Mis­ter cricket

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page - DAVID POUGHER

KERRY Packer was a man ev­ery­body knew of and very few peo­ple knew.

And that set Lachy Hulme a chal­lenge when he was cast as the late me­dia mogul.

It was well- known Packer could be bel­liger­ent.

Lawyer and Fed­eral MP Mal­colm Turn­bull, who at one time worked for Packer, said that while he could charm the birds out of the trees, he could also be a brute. But for Nine minis­eries, Howzat! Kerry

Packer’s War, the story of how World Se­ries Cricket was formed, Hulme con­cen­trated on a dif­fer­ent side of the man to get to grips with the char­ac­ter.

‘‘ I broke the story down to an eas­ily di­gestible con­cept in my head,’’ says Hulme, star of Bea­cons­field and Off­spring.

‘‘ For me, it was a lonely rich kid with no friends who starts a se­cret club called World Se­ries Cricket and when all the bad guys find out that he’s got his se­cret club, he has to fight tooth and nail to pro­tect his friends.

‘‘ If you’re lonely and you make these new friends, what’s at stake? Ev­ery­thing.’’

The story of World Se­ries Cricket starts with John Cor­nell ( Abe Forsythe) go­ing to Packer with the idea of a tele­vised one- day cricket match to ben­e­fit Aus­tralia’s best crick­eters who, de­spite their sublime abil­ity and fame, are paid very lit­tle to play.

At that stage Packer has al­ready failed to per­suade the cricket au­thor­i­ties to give him ex­clu­sive TV rights.

He not only em­braces the idea, but expands it to in­clude a se­ries in­volv­ing the world’s best play­ers, day- night games and far more cam­eras. It’s a rev­o­lu­tion.

Ev­ery­one knows that Packer ul­ti­mately won the bat­tle. Fewer will re­mem­ber that ini­tially WSC failed.

Only a few hun­dred turned up to that first game at Mel­bourne’s VFL Park in Waver­ley.

There were long and ex­pen­sive le­gal chal­lenges. Packer’s play­ers, par­tic­u­larly in Aus­tralia, were de­clared ‘‘ dis­ap­proved play­ers’’. There were plenty of peo­ple close to Packer who urged him to cut his losses.

Like WSC it­self, Howzat!, from pro­ducer John Ed­wards’ South­ern Star sta­ble, is a won­der­fully vi­brant and colourful pro­duc­tion. Hulme cap­tures Packer’s men­ace and vul­ner­a­bil­ity per­fectly, Forsythe is ex­cel­lent as the shrewd Cor­nell who’s not quite sure what he’s got him­self into, while Matthew Le Nevez, Bren­dan Cow­ell, Da­mon Gameau, Clay­ton Wat­son and Richard Davies as, re­spec­tively Den­nis Lillee, Rod Marsh, Greg Chap­pell, Ian Chap­pell and David Hookes, are bril­liantly cast and by co­in­ci­dence they are all ac­com­plished crick­eters.

But at the cen­tre of it all is Hulme’s brood­ing Packer.

‘‘ Kerry was a com­plex man,’’ Hulme says. ‘‘ He smoked 80 cig­a­rettes a day . . . and he drank noth­ing but Fanta, or freshly squeezed orange juice as he called it.

‘‘ We didn’t know that was his name for Fanta [ Nine chief] David Gyn­gell told us that and if we’d known that beau­ti­ful lit­tle bon mot, we would have whacked it into the script some­where.

Kerry hated it when they called it a cir­cus but at the end of the day we all em­braced it and Kerry was the ring­mas­ter

‘‘ But most of my re­search was chat­ting with my fel­low ac­tors, who in many cases met the peo­ple they were play­ing.

‘‘ Mat­tie Le Nevez, whose hero was Den­nis Lillee, would come in with this story about Fot [ Lillee’s nick­name] and he’d say, ‘ there was this story about Fot and Kerry one time’ and I’d think, ‘ OK, now I un­der­stand a bit about that re­la­tion­ship’.

‘‘ Tony Briggs plays Clive Lloyd and Tony would come in and say ‘ Clive and Kerry would do this and Clive and Kerry would do that’ and again, I’d think, ‘ OK, I’ve got that now’. I’d glean all these sto­ries and it’s a bit like safe­crack­ing. You tum­ble the lock a bit . . . and fi­nally you can open the safe.’’

For Hulme, the key to un­der­stand­ing Packer came in the scene set at his 40th birthday party.

He’s sur­rounded by the crick­eters he has idolised and they present him with a to­ken of their ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what he has done for them.

It’s a hugely emo­tional mo­ment for the big man.

‘‘ At the party the play­ers give him a bat with their sig­na­tures on it. And I said to [ di­rec­tor] Daina Reid, when they give him that bat he doesn’t just say, ‘ hey, thanks for the bat’.

‘‘ In so many ways, this is a 12- year- old boy stand­ing in front of Den­nis Lillee, Greg Chap­pell, Ian Chap­pell and they’re pre­sent­ing him with a bat.

‘‘ Clive Lloyd is there, Rod Marsh, they’re all there and these great men pro­duce this signed bat and say, ‘ Kerry this is for you’.

‘‘ For me that was the key scene that un­locked Kerry. I wanted to be able to com­mu­ni­cate what was a very sim­ple mo­ment in the script and I said to Daina, just keep the cam­era on me and we’ll be able to tell the au­di­ence ev­ery­thing about Kerry that we want to. And she did.’’

The British press called WSC Packer’s Cir­cus, which in­fu­ri­ated Packer.

But Hulme be­lieves it was a fair de­scrip­tion.

‘‘ Ini­tially Kerry hated it when they called it a cir­cus,’’ he says.

‘‘ Greg Chap­pell told me that. He said, ‘ Kerry hated that but at the end of the day we all em­braced it’, be­cause it was a cir­cus and Kerry was the ring­mas­ter.

‘‘ Greg said to me ‘ It was the best two years of our lives, we played our best cricket we had the most fun we ever had and we rev­o­lu­tionised the game’.

‘‘ He said, ‘ If you guys can cap­ture even 10 per cent of the fun we had, then you’ve done your job’.’’

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