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Best and Worst: Revolutionaries – From Packer’s circus to Gatting’s rebels

Packer and Grieg (revolutionaries)
by James Wallace 4 minute read

James Wallace looks back at the game’s best and worst revolutionaries.

First published in issue 33 of Wisden Cricket Monthly

THE BEST

Packer and Greig

Sounds like a ‘buddy’ cop duo or an artisanal bakery but forget crime and ‘cronuts’, the only business these two were interested in was changing the cricketing world irrevocably. Kerry Packer, the Aussie media mogul, enlisted Tony Greig, the outsider England captain, to round up a host of the most exciting players across the globe. The ensuing World Series Cricket shook the sport and its buttoned up bureaucrats out of their slumber, setting a blueprint for the modern game. Cricket as entertainment, players earning significant sums of money and controversial, coloured kits – ring any bells? Packer’s Circus rolled into town in 1977, and it’s been here ever since.

Rachael Heyhoe Flint

Heyhoe Flint’s obituary in the Guardian sums up her influence perfectly: “Trailblazer in women’s cricket who fought sexism and indifference with equal energy.” Whether it be raising funds to allow female cricketers to go on overseas tours, moonlighting as a journalist to give the very same matches press coverage, setting up a World Cup (before the men had thought of it) or fighting the ‘pale, male and frail’ brigade to lead out England’s women at Lord’s. Later, thanks to her relentless determination, women were finally allowed to become members of the ultimate old boys’ club, the MCC. Heyhoe Flint smashed glass ceilings in the Long Room and beyond.

Kevin Pietersen

The matted yellow hair that looked exactly like my childhood guinea pig (miss you still, Turbo), the day spent in vain trying to bosh balls across an unforgiving Thames, the texting of the opposition mid Test match (“BECAUSE THEY’RE MY MATES!”). Lots of what KP did caught on about as well as Donald Trump at a MENSA meeting. He was, however, an early champion of the IPL, long before it was fashionable to be one, predicting it was here to stay and arguing England’s cricketers should jump aboard – for the benefit of the national team as well as individuals. At the time it fell on deaf ears, with the infamous ‘KP Genius’ account appearing around the same time Pietersen was back in the England dressing room evangelising about the IPL and his new ‘MATES!’ Coincidence?

THE WORST

Gatting’s Rebels

‘Rebel rebel, your face is a mess’ David Bowie hollered in 1974. If, like me, you can no longer listen to Diamond Dogs without Mike ‘Raymond Briggs sketch in human form’ Gatting wafting into your imagination, squinting at you through bloodshot eyes, then what can I say: I’m sorry/you’re welcome. The line perfectly captures two of Gatt’s lowest career moments. The Malcolm Marshall-inflicted mush-mangling at Sabina Park in 1986 and the morally reprehensible rebel tour to South Africa in 1990, funded by an apartheid regime desperately trying to cling on to power. Gatting perhaps wasn’t thinking clearly, still reeling after being unceremoniously axed as captain, but it’s a struggle to have much sympathy when you consider some of his cloth-eared statements at the time: “I don’t know much about how apartheid works but one way to find out is by going there.” Gatting has since declared the rebel tour as the biggest mistake of his career. The same can’t be said of fellow rebel tourist Neil Foster. “I wouldn’t say that I regret going,” the Essex seamer later said. “In a bizarre way, we did help change the country.” Bloody Mandela, taking all the credit, eh Neil?

Allen Stanford

Flight of The Valkyries booms. A helicopter hovers past Old Father Time and touches down on the outfield at Lord’s. Out steps a Texan millionaire, greeted warmly by ECB chairman Giles Clarke. Cut to posed photos in a boardroom, a briefcase stuffed full of banknotes and a coterie of s**t-eating grins. Cut to a humid night in Antigua, Matt Prior looks up from behind the stumps in a ‘20 Million Dollar game’ to see his wife being jiggled on the knee of the evil businessman as he cackles into the dusk. Cut to a prison cell. The Millionaire, now manacled, is no longer grinning. Serving a 110-year prison sentence for his fraudulent business ventures as a front for a massive Ponzi scheme. End credits. Seems like a bad film, eh? The ECB saw dollar signs where most saw a budget Bond villain, a bluffer who made fools of everyone, including, in the end, himself.

First published in issue 33 of Wisden Cricket Monthly

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