To share in the second Australian season of double tours, New Zealand were able to choose a good side, at any rate on paper, even without Glenn Turner, their leading batsman, who could not be persuaded to make the visit. New Zealand arrived in Australia with reasonable hopes of success, especially in the one-day competition for the Benson and Hedges Cup.
In recent years their cricket has benefited greatly from the experience that several of their players have had of county cricket in England. They have become a tougher, more efficient side, with the weaker members playing to a more consistent standard than before. For all that, any New Zealand side in Australia has to cope with being looked upon as junior relations. By the time Geoff Howarth and his players returned home, they may have felt that this natural antipathy had been carried too far.
They had no complaints about the three-match Test series. In this they were well beaten, losing the first two Tests, in Brisbane and Perth, each in three days, with Australia's seam bowlers uncovering technical flaws in New Zealand's batsmen. New Zealand's main grievance concerned the one-day finals (these were decided on a best-of-five basis) in which they met Australia, India having been eliminated at the preliminary stage. New Zealand won the first of these games, in Sydney, quite comfortably. Two days later, in Melbourne, they lost the second when their batting let them down.
The third, also in Melbourne, produced two lamentable incidents, for which this particular Australian season will be long remembered. The first of them came when Greg Chappell, the outstanding player on either side and Australia's regular match-winner in this competition, was given not out to an appeal for a low, diving catch at mid-wicket by Snedden off Cairns. Australia, batting first, were 131 for one at the time with Chappell in his 50s. With the umpires, somewhat surprisingly, both claiming that they were looking for short runs rather than watching the ball, and therefore unable to give Chappell out, it was left to Chappell to accept Snedden's claim, strongly supported by Howarth, that he had made a clean catch. This he declined to do, though TV pictures showed that there was no question of the ball having been grounded. Chappell went on to make 90 and New Zealand were left with 236 to win.
The second, more far-reaching incident came when, with New Zealand needing 6 to tie off the last ball of the match, Greg Chappell instructed his brother, Trevor, to bowl an underarm sneak to McKechnie, the New Zealand number ten, as an insurance against their getting them. Not surprisingly this prompted widespread charges of poor sportsmanship. The Australian Cricket Board, meeting by telephone hook-up, at once agreed that the playing conditions should be changed to prohibit the use of underarm bowling in the remaining matches of the competition. They also decided that, as no existing rule had been infringed, the Melbourne result, however regrettably achieved, must stand.
Mr P. L. Ridings, chairman of the Australian board, said his board "deplored Greg Chappell's action" and had "advised him of their strong feelings on the matter and of his responsibility as Australia's captain to uphold the spirit of the game at all times". Chappell said himself it was something he would not do again. Even the Prime Ministers of the two countries had things to say, Australia's Mr Malcolm Fraser claiming that Chappell had "made a serious mistake, contrary to the spirit of the game". New Zealand's Mr Robert Muldoon was more outspoken, describing the underarm delivery as "an act of cowardice". It was appropriate, he said, that the Australian team should have been dressed in yellow, a reference to the coloured strip favoured by Australia in these one-day matches.
Mr Bob Vance, chairman of the New Zealand Cricket Council, described it as the worst sporting action he had ever seen. Victory at this cost, he said, was at the sacrifice of Australia's tremendously proud cricket heritage. Sir Donald Bradman totally disapproved of what had happened. Richie Benaud referred to a disgraceful happening... "one of the worst things I have seen on a cricket field." Harold Larwood, aged 77 and living in retirement in Sydney, said it was "a bloody stupid thing to do", adding that "no-one in my time would have done anything like that." A Sydney radio station said that several callers had urged that Australia's ambassador to New Zealand be recalled as an expression of national shame. There were charges, too, that the substantial prize-money was changing players' attitudes.
Two days later, in Sydney, Australia won the fourth of the finals, a victory which gave them the series by three matches to one. Having had a mixed reception when he went in to bat, Greg Chappell, after playing another brilliant innings, was loudly cheered when he was out. He was made the Man of the Series, though there were those who believed that the underarm controversy played a part in his decision not to undertake the forthcoming tour of England.
In the Test matches the New Zealanders seemed, to some extent, overawed. Although badly beaten in the first two, they were nothing like as poor a side as those scores suggested. As the series progressed Edgar and Wright became a formidable opening partnership, though without the support they needed from the middle order. Howarth, Burgess, Parker and Coney were all good players who failed to do themselves justice with the bat. The Australian phalanx of fast bowlers, Lillee, Pascoe and Hogg, was too much for them.
By and large, however, Howarth came out of the tour with much credit. He was a shrewd and calm captain who handled matters extremely well during the Melbourne fracas, and also after it. Richard Hadlee was another to emerge with considerable credit from the tour, taking nineteen wickets in the three Tests and winning the Player of the Series award. He was always fast and hostile in spite of having nothing like the same support from the other end as did his opposite numbers.
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