Book Review (4 of 52): The Cricket War by Gideon Haigh



Trying to read a book a week and maintain a social life is hard. That said, my deafening silence on the review front suggests that the writing part of the deal is the trickiest – and that’s even factoring in my general lack of social skills.


As it is, I’m nine books down with a week of February left and four new titles on the way, courtesy of the birthday book fund (Mother Banister’s wallet).


I was also thrilled to receive an invite to a book club from Almanackery member Andy Fuller. I’m moving up in the world.


I’ve cheated a little bit by reviewing some of the football-related titles on the podcast I’m now running, called The People’s Game. It’s about footy, and whether footy is really still a game for the people. We’ve just finished an episode with a special version of “The People’s Question”, where we discuss Hannah Mouncey.


You can find all our episodes on iTunes here:


That ends the plugging portion of this piece. Onwards, now, to some long overdue reviewing.


Gideon Haigh’s The Cricket War is now twenty-five years old. When I hit that mark in a year, I’ll be hoping I’ve aged as well as this book. Put simply, it’s a blow-by-blow account of World Series Cricket.


Like so much of what Gideon has written, his debut book needs to be read with a smartphone close to hand. Googling words is a regular necessity. In the nineties, I imagine people were carrying the book in one hand and a dictionary in the other.


Amidst all the talk of gerontocracies (google it) and the description of one administrator as a “pinstriped incongruity”, Haigh makes the subject matter remarkably simple.


Much of what’s in the book ought not to have been forgotten. We think of day-night Test cricket as the latest and greatest craze right now. I nearly choked on my coffee when I read that white-ball Supertests were played under lights as a part of WSC in the late 1970s.


The helmet was born, but it didn’t come quietly. It came in an almighty hurry, necessitated by a frightful crop of West Indian quicks, especially Andy Roberts. One of the most memorable chapters, “Half a house brick at a hundred miles an hour”, details the events of the day David Hookes’ jaw was shattered by a fierce bouncer.


Elsewhere, a young lawyer by the name of Malcolm Turnbull was traipsing around the Caribbean on behalf of Kerry Packer, seeking signatures.


The account is holistic, affording time to those inside of WSC, and those left to struggle along in its wake in the official Australian side. This rhythm is set almost straight away, in a prologue that details the events of December 2, 1977. Two Australian collapses, and recoveries, took place in unison. The first Supertest was underway at VFL Park, and the first official Test was underway at the Gabba.


WSC was, in the eyes of many, doomed to fail. But there was a well-known bloody mindedness to Kerry Packer, who is central to book that ticks along because of Haigh’s talents with the typewriter, and because of the talents of the characters he’s writing about.


In that sense, the book is similar to Leon Gast’s When We Were Kings. WWWK features an array of characters at the peak of their powers – Don King, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, musicians, Norman Mailer, and more.


In this case, it’s Benaud, the voice of reason; Packer, gruff, bloody minded, revolutionary; Greig, carving out his career in business; and the Chappell brothers. That’s before you even mention the West Indian entourage – the Big Cat; Viv; Roberts; etc.


Despite all the great characters, I found the chapter about the Cavaliers – WSC’s purpose-built second XI touring party – the most enjoyable. “Rejected, dejected, we’re sorry we’re born” features all the nearly-men who were dispatched to Cairns and other rural venues, unable to snare a spot in the first-rate stuff. McKoscker, Walters, Wessels, O’Keefe and Woolmer all feature, with differing levels of success. The chapter title comes from the Cavaliers’ team song…


We’re aged and injured or just out of form,

Rejected, dejected, we’re sorry we’re born.

When other teams play us, they think it’s a farce,

But we wipe off their smiles when we give them the arse


This is the sort of detail the book gives. It has all of the little nuggets you don’t know about WSC, nuggets that perhaps aren’t spoken about enough. The Supertest statistics were never formally recognised by the ICC, and the fact they’re detailed in the book is valuable in itself.


In the new cricketing climate that now exists, you can do worse than to revisit the game’s original revolution.



2018 Reading List


Here is the list of my 2018 reading thus far, with some future picks…


  1. A Clear Blue Sky by Jonny Bairstow & Duncan Hamilton – (Finished/reviewed)
  2. The Cricket War: The Story of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket by Gideon Haigh (Finished/Reviewed)
  3. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (Finished/reviewed)
  4. A Rightful Place: A Roadmap to Recognition by Various authors (Finished/reviewed)
  5. The Coach: A Season with Ron Barassi by John Powers (Finished)
  6. 1970 by Martin Flanagan (Finished)
  7. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Finished)
  8. Roar by Sam Lane (Finished)
  9. How We Talk by J Enfield (Finished)


  1. Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman (Next)
  2. The Mother of All Questions: Further Feminisms by Rebecca Solnit (Ongoing)
  3. The Cub’s Way by Tom Verducci
  4. A Wink from the Universe by Martin Flanagan
  5. The Short Long Book by Martin Flanagan
  6. Out of Place: A Memoir by Edward Said
  7. A Season with Verona by Tim Parks
  8. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

About Jack Banister

Journalism student @ Melbourne Uni, Brunswick Hockey Club Men's Coach, tortured Tigers fan.


  1. An excellent and succinct review, Jack.
    I was shocked when you said this book is 25 years old. Yikes; I read it when it was first published. i must revisit it at some stage.

    As someone who was in his teens during the WSC years, I vividly remember being much more enthralled by the SuperTests and one-dayers than the goings-on of the “official” Test matches.

  2. Remarkable, hey Smokie? The sign of a truly great book is timelessness. I think it would be possible to read G.Haigh until the cows come home, and some.

    The Old Man and I have chatted about a lot of WSC stuff in recent times. He would’ve been a similar age to you. There’s a lot of forgotten knowledge, which is really why I loved this one.

  3. Mighty effort Jack. Gideon makes the erudite effortless. Like Sinatra he could “sing the phone book”.

  4. Play on, J Banister.
    That’s some fine work and an admirable undertaking.

    What are your criteria for inclusion on The List?

  5. John Butler says

    The birth of modern Australian cricket in this period. For good and bad.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on some of those future selections, Jack.


  6. Thanks DW. No specific criteria – just anything generally informative or thought-provoking, but seeking an array of different ideas. I’m hoping to go for less sport as the year continues…

    Thanks JB.

  7. Dennis Gedling says

    Great idea Jack. May I say ‘A season in Verona’ is a brilliant read. Especially if you’re knowledge on Italian sport and the social divides are minimal like mine were.

  8. Dennis Gedling says


  9. Thanks Den – I actually bought A Season with Verona for myself for my birthday. I’ve been meaning to read it since high school!

  10. Matt Watson says

    I think Gideon was about 25 when he wrote it and it was rejected by 11 publishers.
    I first read it about 20 years ago.
    I loved it. So much so that every time I see a second hand copy I buy it.
    The cricket war is a classic.
    One of the best cricket books ever.

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