Cricket: Kerry Packer verbally ripped cricket commentator to shreds

Mark Nicholas has revealed in his autobiography how his boss, Kerry Packer, verbally abused him on the job. Photo / Photosport
Mark Nicholas has revealed in his autobiography how his boss, Kerry Packer, verbally abused him on the job. Photo / Photosport

Mark Nicholas enjoyed a decorated county cricket career in England as a batsman remembered for his suave appearance and as perhaps one of the best players of his generation never to play a Test for the Poms.

By the mid 2000s he'd also begun a distinguished broadcasting career, anchoring Sky Sports' cricket coverage on Channel 4 in the UK and also, with the help of close friend and radio legend Alan Jones, landing a role with Channel 9 in Australia.

But as he began his second summer alongside commentary legends like Richie Benaud and Bill Lawry at the Kerry Packer-owned TV network, Nicholas was still unsure of his place among such luminaries.

On a cold and damp day at Bellerive Oval on January 16, 2005, where he was calling a one-day international between the Aussies and Pakistan, he was left with little doubt exactly where he stood.

As revealed in his new book A Beautiful Game: My Love Affair With Cricket, Nicholas had been sympathising with the local crowd, and the fielding visiting team, as the icy conditions took their toll. During the break between innings the mobile phone of Nine producer Graeme Koos rang. "Mark, it's Kerry, for you," Koos said.

Benaud looked up with interest and Nicholas's heart began thumping in his chest. He put the phone to his ear.

"Son, it's Kerry Packer," said the gravelly voice on the other end of the line. "Son, stop bagging the f***ing game."

"Pardon, Mr Packer? I'm sorry, I missed that," replied Nicholas, as he battled with a bad connection.

Packer: "I said stop bagging the f***ing game, son. Celebrate the game, talk it up."

Nicholas: "But Mr Packer, people tell me I'm too busy talking the game up and that I should toughen ..."

Packer (with raised voice): "I'm not people, son, I'm the boss. You listen to me."

Nicholas: "I'm trying, Mr Packer. It's not a great line. I think it's better here. I think I'll hear you better now."

Packer: "Son, stop telling us how f***ing cold it is in Hobart and how the fielders' are wringing their hands and how people are wrapped in anoraks and having a s*** time. The only people having a s*** time are those of us at home who have to sit here f***ing listening to you. And son, we're a commercial network. We sell the game. It's not over till it's over. I don't care how far in front the Aussies are, it's never over. Our business is numbers, son, eyeballs. And another thing, when you're next in Sydney, come and see me. Ring my secretary and make an appointment."

Nicholas: "Yes, Mr Packer, when should I ..."

Packer: "Are you f***ing deaf, son? I said come and see me when you are next in Sydney. And son, bring those two other young blokes, (Mark) Taylor and (Ian) Healy, with you."

Benaud, Lawry and Tony Greig immediately attempted to soften what was a devastating blow.

"He puts a marker on most people who represent the network," said Greig, while Lawry recalled the time Packer had told him "stop copying Benaud and start f***ing talking".

The next phone call Nicholas received was just as extraordinary. Packer's son, James, had been with his father while he tore apart Nicholas and had been concerned enough to call Nine CEO David Gyngell.

"I hear the old man gotcha," said Gyngell, to a still flummoxed Nicholas.

"You could say that, Gyng," Nicholas replied.

Gyngell: "Must have been a good one, mate, even by his standards, because James (Packer) was sitting with him watching the cricket and heard him going hard at you. James just rang to tell me, reckoned you copped it and could do with a call."

Nicholas: "Well, that's good of him. And of you, Gyng, thanks."

Gyngell: "Anyway, call him back and tell him he's talking s***."

Nicholas: "I'm sorry?!"

Gyngell: "Call him back and tell him he's talking s***. Seriously, it's the only way with Kerry, and he'll respect you for it in the end. He wouldn't have you on the network if he didn't think you were up to it, so call him and stand your ground."

Nicholas: "Are you f***ing mad?"

Gyngell: "No, mate, I mean it."

Nicholas: "No way, Gyng."

Gyngell: "Your call. Anyway, glad you're okay. Make sure you give as good as you get tomorrow. If it's any consolation, I get one of these a month. I've learnt to give it back to him. It's the only way. You're doing a good job, mate, hang on in there. Catch up soon."

Nicholas didn't call Packer back but, along with Taylor and Healy, was put on a flight to Sydney the following day to meet with the man who would decide their futures. After a standard half hour wait, the trio sat down in Packer's office.

"Without warning, he launched into a spellbinding attack on our commentary," Nicholas wrote. "He talked quietly but firmly and with a sense of threat. His words were less advice than instruction and the long and short of them was: stop telling us something is interesting, the viewer can decide whether it's interesting; don't use that word 'clever' - it's a game of cricket, that's all; stop asking questions of other commentators and excluding the viewer; stop telling us about s*** weather; cut out the in-jokes - we're not interested in your tennis and golf games or your fish and chips; keep women, kids and blokes who don't play the game in the loop by keeping it simple and explaining it for dummies; call the f***ing game, not the peripherals; tell us about the game but don't analyse everything - it's not science, it's a game, and all that analysis is boring; call the game; know the players, know the figures, know the conditions and take us inside the game. Don't lecture. Call the bloody game."

But the most tense, and in hindsight most hilarious, moment was still to come as Packer turned on Healy.

"The other night you called the game against the Kiwis over when they needed 13 an over and they got up. It's never over, son. Listen, you blokes, we're a commercial network. We survive with good ratings and good revenue. Never, ever call a game over until it's over, son. You called the game against the Kiwis over," Packer said.

"No I didn't, Kerry," Healy replied.

Nicholas couldn't believe his ears. "Oh my god, did he just say that? And Kerry? Did he call him Kerry?" he thought.

Packer: "You f***ing did, son."

Healy: "No I didn't, Kerry."

Packer: "Son, I'm not an idiot. You called it over when they needed 13 an over."

Healy: "I didn't, Kerry. I was rostered off the game. I wasn't even there."

Packer: "You f***ing were, son."

"It was a robust exchange," Nicholas wrote. "I gave the points to Healy. He was right, he wasn't there, which would have been funny at any other time than this. It was me who called the game over."

From that point Packer began quizzing Taylor - who was on the board of Cricket Australia - and Healy - who had a similar role with the Cricketers' Association - about their thoughts on the future of the game.

Over three and a half hours later Packer, having shown the awestruck trio cricket bats previously owned by Sir Garry Sobers and Sir Don Bradman, a golf club used by Jack Nicklaus, and shared a fascinating discussion about a range of sports, bade them farewell.

"Take care of the game,' he said, "Because it won't take care of itself."

"That was it, the only time I met Kerry Packer," Nicholas wrote. "Unforgettable."

- news.com.au

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