Published on 23 Jul 2012 | over 4 years ago
The underarm bowling incident of 1981 took place on 1 February 1981, when Australia was playing New Zealand in a ODI cricket match, the third of five such matches in the final of the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup, at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds. In order to prevent New Zealand from scoring the six they needed to tie, the Australian captain instructed his bowler to deliver the last ball underarm, along the ground. This action was technically legal, but seen as being totally against the spirit of cricketing fair play.
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.
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 hitting a six from the last ball to tie the match. Bowling underarm was within the laws of cricket, but perceived as unsportsmanlike. As the ball was being bowled, Ian Chappell 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 was booed off the field by spectators. The New Zealand batsmen walked off in disgust, McKechnie throwing his bat to the ground in frustration. Ironically, 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. The fact that Trevor Chappell managed to dismiss two batsman in his final over was not enough to convince the captain to allow an over arm final delivery. In limited over cricket, a bowler can only bowl a certain number of overs in an innings, and in this match, Lillee had already bowled the maximum number of overs allowed.