From the Archives, 1981: Howzat? Not cricket, says crowd to underarm bowl

First Published in The Age February 2, 1981

Howzat? Not cricket, says MCG crowd

Australia’s last-ball victory over New Zealand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground yesterday demeaned the game and did incalculable harm to this country’s sporting image.

Trevor Chappell bowls underarm to Brian McKechnie.Credit:You Tube

With New Zealand tailender Brian McKechnie needing a six off the last ball to tie the result, Australian captain Greg Chappell instructed his younger brother Trevor to bowl under-arm along the ground.

Trevor did so, McKechnie blocked the ball and the crowd of 52,990 – a world record for a limited-over match – erupted in a deafening roar of disapproval for a team it had supported wholeheartedly.

Greg Chappell’s decision obliterated what had been a magnificent day’s cricket with Australia first scoring 4/235 in its 50 overs and New Zealand making a bold effort for victory in finishing with 8/229.

New Zealand, soundly beaten in the recent Test series, were keyed for a major effort in yesterday’s match. They were thwarted by bad luck and the tactics of their opponents.

Greg Chappell, who hit a delightful innings of 90, was the centre of two incidents. When 58, he hit a ball high to mid-wicket where fieldsman Martin Snedden ran 20 metres and dived full-length to hold the catch of the season.

A sign for Greg Chappell’s eyes at the SCG yesterday, referring to the controversial under-arm bowling incident in Melbourne on Sunday.Credit:Fairfax Media

The New Zealanders who ran to congratulate him had their jubilation shattered when umpire Peter Cronin, after conferring with Don Weser, ruled Chappell not out.

Cronin refused to change his decision despite vigorous protests from New Zealand captain Geoff Howarth, vice-captain Mark Burgess and Snedden. Television replays showed Snedden’s catch had been fair.

Howarth said last night both umpires had told him they were watching the batsman running and had not seen the catch.

The Chappell brothers acted within the rules of the game in their actions, on the last ball.

Greg Chappell told umpire Weser that Trevor would bowl the last ball underarm, and this was conveyed to New Zealand batsmen McKechnie and non-striker Bruce Edgar.

But, as New Zealand captain Geoff Howarth said later, it was “not in the spirit of cricket”.

And hundreds of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders agreed with him.

Howarth, who ran on to the MCG as the ball was delivered, at first believed the action was illegal. Under-arm bowling has been outlawed in the three limited-over competitions played in England but was not in the rules drawn up this season for the $125,000 Benson and Hedges World Series Cup.

Many senior cricket officials were appalled by Chappell’s action. One, a former Test cricketer, burst into tears as he spoke of the irreparable damage the game had suffered.

Last night, senior members of the Australian Cricket Board were discussing the incident. The ACB’s emergency committee will meet today to discuss any action.

The controversial end to the match is believed to have caused a sharp reaction from many Australian players, angry at their captain’s instructions to his brother.

New Zealand Cricket Council chairman Bob Vance said from Wellington that the ACB “may care to cancel” the result of the match, which gives Australia a 2-1 lead in the best of five series.

Vance described the under-arm delivery as the “worst sporting action I have seen in my life. Victory at this cost was at the sacrifice of Australia’s tremendously proud cricket heritage”.

Chappell said after the game: “It was within the rules of the game. In my opinion it was fair play.

Front page of The Age, February 2, 1981. ‘Howzat? Not cricket, says MCG crowd’.Credit:Fairfax Archives

“We had played our guts out and I wasn’t going to see us beaten on the last ball. I’m as unhappy about it as anyone else”.

He said he was mindful of a last-ball defeat by the West Indies in the World Series Cricket competition of 1977-78 when Wayne Daniels hit a six at VFL Park. “That was running through my mind when I instructed Trevor to bowl underarm,” he said.

The action brought an unprecedented response from cricket lovers in Australia and New Zealand. Newspaper switchboards and telexes around the countries were jammed with messages of condemnation.

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