The spirit of cricket is a hot topic of discussion, almost omnipresent, in modern-day cricket. Does it exist? Does it not? Whether it matters is another part of this discourse. The growing number of run outs at the non-striker’s end before the ball is bowled has sparked this debate further.
But rewind by 43 years and there are no second thoughts about the event that took place at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is not how cricket should be played. The match under question is the third clash in the best-of-five finals of the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup in 1981.
A tri-series between the hosts Australia, their neighbour New Zealand and the second team that visited Down Under for an Australian Test summer - India. Each side played 10 games each in the league stage (yes, 10 games each) and the Oceanian sides advanced to the best-of-five finals (again, yes, five finals).
New Zealand won the first and Australia drew parity in the second. The third final at MCG went to the last over. Chasing 236, the visitors needed 15 off the final over. Sir Richard Hadlee started with a four on the first ball (also the first of his innings) but got out on the subsequent delivery. Ian Smith cleared the in-field on the next two deliveries but without finding gaps in the deep.
He got two runs each before getting out and the equation was reduced to seven runs off the last ball for New Zealand to take a lead before going to Sydney. Their only chance was to tie the game with a six.
Anybody would fancy Australia for a win but Greg Chappell had other ideas. MCG is one of the biggest cricketing venues in the world. There were no boundary ropes then. The outfield fence was the boundary line. No batter had scored a six in the game. And the batter, Brian McKechnie, a number 10, was supposed to face his first and only delivery in the game. Yet, Greg Chappell, the Australian skipper was not assured of the odds.
He went to the bowler - his brother Trevor Chappell - instructing him to bowl an underarm delivery, the one rolled along the pitch.
The umpires announced it to the batter. The wicketkeeper, the late Rod Marsh, muttered something while shaking his head in disagreement with the tactic, standing behind McKechnie who was himself in disbelief. Ian Chappell, the eldest of all the cricketing Chappell brothers was on commentary and mentioned: "No Greg, you can't do that."
McKechnie’s only option was to kick the ball up in the air and have a crack at it. Not sure about his football skills but he would definitely be an LBW candidate since the ball was in line with the stumps. He played the ball back on the pitch and left, throwing his bat up in disappointment.
The opener, Bruce Edgar, unbeaten on 102 at the other end and bereft of strike in the final over was standing with his arms folded as the game was over the moment Australia decided to push the rule book. There was an immediate backlash against Greg for his tactics. Richie Benaud, as a presenter for Channel 9 summed it up:
“I think it was a disgraceful performance from a captain who got his sums wrong today. It should never be permitted to happen again. We keep reading and hearing that the players are under a lot of pressure and they are tired and jaded and their judgment and skill is blunted. Perhaps they might advance that as an excuse for what happened today but not with me. One of the worst things I have ever seen on a cricket field.”
It was a direct jibe at Greg Chappell who defended his act later saying he was not mentally fit to captain Australia after a long summer of cricket.
Even the Prime Ministers of both sides had their say. Robert Muldoon, the Kiwi PM termed it as “an act of true cowardice”. His counterpart, Malcolm Fraser agreed, saying it was “contrary to the traditions of the game”.
New Zealand had more than one reason to feel robbed in the game. During Australia’s innings, Martin Snedden had taken what the TV replays believed was a fair catch at the boundary ropes. But the on-field umpires adjudged Greg not out who went on to make 90.
Also, none of the umpires noticed that Australia had one fielder too many outside the inner circle before the last ball of the game. Hence, a potential no-ball went under the radar.
Consequently, underarm bowling was banned by the ICC. It was much like the England captain Mike Brearly stationing all his fielders at the boundary ropes (including the wicketkeeper, David Bairstow) when West Indies required three runs to win off the final delivery at the SCG in 1979. Although not much was talked about that incident, the laws were revised to impose field restrictions, just like in this underarm incident involving the Chappell brothers.
In 1993, Hadlee delivered an underarm delivery to Allan Border as a joke in the Allan Border tribute match in Brisbane. In 2005, in the last over of the first ever T20I, between New Zealand and Australia, Glenn McGrath mimed the same. He bent low to bowl an underarm bowl with a beaming smile on his face, only to keep the ball in his hands. The umpire Billy Bowden retorted by showing him a red card.
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