Forty years ago this week came the sensational announcement that changed cricket forever. The sport underwent a metamorphosis and the stage was set for cricket of the future.

The genteel English summer sport steeped in traditional values with a Test match played leisurely over five days was overnight as it were transformed into a razzle dazzle event. Five days were shortened to one, night cricket overtook day cricket, coloured clothing substituted for white flannels, white sightscreens suddenly turned black, the red ball gave way to the white ball and one could hardly recognize the international sport that fans had loved so dearly for 100 years.

The action was to unfold a few months later but the announcement of the new order on May 9 was enough to send shock waves throughout the cricketing world and it was clear that the game would never be the same again. Smug administrators sitting in their ivory towers high up in the sky suddenly had to look down gaping at what they saw and scarcely believing that all this was happening.

For years a new generation of cricket fans has been fed on a steady diet of night cricket, white balls, coloured clothing and so on that it may be difficult for them to believe that cricket was never played like this till 40 years ago. It was all about the traditional Test match format with the occasional one day match thrown in for variety.

Even that was in its infancy with the inaugural World Cup having been held in 1975. Despite the popularity of the event held in England the limited overs game was still a poor cousin to Test match cricket and in any case even one-day matches were played in the traditional format with red balls, white clothes and so on.

Cricket’s administrators held the values of a generally traditional sport high and as such they saw no reason to make major changes let alone radical. So everything just chugged along nicely and everyone from officials to players to spectators seemed happy at the arrangement even as they were changes in an ever changing world.

And then came along a revolutionary named Kerry Packer. His aims were certainly not altruistic. The take- over of the game and the players was an off shoot of his dispute with the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) over telecast rights of cricket matches. Packer owned Channel Nine the television network which covered a lot of sport in Australia and he wanted exclusive rights to cover cricket. The ACB had an arrangement with the government run ABC Channel and when Packer made a much higher offer wanting exclusive rights he was rebuffed.

Packer then hit upon the idea of signing up the world’s leading cricketers and run his own competition. It was a virtual takeover of world cricket and proved to be astonishingly easy. The complacent administrators were happy at the humdrum way things were being run but the players eking out their uncertain careers on a little more than a working man’s wage were distinctly unhappy. And when Packer approached them offering them huge sums of money for just a few weeks work the cricketers were all too pleased to accept.

Packer roped in England captain Tony Greig as a sort of recruiting agent and even as the high profile Centenary Test between England and Australia was being played at Melbourne in March 1977 the bigger and unseen story was the surreptitious manner in which the players on both sides were being approached to join Packer. Then in April Greig flew to the Caribbean to sign up the West Indian and Pakistan players who were playing a Test series there and the coup was complete.

The news broke on May 9 like a thunderclap and the immediate reactions were those of anger and disbelief with most of the indignation directed at the South African born Greig for his role in the whole episode. The authorities misread Packer’s intentions. He was not interested in running cricket and he only wanted exclusive TV rights. The administrators also underestimated his implacability and the solidity of his position. Packer players were barred from the game even though they had broken no contracts. That left the authorities exposed legally and when the case reached the High Court in London the bans were struck out.

The stage was thus set for the first season of World Series Cricket (as it was called though the more critical called it Packer’s circus or pyjama cricket) and the venture was not an immediate success. With the authorities banning them from traditional grounds alternative venues had to be found and initially the audiences for the games were limited. But things improved in the second season particularly with the official Australian team without their best players being routed 5-1 in the Ashes series a lop-sided contest played before dwindling crowds. Also night cricket finally gained acceptance and some of the WSC matches drew packed audiences. Beaten on two fronts the ACB capitulated and in May 1979 gave Packer an infinitely better deal than he would have accepted a year earlier.

The pattern for cricket was now set and has remained essentially unchanged to this day – relentless limited overs cricket mostly under lights brought to the cricketing world with a mixture of innovative technical wizardry and shameless, sometimes nauseating hype. This has increased manifold with the introduction of Twenty20 cricket, the IPL and the various T-20 leagues around the world. Much as the traditionalists may disapprove all this is here to stay and provide ''cricketainment’’ in keeping with the changing times. And every time cricket lovers enjoy a limited overs game under lights perhaps they should thank the man who made it all possible.

Indeed in the late 70s the game’s authorities and most of cricket’s loyal followers regarded Packer as the devil incarnate. When he died in December 2005 there were black armbands and a minute’s silence at the Melbourne Test and the tributes from the Australian Prime Minister and the president of ICC downward verged on the unctuous. After all he was the man who created the finances, shape and tone of the modern game.

(Cover Photograph: Kerry Packer and Tony Greig)