ME,THE GABBA & KERRY PACKER
The first Test of the 2012-13 season starts at the Gabba today.
Even after 30 years the sound of that strange word instantly fills me with very mixed emotions. In the early 80s I became the first woman, anywhere in the world, to enter the original old boys den and commentate on cricket.
It was my dream job, but turned out to be more like a nightmare.
Channel 9 Dream Team, ’97: Greg & Ian Chappell, Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry, Tony Greig.
At that time, after a couple of years writing weekly features for Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, my editor went on maternity leave and was replaced by a quietly subversive man.
He decided I should abandon the “girly stuff” and take on the boys – write about cricket and interview the players. (Several pieces I wrote for him were subsequently included in anthologies of world cricket/sports writing.)
As well as writing about cricket, I also experienced the unrivalled humiliation of being the only female “player” (a VERY generous description) in several big charity matches. These were meant to be playful one-day affairs between teams of retired world cricketing greats and tragic would-be cricketers turned politicians.
However they played the games for real. They didn’t hold back. In me, they had a non-playing, living puppet in their midst. In fact they found it amusing to deliberately hit balls as far as they could for me to retrieve, just to see me run.
As a result I came to the attention of the brilliant David Hill who was at that time, the head of Channel 9 Sport and he offered me a job.
Years later when the shock of this employment finally wore off, I realised David had been on the horns of a major dilemma.
Pakistan’s great captain and stunning all-rounder, Imran Khan, had developed a bad stress fracture and had been side-lined. As a result, an underpowered, injured, politically-divided, factional, leaderless and mostly very young, Pakistan side was about to take on Australia at the height of its powers – an “A” team with more stars than The Southern Cross.
It was going to be a “whitewash”, a “bloodbath” according to the press. (That kind of hyperbole was regularly sloshed around the cricket pages at the time.)
I believe David Hill decided he needed to do something radical to boost his TV ratings and put this – already done and dusted – Test Match on the front page.
It’s possible his reasoning went something like this: “I’ve got to do something that will shock everyone’s pants off. Something that’s never been done before. Something no one will like. That everyone will talk about. Eureka! I’ll get that actress who writes about cricket into the Com box for the Test Series…”
In his book on Asutralian Consolidated Press, journalist Gerald Stone describes an overheard vignette in which David Hill tells Kerry Packer his intention of employing me as a commentator.
I hadn’t met KP at this point, but had come to his attention a few years earlier. In 1979 I’d turned down an offer of $60K to become the first Australian Playboy Centrefold.
Apparently when David told him the plan he shouted:
“YOU WANT TO DO WHAT? ARE YOU INSANE? ARE YOU F…ING HER?”
When David replied: “No”.
“WELL THAT’S YOUR SECOND MISTAKE!”
Oblivious to all of the above, my reasons for accepting David’s offer were fairly simple – I had nothing to do for three months.
The Melbourne production of a very successful play, Insignificance, in which I played Marilyn Monroe, had a break until we transferred to the Sydney Opera House in January 1984.
The job was always a one off, just the 83/84 series. David enticed me with masses of money, first class travel, great hotels and promises of an easy life in the Commentary Box, surrounded by some of my one-time heroes, doing what I liked best, watching Test Cricket.
It’s fair to say our local heroes hated me on sight.
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