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How an off-field battle played a role in the underarm delivery

One of the most infamous deliveries in the history of the game came at a time of significant upheaval in Australian cricket

Trevor Chappell sends the ball down underarm  •  Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Trevor Chappell sends the ball down underarm  •  Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Forty years ago today, the underarm was delivered by Trevor Chappell to Brian McKechnie under the instructions of the Australian captain Greg Chappell at the end of a tight ODI at the MCG, handing victory to the hosts but starting an argument about the episode that has continued more or less unabated ever since. This extract from Bradman & Packer: The Deal That Changed Cricket, by ESPNcricinfo's Daniel Brettig, examines the underlying reasons for the angry scenes in Melbourne that afternoon.
Greg Chappell has a simple way of summing up the change in the game over the Australian summers that followed - a recitation of how much cricket he found himself playing before, during and after WSC [World Series Cricket]. In 1976-77, pre-WSC, he walked onto the field for 42 days of cricket, including two one-day matches. Wearing the WSC cap, he turned out for 44 and 43 days, with a far higher proportion of one-dayers (14 and 28). It was for this sort of summer's work that the players had been seeking a better deal in the first place.
"We weren't looking to become professional cricketers in the sense of playing cricket full-time," he says. "We still fully expected and probably wanted to have a career outside of cricket, but we just wanted a better return. When you're committing anywhere between six and nine months of the year to cricket, for a lot of the guys that was their sole income, so it was pretty tough. That's why blokes were finishing up in their mid- to late-20s, particularly if they had a family they just couldn't afford to keep doing it."
But when peace arrived, Chappell found himself confronted with a schedule that felt rather a lot like serving two masters. In 1979-80, his calendar featured 46 days of long-form cricket and 10 of one-day matches, a figure reduced by Australia's failure to qualify for the World Series Cup finals. Even so, back-to-back Tests was a concept learned the hard way: twice in 1979-80, two full Test matches were separated by the bare minimum of one day to travel from city to city. The following summer, Chappell found himself playing 62 days of Test and first-class cricket, plus no fewer than 18 one-day games; in the space of five seasons, his playing demands had effectively doubled, though the length of season itself had not.
"The first season after WSC we were playing alternate Test matches against West Indies and England," Chappell says. "Bruce Laird had his hand broken against the West Indies and couldn't play against England. We couldn't understand why England would get the benefit of what West Indies had done. We were playing Test matches intertwined with one-day games, there was no flow to the season, adjusting from one format to another. We played all the double-headers in the one-day matches-- Saturday and Sunday we were playing two days in a row. It was hard enough from the playing point of view but exceedingly demanding from a captaincy point of view. Two one-day games in a row were physically and mentally more demanding than a Test match. The workload on key players was immense, and towards the end of a season they were pretty much exhausted."
"By the time Chappell had regained some small measure of public esteem by making 87 to guide his team home in the decisive fourth final on the Tuesday night, the prospect of any further underarms had been written out of existence in the World Series Cup playing conditions."
Professionalism had hit Australia's cricketers hard. Where they once imagined themselves playing and practising more like golfers, they found the new deal to resemble that of a sweatshop, which just so happens to be a useful way of describing the MCG on Sunday, 1 February, 1981. Chappell's decision to direct his brother Trevor to bowl an underarm delivery to spoil any chance of a New Zealand victory has been dissected at length since, but it cannot be divorced from the explosion in the demands on Australia's cricketers. Chappell, a tired professional, and frustrated by the poor state of the MCG square, made a call designed to earn an extra day or two off for him and his team.
Those at the ground have recalled the selector Sam Loxton's tears at what had taken place, but it was Richie Benaud's excoriation of Chappell's captaincy that, via the Nine broadcast, has been seared into many more memories: "I think it was a disgraceful performance from a captain who got his sums wrong today, and I think it should never be permitted to happen again. We keep reading and hearing that the players are under a lot of pressure, and that they're tired and jaded and perhaps their judgment and skill is blunted. Perhaps they might advance that as an excuse for what happened out there today. Not with me they don't. I think it was a very poor performance, one of the worst things I have ever seen done on a cricket field. Goodnight."
It was to be Bradman, ears still ringing from those sentiments, who retired to his study at 2 Holden Street to hurriedly amend the World Series Cup playing conditions for the Board ahead of the next match of the finals series, to be played in Sydney - a favour, perhaps, for his fellow SACA committeeman and by then ACB chairman Phil Ridings. By the time Chappell had regained some small measure of public esteem by making 87 to guide his team home in the decisive fourth final on the Tuesday night, the prospect of any further underarms had been written out of existence in the World Series Cup playing conditions.
What had not, however, were PBL's [Publishing and Broadcasting Limited] scheduling demands, which came with the stinging knowledge for the ACB that every match under the minimum "15 preliminaries and five finals" World Series Cup model required the Board to pay a fee in recognition of the shortfall. After England had baulked at PBL's 15/5 outline for the previous season, the one-day tournament had been reduced to 12 qualifying matches and a best-of- three finals. The underarm incident came at the end of the first summer in which the 12/3 tournament was played.
Chappell's frustration with the program was clear. "As I tried to explain to them at the time, your business depends on us having a reasonable amount of success, and everything in the programming is working against us being successful over the long term," Chappell says. "We need to sit down and talk about how we can make it more equitable. The opposition teams were playing three Test matches and we were playing six. We were having problems with the MCG pitch - 1977 was the last decent pitch I played on in my career at the MCG. It was just a mess for the next seven years.
"We were told, 'Oh well it's the same for all teams'. Well it's not because we play there twice as much as everyone else. 'Well you're making the same scores at the MCG as you're making elsewhere'. But you're missing the point: on a big ground like that, if we had a decent pitch we'd be making 50 per cent more runs on that ground than we would be elsewhere. You want to have something that's entertaining, and you're making us play on something that is very difficult to entertain on."
Chappell's meetings with [David] Richards, [Lynton] Taylor, Ridings and others, whether as part of the cricket committee or solo as the national captain, seemed, to him, to go around in circles. What he interpreted to be a lack of interest in helping the players with their many complaints could now be seen as an inability on the Board's side to change many of the stipulations inked into the PBL peace treaty. And Chappell would reason that even if the players had taken a greater consulting role in the terms that were ultimately struck, they would have been doing so without genuine awareness of what lay ahead.
"I was meeting with David Richards on what almost seemed like a daily basis--very regularly. Every time I saw him we had discussions around those sorts of issues, and I got the distinct impression - not from David, who I thought genuinely tried to help us - there was an overhang of the old attitude that they're players, they should just get on with playing and we'll do the administering. They just didn't understand either before or after World Series Cricket that what they did had a huge impact on us. We certainly had more input, we had a players' committee, but I don't know how much influence we had on the big decisions. I think the smaller stuff, sure, but the deal had been done behind closed doors."
Rather than pushing himself further, Chappell chose to partially withdraw. He resigned the post of selector handed to him as one of the terms of the peace treaty, and did not venture to England for the 1981 Ashes tour, heralding an unhappy period of shared captaincy with Kim Hughes, the establishment's choice as leader over the eminently capable but outspoken Rod Marsh.
Bradman & Packer - The Deal That Changed Cricket is published by the Slattery Media Group