It was February 1, 1981, when the Australian captain Greg Chappell found a loophole in the rule books of cricket and asked his brother Trevor Chappel to bowl an ‘Underarm Delivery’ when New Zealand needed 7 off the last ball to win and 6 runs to tie the game with Brian McKechnie taking strike.
Australia and New Zealand were competing in the best-of-five finals of the 1981 World Series and the Kiwis were chasing a total of 236 and needed 15 from the last over. Despite getting Ian Smith out on 5th ball of the over, Greg Chappell did not want to take any chance of the last ball and asked his youngest brother to bowl an underarm ball.
Greg asked the umpires to inform the batsmen of his decision as back then there were no rules which could have stopped Trevor Chappell bowling the underarm ball. The decision shocked everyone including the Aussie wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh who kept on disagreeing with the call.
However, Trevor Chappell did what his captain and brother asked him to do and although Australia won the match that day but Greg Chappell is still ridiculed for the decision he took 37 years ago at the MCG.
Recalling on the incident, Greg Chappell admits that he made a mistake and it was his sheer eagerness to win the match which blinded his judgement as he asked his brother Trevor to bowl that underarm ball.
At the moment, Greg’s elder brother Ian Chappell and the great Richie Benaud were on the commentary and they knew that the Australian team were in for a lot of criticism. Former Australian captain Allan Border recalled the incident and shared his utter disbelief at the decision.
Border remembers how quickly the Australian players had left the field to avoid facing the New Zealand players and the fans who despite supporting Australia were against this decision as it harmed the spirit of cricket.
Back then the New Zealand prime minister Sir Robert Muldoon was outraged by Greg Chappell’s decision to bowl that Underarm Ball and called it an act of cowardliness. Muldoon claimed that it was the most disgusting thing he had witnessed on the cricket field as the game of cricket was supposed to be played by the gentleman.
37 years to the date, it still stands out as one of the moments which ended up changing the face of cricket. Trevor Chappell still ends up being the guy who bowled that Underarm Ball and although Brian McKechnie must be a little less furious nowadays but wherever he goes he is asked about the incident and how did he feel at that time.
Recalling on the incident, Brian McKechnie said: “It was a shame that such a great game of cricket had ended that way. Well, Bill Lawry called it a little disappointing but I think it was probably a little stronger than that.
“I’d gone to take guard and looked up and the umpire (Don Weser) had gone over to square leg … then he wandered over and told me (Chappell) was going to bowl underarm … I think I walked up and down the wicket a few times.’’
At the time, Greg Chappell did not understand the nature of controversy as he was battling with mental and physical fatigue having played the entire matches in the heat and having bowled his entire quota of 10 overs in the match.
It was when the Australian team were rushing back to their dressing room and on the stairs, a young girl tucked Greg’s sleeves and uttered the words “You cheated”. Chappell later called his act as a mistake and if given the opportunity, he would have liked to do things differently and perhaps avoid the idea of bowling that last ball as Underarm.