1981 January 29, 2011

Underhand, underarm

Why Greg Chappell instructed brother Trevor to bowl the infamous underarm delivery, and the subsequent fallout

A single incident in an otherwise utterly forgettable one-day international in February 1981 remains, to this day, one of the most infamous sporting moments of all time. Thirty years on, the last-ball underarm delivery in the match between Australia and New Zealand at the MCG remains a scar on the reputation of Greg and Trevor Chappell, and a classic example of an issue that fell within the strict rules of the game but way outside the moral ones.

It was the third match in the best-of-five final of the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup. New Zealand had won the first, Australia the second, so whoever won would take a 2-1 advantage into the fourth game, at the SCG. The afternoon developed an edge when Martin Snedden caught Greg Chappell in the deep - TV replays confirmed it was good - but the umpires gave Australia's captain not out. Many felt Chappell should have taken Snedden's word.

With New Zealand needing six to tie from the final delivery of the game, Chappell, Australia's captain, instructed his brother, Trevor, to bowl an underarm delivery along the ground to prevent tailender Brian McKechnie hitting it into the stands.

Images of Trevor Chappell rolling the ball along the pitch as if playing bowls, and a furious McKechnie lobbing away his bat as the crowd booed, have been shown countless times. "The boundary was the fence in those days. There weren't any ropes, so it was almost 100 metres to the boundary," he said." I decided I wasn't going to have a swing and get bowled. Throwing the bat down was just in frustration. It was a hell of a good game of cricket."

Trevor Chappell admitted he "thought [the underarm delivery] was a pretty good idea at the time" even though "obviously it wasn't in the spirit of the game". Greg Chappell said he was not aware of quite how badly his decision would go down until he was walking off. "One little girl ran beside me and tugged on my sleeve and said, 'You cheated'," he recalled. "That was [when] I knew it would be bigger than I expected."

"Yesterday one-day cricket died, and Greg Chappell should be buried with it"
Former Australian allrounder Keith Miller

What was not widely known at the time was that Chappell was deeply unhappy about the demands being put on Australia's players by a relentless schedule of cricket. "The underarm had very little to do with winning that game of cricket, because, in fact, we'd won the game," he said. "They weren't going to get six off the last ball of the game. It was my statement. My cry for help was: 'You're not listening. This might help you sit up and take notice'."

McKechnie confirmed Chappell's state of mind. "He was under pressure," he said. "He wanted to leave the field during the game. He stood at long-off, which is near the boundary. That's unusual for a captain."

The reaction in the media verged on splenetic, and almost inevitably politicians weighed in. Robert Muldoon, the New Zealand prime minister, said it was "the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket", adding "it was an act of true cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow". Even his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Fraser, said it was "contrary to the traditions of the game".

New Zealand, meanwhile, were "pissed off" according to McKechnie but no more than that. "An hour or two after the game, when we'd all had a shower and were back at the hotel, we were joking about it, trying to work out how you could hit a six off an underarm," he told the Age on the 25th anniversary of the game.

"Fair dinkum, Greg. How much pride do you sacrifice to win $35,000?"
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell

"We tried a few years later to flick it up and hit it. You can flick it up if the ball is at the right pace, but the coordination of it is damn difficult. And then you'd have to hit it about 90 metres for it to be six at the MCG. I would defy anyone to do that. When we tried, it took about 30 or 40 goes to get to the level where you could actually hit the ball. But we could only hit it 40 metres."

But was Greg Chappell's act as heinous as it is often made out? One-day cricket was still a relatively new beast - the first World Cup had been played less than six years earlier - and players were challenging regulations still geared to the first-class game all the time. In the first international one-day series in Australia the previous season, Mike Brearley, the England captain, had put all his fielders, including the wicketkeeper, on the boundary with West Indies needing four to win off the final delivery. It was an action almost as unsporting as the underarm incident, but was barely commented upon.

Almost three decades later Tony Greig, who at the time had just moved into the commentary box after retiring as a player, had nothing but scorn for McKechnie rather than either Chappell. "He didn't even try to hit the thing for six," he explained. "We practised for years in England because we knew at some stage someone would bowl an underarm. For him to not run down and let it hit his toe and pop up and try and smash it for six was a gross miscalculation. Bloody atrocious."

"I am very disappointed at Australia's win-at-all-costs attitude"
Sir Don Bradman

McKechnie had regrets of his own. "I wish it all went away the day after it happened, to be honest. I wish it never happened. It still gets raised in other contexts, inside and outside of sport. When someone thinks Australia have done something to NZ they shouldn't have, the underarm comes up again.

Trevor Chappell admitted he got fed up with hearing about that delivery. "But some years ago I came to the conclusion that I'm better off just to go along with it rather than get upset by it. So I might as well jump on the bandwagon and have a bit of a laugh about it."

Greg Chappell said he always got more abuse in Australia than New Zealand, but he added his brother should have got more credit for the delivery. "Richard Hadlee twice tried to bowl underarm balls to me in charity matches but both were wides," he said. "I might have thought it might have been forgotten. I have got over it. It took me a while."

What happened next?

  • Greg Chappell was booed all the way to the middle when he walked out to bat in the fourth match two days later. But he won the crowd round with a match-winning 87 to secure a 3-1 series win for Australia
  • The ICC amended the Laws of Cricket so underarm deliveries were illegal in one-day matches, stating they were "not within the spirit of the game".

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? Email us with your comments and suggestions.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 1, 2011, 8:21 GMT

    u say unsporting but why the rule was for? who made the rule? That was his fault...I don't even like Chappell but that was in the rule.

  • Andrew on February 1, 2011, 4:33 GMT

    @Genok - whilst I wish it never happenned - the FACT was it was a legal ball bowled at the time. The 1999 incident would of been at Oz direct expense had NZ passed, whereas NZ in 1992 deliberately underperformed against Pakistan to let Pakistan into the finals at Oz expense. BTW - I have no problems with any of the above gamesmanship. @brisCricFan - agree with that.

  • Daniel on February 1, 2011, 0:31 GMT

    @BrisCricFan: What it means is that if you intentially strike the ball a second time after it has hit you or your bat for the purpose of scoring runs you are out. If the ball first flicks your toe while you are in the middle of playing a full blooded drive you are fine because you haven't decided to play a shot after it hit you, you are already playing the shot. If, on the other hand, you intentionally flick the ball up, or you pad up and see the ball sit up nicely to be wacked and then decide to hit it, you're out.

  • Wiqar on January 31, 2011, 2:27 GMT

    fans come to the ground just to see those last moments... The last ball and six required.. so though, it was legal... it would have disappointed many fans... and I think it's all about fans.. you just have to cheer the fans..thats good cricket... it's not about winning the games, it's about winning the hearts!

  • M on January 31, 2011, 2:07 GMT

    To all those with the Hit Ball Twice law... it is a fine line, does that mean every batsman whilst playing a stroke that strikes the boot or pad first before the bat should be out in that fashion? That would see many batsmen given out on those close LBW shouts where they look for bat or pad first. In the underarm case, one would just have to time it right so that the stride forward that pops the ball up off the foot coincides with the almighty strike that sends it into the stands. @argylep that the batsman expects a reasonable opportunity to score - agreed... that they have to be provided a ball to score 6 off... that isn't part of the condition... if you can't hit a rolling ball into a gap for a single you shouldn't be playing... so there was very reasonable opportunity to score something. Personally, it was just not cricket. Rules/Laws or not, pressure, ACB/ICC demands or not, bowl the ball up and let the gods (or in this case McKechnie) decide the best victor.

  • Mark on January 31, 2011, 1:56 GMT

    Trevor Chappell's underarm stinks!!

  • Ed on January 31, 2011, 0:01 GMT

    Tony Greig is a muppet - run down and try to hit it for 6, off the toe, at the MCG?? .... you've got to be dreaming mate... yes, he did block it, but that's an indication of the scorn he felt for the ball. To try and hit it for 6 would be to acknowledge that the ball was within the spirit of the game, which it clearly wasn't. Looking back now, though, I think you'll find most Kiwis see the incident as a bit of a laugh, and a great excuse to wind the Aussies up!

  • Gene on January 30, 2011, 21:37 GMT

    @dsig3. Lets set the facts straight... Fleming didn't deliberately "lose" the game.. he just didn't allow SA to bowl the kiwis out before the 50th over which would have given Aus a better net run rate that SA. It is also worth while pointing out that Steve Waugh did a "bat slow" trick against the west indies in the 1999 world cup so NZ wouldn't make the qualified stage, that was a full year BEFORE messer Fleming returned the favour.... the underarm incident is an entirely different kettle of fish. How is "batting slow" comparable to rolling a ball on the ground so runs cannot be scored off it? They weren't putting theirs bats on the ground and preventing the ball from hitting the wickets. THAT is why a bigger deal wasn't made of it. Please engage brain before typing comments... kthanx

  • Daniel on January 30, 2011, 21:31 GMT

    The MCC and ICC over-reacted after the game. Underarm shouldn't have been banned in ODIs, just balls that bounce more than twice.

  • glenn on January 30, 2011, 21:11 GMT

    Hitting six, or in this case the seven needed to win, off an underarm delivery is actually quite simple. You pick up the ball in your glove while ensuring that your bat is touching you glove, so you can't be out "handled the ball". You then run the number of runs needed while carrying the ball. Then ensure that you place the ball on the ground again, all the time keeping the bat in contact with the glove.

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