KERRY PACKER AND HIS PAK CONNECTIONS

'He took the game by the scruff of the neck and dragged into the modern cricket.'

By KHALID BUTT, Lahore
Jan 09 - 22, 2006

Tribute have poured in from the world over on the passing away of Kerry Packer, who in the 70's had stormed the world cricket jolting and changing it beyond recognition. It was poetic justice that the man detested and loathed by cricket establishments once should be finally acknowledged as a visionary and benefactor for the game by all and sundry. Among those who have paid a glowing tribute to his genius is the current ICC President Ehsan Mani, saying: "He took the game by the scruff of the neck and dragged into the modern cricket, white balls and black screens, coloured clothing and cutting-edge television coverage are all aspects of the game that modern cricket fans take for granted and all of them are down to one man. The players also owe him a huge debt of gratitude because he recognised their worth and paid them accordingly. He helped make cricket an attractive career option for youngsters and that was one of his great achievements."

To me, Kerry Packer phenomenon also brought back a torrent of memories as someone who had watched it from the ringside, as you call it. Some of my good and close friends had joined the "Packer Circus", and were instrumental in raising a full Pakistan side which include all top players. One can say except for Wasim Bari and Sarfraz Nawaz all others had signed up in the early phase, which resulted in complete routing of depleted Pakistan team which toured England in 1978. It had also the distinction of having 3 managers, like three musketeers in late Mahmood Hussain, Imtiaz Ahmad and Zafar Altaf, something unique in cricket history, past and present. Pakistan cricket management had reacted to the new development in such a disgusting, unimaginative and ungraceful manner that it defied any logic or sense.

It was therefore with some sense of relief for cricket stars, who had joined up World Series Cricket, were later included on the 1978-79 tour of New Zealand and Australia. Packer had all along been most cooperative and willing party to lend a helping hand. Pakistan Board, it was clear was unnecessary getting into the fray for all the wrong reasons. It was not their war, as the subsequent events so proved.

Here I would like to highlight the strong Pakistan connection, which Kerry Packer had developed and which somehow have never been adequately portrayed.

I was the solitary cricket journalist touring with the Pakistan team on its 1979 tour of New Zealand/Australia, which under Mushtaq Muhammad had revived the sagging fortunes of the national team. During the first Test at Melbourne, Packer had duly shown up at the MCG to visit Pakistan Team. It also gave me a rare chance to meet Kerry Packer, when he came out of the Pakistan dressing room and interview him for the newspaper chain, I was covering the tour. I saw the towering Packer with a booming voice and dressed in a navy blue suit wearing a Pakistan green tie when he emerged from the Pak dressing room. When I mentioned about the tie he said rather joyfully it was given to him by Imran and he had immediately put it on. When I asked whether I could have one of the WSC ties, he fished it out of his pocket and presented it to me.

I proudly retained it as part of my large collection of sporting ties.

Packer was full of Imran as his ardent admirer and also spoke highly of Pakistan cricket talent, whom he had taken pains to promote and package by his powerful marketing machine outstandingly.

It was no wonder that there was realisation back home of the ill-advised policy of assuming Packer as an adversary, toeing the official line of Aussie and English cricket establishments, with whom Packer had a conflict of interest on the issue of TV coverage. A white flag was raised and the then CMLA and President Gen Zia-ul-Haq, summoned Omar Kureishi, the noted cricket commentator to play the role of emissary to bring back the "Packer boys" in Pakistan squad to raise it to full strength. Omar, flew to Singapore, where Kerry Packer and his top officials met him to most willingly agree to release all Pak players without any conditions and extend all possible assistance to Pakistan cricket.

This was a welcome news, which cheered up all cricket fans, and prospects of Pakistan avenging its loss of rubber and dismal performance in England looked bright. But something intriguing and most unbecoming happened the evening before the tour opener. A former Pakistan Captain and Chief of BCCP, who had been an avowed opponent of Packer, convinced General Zia to renegade on his pledge. In this he took the willing and partisan support of England team and notably of Geoff Boycott. The last minute change of mind by the Pakistan Military ruler left all the Pakistan Cricket star like Mushtaq, Imran, Majid, Sarfraz, Asif Iqbal and Zaheer Abbas out in the cold and a gentleman figure like Omar Kureishi with an egg on face. He took a long time to recover from this ugly episode, which also soured his life-long friendship with his old pal skipper Kardar. As of Kerry Packer and his associates, they were simply bewildered of this most unexpected happening. The only outside chance of Kerry Packer to visit Pakistan and implement an ambitions plan for the uplift of Pak cricket thus ended in a smoke. After so many years whenever I think about it there is an uneasy feeling of national guilt over the whole episode.

I know for sure, late Omar Kureishi (who died last year) never forgave Zia-ul-Haq for this monumental national let-down.