Floodlights, fireworks and a spectacular Sydney sunset heralded both a triumph for Kerry Packer and his rebel World Series Cricket (WSC) and the birth of the modern one-day game.
Nov. 28, 1978, was the day the Australian media mogul gambled and won with his audacious ploy to stage a day-night one-day match illuminated by six freshly erected floodlight towers at the Sydney Cricket Ground and featuring a white ball and colored clothing.
A boisterous crowd estimated at 50,000 packed the famous ground to witness the WSC Australia side defeat West Indies. Many more watched the game on television aided by a host of the eye--catching technical innovations already introduced by Packer’s Channel Nine.
Man-of-the-match Dennis Lillee smiled at the assembled reporters afterwards.
“When Mr Packer started WSC, the Australian Cricket Board said: ‘We’ll let the people be the judges,’” Lillee said. “It looks like they have.”
The great fast bowler had signed for Packer in the previous year in the justifiable belief that he and his colleagues were being paid a pittance for their efforts even though Test cricket was booming in Australia.
West Indies, victors over Australia in the first World Cup final in 1975, also signed en masse as did a group of leading England, Pakistan and South African players.
Their collective faith in the new venture, though, was shaken when the fans failed to turn up for the so-called five-day SuperTests in the 1977 to 1978 season, preferring to watch the official Australia side play India in a consistently gripping series.
One-day night cricket in the second and final season transformed the fortunes and profile of WSC, although Packer remained first and foremost a money man. In 1979, the Australian Cricket Board sued for peace and gave him the television rights he had sought in the first place and the rebel circuit was dissolved.
Cold commercial realities had also been behind the decision to launch the first official one-day competition in England on May 1, 1963, with a match between Lancashire and Leicestershire at Old Trafford in the new Gillette Cup.
The traditionalists shuddered and the Wisden Cricketers Almanac could not bring itself to acknowledge the competition by name, calling it instead the Knockout Cup.
Nobody, though, could realistically object to the injection of new money into a domestic game in crisis as attendances plummeted in the county championship.
The new format also appealed to the restless imagination of England and Sussex captain Ted Dexter. Dexter realized more quickly than most that limited-overs cricket demanded a fresh approach and he was ruthless enough to place every fielder on the boundary in the closing stages of the first final against Worcestershire at Lord’s.
Sussex duly won by 14 runs before a packed house and the leading sportswriter of the day, Peter Wilson of the Daily Express, commented: “If there has ever been a triumphant sporting experiment, the knockout cricket cup for the Gillette Cup was that experiment.”
One-day cricket had come to stay, but it was still seven years before an international limited-overs match was staged and then only because rain forced the abandonment of the third Test between Australia and England scheduled to start on Dec. 31, 1970.
Australian Board of Control chairman Don Bradman announced that a one-day match of 40 eight-ball overs would be staged as well as an extra Test and a crowd of 46,006 turned up to watch a home side victory. It escaped nobody’s attention that the attendance exceeded the five-day aggregate for the first Test in Brisbane.