ten or 20 they might have taken without his intervention.
Thirty years on, for better and sometimes for worse, the game has changed radically:the top pla yers now form a highly paid elite who rarely venture int o first-class crick et beyond the international arena; television calls the tune; the
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