Underarm bowling incident of 1981
The underarm bowling incident of 1981 took place on 1 February 1981, when Australia were playing New Zealand in a One Day International cricket match, the third of five such matches in the final of the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. To prevent New Zealand from having any chance of scoring the six they needed to tie, the Australian captain, Greg Chappell instructed his bowler (and younger brother), Trevor Chappell to deliver the last ball underarm, along the ground. This action was legal at the time, but nevertheless seen as being against the spirit of cricketing fair play.
Events leading up to the delivery
The series was tied 1–1, with New Zealand having won the first match, and Australia the second. At the end of the third match, the batsman at the non-striker's end, Bruce Edgar, was on 102 not out, and his innings has been called "the most overlooked century of all time".
This match was already controversial: in the Australian innings, Martin Snedden took a low outfield catch off the batting of Greg Chappell when Chappell was on 52. It was disallowed by the umpires, although TV replays clearly showed it was a clean catch. Some commentators believed that Chappell should have taken Snedden's word that the catch was good. Chappell went on to score 90, before he was caught by Bruce Edgar in similar fashion. This time, Chappell walked.
In the confusion before the final ball was bowled, one of the fielders, Dennis Lillee, did not walk into place, meaning that the underarm ball was technically a no-ball, because Australia had one too many fielders outside the field restriction line.
Delivery and post-match reaction
New Zealand needed six runs to tie the match from the final ball, with eight wickets down. Greg Chappell, the Australian captain, ordered the bowler (his brother Trevor) to bowl underarm, rolling the ball along the ground to prevent the Number 10 New Zealand batsman (Brian McKechnie) any chance of hitting a six from the last ball to tie the match. Bowling underarm was within the laws of cricket at the time (though against the rules of the Benson and Hedges County Cup Tournament in England), but perceived as unsportsmanlike.
As the ball was being bowled, Ian Chappell (older brother of Greg and Trevor, and a former Australian captain), who was commentating on the match, was heard to call out "No, Greg, no, you can't do that" in an instinctive reaction to the incident, and he remained critical in a later newspaper article on the incident.
Australia won the game, but were booed off the field by spectators. The New Zealand batsmen walked off in disgust, McKechnie throwing his bat to the ground in frustration. McKechnie was censured for bringing the game of cricket into disrepute by doing so.
After the incident, the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, Robert Muldoon, described it as "the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket", going on to say that "it was an act of true cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow". Even the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, called the act "contrary to the traditions of the game."
Commentating for Channel 9 at the time, former Australian captain Richie Benaud described the act as "disgraceful" and said it was "one of the worst things I have ever seen done on a cricket field." According to Benaud, Greg Chappell "got his sums wrong" and instead of using Dennis Lillee for the last over, he was forced to use his brother Trevor, a considerably less talented bowler. (In limited-overs cricket, a bowler can only bowl 10 out of 50 overs in an innings, and in this match, Lillee had already bowled his maximum number of allotted overs.) The fact that Trevor Chappell managed to dismiss two batsman in his final over was not enough to convince the captain to allow an overarm final delivery.
Although both Chappell brothers have publicly stated their embarrassment, McKechnie bears no ill will over the incident. Thirty years later the Chappell brothers are still reluctant to discuss it and the result of the game has never been cancelled or altered. Trevor Chappell remains best remembered for the "Underarm '81" incident.
As a direct result of the incident, underarm bowling was banned in limited overs cricket by the International Cricket Council as "not within the spirit of the game."
The following year, the Australians went on tour to New Zealand. There was a boisterous crowd of 43,000 at Eden Park, Auckland for the 1st One Day International of the tour. As Greg Chappell came out to bat, a crown green bowls wood was rolled from the crowd on to the outfield mimicking what had happened at the MCG the previous year. That day Greg Chappell scored a century in a losing cause.
The incident was used to inspire an instant kiwi ad that depicts a rematch in which exactly the same conditions had arisen and Australia were again bowling the underarm. However Brian McKechnie instead places his box in the way and subsequently hits a six off the deflected ball resulting in embarrassment for the Australian players.
New Zealand cricketer Warren Lees recounted the underarm incident on New Zealand's 20/20 current affairs show, on Thursday 17 February 2005. He said that after the affair there was a long silence in the dressing room, which was broken suddenly and unexpectedly by fellow player Mark Burgess smashing a teacup.
Also on 17 February 2005, over 24 years after the original underarm delivery, Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath light-heartedly revisited the incident in the first ever Twenty20 international, played between Australia and New Zealand. In the last over of the match, a grinning McGrath dummied an underarm delivery to Kyle Mills, which prompted New Zealand umpire Billy Bowden to produce a mock red card. As New Zealand needed more than 44 runs to win off the last delivery the outcome of the game was never in doubt, so it was positively received by the crowd.
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- Wisden Cricketers Almanack – 119th edition (1982)
- Channel 9 commentary of the match at the time
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Cheating? It wasn't against the rules – but it certainly wasn't cricket.
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