1981 January 29, 2011

Underhand, underarm

Why Greg Chappell instructed brother Trevor to bowl the infamous underarm delivery, and the subsequent fallout
33

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

  • 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.

  • Meety 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.

  • D.V.C. 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.

  • wakaPAK 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!

  • brisCricFan 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.

  • MarkM33 on January 31, 2011, 1:56 GMT

    Trevor Chappell's underarm stinks!!

  • Kiwisupporter 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!

  • Genok 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

  • D.V.C. 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.

  • nzgp 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.

  • 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.

  • Meety 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.

  • D.V.C. 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.

  • wakaPAK 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!

  • brisCricFan 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.

  • MarkM33 on January 31, 2011, 1:56 GMT

    Trevor Chappell's underarm stinks!!

  • Kiwisupporter 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!

  • Genok 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

  • D.V.C. 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.

  • nzgp 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.

  • timmytimmytimmytimmy on January 30, 2011, 19:23 GMT

    unsporting to put all your fielders on the boundary with 4 needed off the last ball?? how on earth is that unsporting??

  • dsirl on January 30, 2011, 19:04 GMT

    Yep, letting it hit your toe then hitting it into the stands sounds like a good idea but I agree with those who have said the batsman should then be out Hit the Ball Twice; the second strike would be deliberate. Even if the ball was heading in the vague direction of the wicket obviously the second strike would be far to powerful to look like an attempt to protect the wicket and even then runs can't be scored off a ball lawfully struck twice, except overthrows. Oh and no runs would be allowed for any overthrows anyway, because the first contact was with the batsman's person and he had no intention of hitting it, so that's a "leg byes disallowed" situation and no runs can be scored...

  • dsig3 on January 30, 2011, 15:39 GMT

    Its a great shame for Aus. I remember playing we played the kiwis in a tri series with SA. The kiwis purposely lost and Fleming admitted it. Why was a bigger deal not made of that......

  • argylep on January 30, 2011, 14:28 GMT

    Legal then or not underam bowling had and still doesn't - even by special arrangement - have any place in competitive adult mens cricket. It is totally contrary to the traditions of the Game in that batsmen are quite entitled to expect the ball to be delivered so that there is a REASONABLE opportunity to score off it. Chappells ball denied them that...period!! He and his brother were villified and heavily criticised for it & rightly so. He may have been following Captains orders just as Larwood did during the Bodyline tour but if Trevor Chappell had any shred of decency and respect for opponents - one of the underpining principles of the Spirit of the Game - then and now to admit it was wrong he could and should have refused to bowl it. The Chappells and Ponting after them are all that stinks about Australian cricket.

  • Meety on January 30, 2011, 12:24 GMT

    @ John-Price - that's your interpretation. I haven't bothered to read the law but going on what you have quoted there is nothing against you scoring from it. Not unlike the interpretation of batters changing from Left to Right handed (or vice versa), the law is ambiguous. Happy to be shown the error of my ways!

  • __PK on January 30, 2011, 9:02 GMT

    Underarm. Underhand? No, legal, under the rules of cricket. The only thing against the spirit of cricket was McKechnie's typically Kiwi dummy spit when he threw the bat. And for Malcom Fraser to claim it was against the history of the game is ridiculous when you remember that underarms have always been permitted, historically.

  • John-Price on January 30, 2011, 8:38 GMT

    Meety - the law allows you to take a second touch of the ball to defend your wicket - but not to score runs.

  • D.V.C. on January 30, 2011, 3:59 GMT

    If you were to flick the ball up and then hit it you would be out hit the ball twice. Even if you use your foot, even if you were to flick the ball up by accident, as only the second strike has to be intentional and only the second strike has to come off the bat.

  • Talubar on January 30, 2011, 0:47 GMT

    @mogan707-rolling a ball along the pitch was completely legal in cricket as of 1981. The change in the rules regarding the maximum number of "bounces" i.e. 2, was introduced later. Interestingly underarm bowling is not banned outright but is permitted "by special agreement before the match." The modern game is so heavily in favour of the batsmen I think that underarm bowling and flexion of the bowling arm, i.e. "chucking" should be allowed in the interests of redressing the balance.

  • Meety on January 29, 2011, 22:43 GMT

    @John Melville - the no-ball incident didn't happen on the last ball it involved a catch that Lille took in that series. @ thatsgold - I think the article makes the kiwis rather heroic actually. Easy for them to whinge about it - but they as a nation decided to take it on our Rugby side! LOL. @ John-Price - that can be & is interpretted differently - many times a batter swipes the ball away with the bat when it looks like hitting the stumps. @All in General - I am glad that bowling a "Mully-Gruber" along the ground is outlawed - but I think that under arm bowling SHOULDN'T neccessarily be banned. If someone is good enough to bowl underarm LOBBS - why not let them? It was common in the late 19th century - & there was quite a bit of spin gained from the ploy - also the trajectory was difficult to pick. I am LOLing at the thought of Tait coming steaming in & at the last moment changes to an underarm ball - could you imagine BYES going for 6?????

  • tim72 on January 29, 2011, 22:20 GMT

    the international cricket board NEVER does anything that is foreseen UNTIL it happens..and only then. This is analogous to waiting for an accident to happen, despite several near misses. This means that it takes a controversy in order to make a change- with those involved becoming scapegoats for either exploiting the rules, or making a point. in all fairness, the motive was to make a point, as denying a victory wasnt possible. So the call that "win at all costs" was the intent, is incorrect. The point was that the game was still ripe for exploitation and that the players were not puppets- they were the reason why people loved the game, and its was solely their performances that kept it afloat. i.e. push us and we'll push back..see?

  • on January 29, 2011, 21:03 GMT

    hahahahha...dat was smart ...if the laws at that time allowed it then it was within the spirit of the game ..!!!! pretty smart work...but if the ball had bounced a little ..it wud have been a gift !!!!!

  • Maui3 on January 29, 2011, 20:53 GMT

    just checked the video. (Unlike my comment in my previous post) Marsh went along with what Chappel did. He had no objection to the underarm ball.

  • SillyPointer on January 29, 2011, 18:34 GMT

    Anyone but the perpetrator himself. For years he and his brother blamed the ICC because they didn't outlaw the delivery. I am surely convinced now that it was just his "cry for help" against a "relentless schedule" of cricket. Wait another 10 years and another perfectly plausible explanation will be revealed that might revise this incident to be remembered as one of heroic acts in Cricket. Long live spin doctorism.

  • on January 29, 2011, 15:34 GMT

    otherwise utterly forgettable??? Martin, I hope you said that just to glorify the subject of this article. Because I don't see any other reason to call a match that went down to the last ball and prompted Chappell to such tactics a forgettable match.

  • John-Price on January 29, 2011, 15:07 GMT

    Grieg's brilliant idea of knocking the ball up with his toe and then belting it would not work - it would constitute hitting the ball twice - Law 34 reads "(a) The striker is out Hit the ball twice if, while the ball is in play, it strikes any part of his person or is struck by his bat and, before the ball has been touched by a fielder, he wilfully strikes it again with his bat or person, other than a hand not holding the bat, except for the sole purpose of guarding his wicket."

  • Something_Witty on January 29, 2011, 12:01 GMT

    This incident was disgraceful I'll admit, and also hugely disappointing given that an Australian did it. However, if anyone is to blame, it is the ICC for not outlawing underarm deliveries earlier. Everyone knew it would eventually happen, but nobody did anything about it. Maybe we should be thanking G and T Chappell for forcing the ICC's hand?

  • on January 29, 2011, 11:57 GMT

    hence proved...greg chappell was a hero :D n it has been a great conspiracy against him since last 30 years :D ....

    n how is that Mike Brearley's act compared to greg chappelles heroics??i dont see anything bad in pushing all the fielders to the boundries...

  • Nerk on January 29, 2011, 10:06 GMT

    @mogan707 - The rules stating how many times a ball can bounce before reaching the end of the pitch only came in AFTER this incident. The umpire was perfectly correct in allowing the ball. Otherwise this incident was a blight on the game of cricket, a moment of madness from a captain under the pump.

  • thatsgold on January 29, 2011, 9:52 GMT

    dude not cool, you make this article look like kiwis were the villians

  • mogan707 on January 29, 2011, 8:23 GMT

    I have seen the video clipping and astonished to see that it was not called a dead ball by the umpires and did not call the bowler bowl it again because it rolled over the pitch before it reached the batsman and hence the umpires are equal to take the blame to let go off that ball.And here the author tries to justify the incident by pointing out to other incidents that are wrong and get away with it.A mistake done willfully is a wrong and a mistake done without knowledge is an aberration.How does the author miss this simple point?

  • on January 29, 2011, 7:10 GMT

    the delivery was actually a no ball because Dennis Lillee was outside of the field restricting circle due to non existant run up for the underarm

  • on January 29, 2011, 6:45 GMT

    I think it's quite clever. Of course it comes across quite dastardly from the Aussie captain. He was quite within the rules. Win at any cost, that's Australia for you.

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  • on January 29, 2011, 6:45 GMT

    I think it's quite clever. Of course it comes across quite dastardly from the Aussie captain. He was quite within the rules. Win at any cost, that's Australia for you.

  • on January 29, 2011, 7:10 GMT

    the delivery was actually a no ball because Dennis Lillee was outside of the field restricting circle due to non existant run up for the underarm

  • mogan707 on January 29, 2011, 8:23 GMT

    I have seen the video clipping and astonished to see that it was not called a dead ball by the umpires and did not call the bowler bowl it again because it rolled over the pitch before it reached the batsman and hence the umpires are equal to take the blame to let go off that ball.And here the author tries to justify the incident by pointing out to other incidents that are wrong and get away with it.A mistake done willfully is a wrong and a mistake done without knowledge is an aberration.How does the author miss this simple point?

  • thatsgold on January 29, 2011, 9:52 GMT

    dude not cool, you make this article look like kiwis were the villians

  • Nerk on January 29, 2011, 10:06 GMT

    @mogan707 - The rules stating how many times a ball can bounce before reaching the end of the pitch only came in AFTER this incident. The umpire was perfectly correct in allowing the ball. Otherwise this incident was a blight on the game of cricket, a moment of madness from a captain under the pump.

  • on January 29, 2011, 11:57 GMT

    hence proved...greg chappell was a hero :D n it has been a great conspiracy against him since last 30 years :D ....

    n how is that Mike Brearley's act compared to greg chappelles heroics??i dont see anything bad in pushing all the fielders to the boundries...

  • Something_Witty on January 29, 2011, 12:01 GMT

    This incident was disgraceful I'll admit, and also hugely disappointing given that an Australian did it. However, if anyone is to blame, it is the ICC for not outlawing underarm deliveries earlier. Everyone knew it would eventually happen, but nobody did anything about it. Maybe we should be thanking G and T Chappell for forcing the ICC's hand?

  • John-Price on January 29, 2011, 15:07 GMT

    Grieg's brilliant idea of knocking the ball up with his toe and then belting it would not work - it would constitute hitting the ball twice - Law 34 reads "(a) The striker is out Hit the ball twice if, while the ball is in play, it strikes any part of his person or is struck by his bat and, before the ball has been touched by a fielder, he wilfully strikes it again with his bat or person, other than a hand not holding the bat, except for the sole purpose of guarding his wicket."

  • on January 29, 2011, 15:34 GMT

    otherwise utterly forgettable??? Martin, I hope you said that just to glorify the subject of this article. Because I don't see any other reason to call a match that went down to the last ball and prompted Chappell to such tactics a forgettable match.

  • SillyPointer on January 29, 2011, 18:34 GMT

    Anyone but the perpetrator himself. For years he and his brother blamed the ICC because they didn't outlaw the delivery. I am surely convinced now that it was just his "cry for help" against a "relentless schedule" of cricket. Wait another 10 years and another perfectly plausible explanation will be revealed that might revise this incident to be remembered as one of heroic acts in Cricket. Long live spin doctorism.