You may have been just a far-off glint in the milkman’s eye or you may have even been close to our Prime Minister’s age at the time and sat and snarled as he did, but wherever you were or whatever you were doing at the time, one thing is for certain- the Underarm bowling incident from 1981 is about as Kiwi as jandals, Jaffas and Snifters.
And the fact is, that even though we still deride and demonise him, albeit with plenty of justification, Greg Chappell should probably have been knighted by our national body for services to NZ cricket for ordering his curly-haired, brow-beaten little brother Trevor to roll that mully-grubber along the ground towards Brian McKechnie. Because after that, the general popularity of cricket increased here ten-fold. On top of that was the interest in having a snide villain to hate. GS Chappell fitted the bill perfectly. And it also helped that he looked like a bit of an aristocratic swine. Throw in a stupendous, but disallowed catch of Chappell himself which turned the result of the match in question and it gave us even more reasons to loathe.
It has been covered 14,947 times by our media over the past 38 years, but that’s down to it being probably the single most famous moment in our sporting history. It’s retro beige, canary yellow/slime green underarm bowling time on Monday evening 7.30pm on Prime TV. It should be quality television though, as Eric Young is the anchor.
As the documentary will no doubt touch on, we were pooped on more than once in that match on the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 1st February, 1981. And in some ways, the first bomb flushed down the Kiwis’ dunny was worse than the second, more smelly one.
With the Aussies batting first and Greg Chappell himself at the wicket on a quick 58, he hit a long hop from Lance Cairns into the wide open spaces of mid wicket. Only he hit the shot a little too aerially. Charging in from deep mid-wicket in the vicinity of the boundary was Martin Snedden (he of organising the 2011 Rugby World Cup). To put it in perspective, running in at full tilt and throwing yourself forward to make a catch when your Aunty Marie lobs one up in beach cricket is hard enough. Yet on the expanse of the MCG with a hard-hit cricket ball and 53,000 half-naked, towel-hatted, blathered, sunburnt yobs raised on a diet of 4 n’ 20 pies and VB Bitter cursing every Kiwi move, Sneds charged in like Usain Bolt, threw himself forward and scooped up the ball millimetres from the turf. Conniving Chappell was a goner, and just in time.
But, what’s this? The umpires maintained they hadn’t seen the catch made as they had BOTH been watching for ‘one short’ (when a batsman doesn’t put his bat fully over the crease line when turning for a run). A hopelessly feeble reason not to signal a dismissal for an amazing piece of fielding. Greg Chappell has stated on record he probably wasn’t mentally fit to be captain. It’s hard to have too much sympathy about that; he surely would still have known deep down right then that the decision he took with the underarm ball was morally wrong. However, the umpires with the Snedden ‘catch’- they were plainly incompetent and were almost unwilling to process that their great captain had holed out at a stage of the match where the Australians were dominating.
Actually, there was a third dud- Richard Hadlee literally shot out from the batting crease, such was the speed with which the umpire’s finger went up for an LBW decision on the second ball of the final, fateful over. The ball pitched outside the leg stump and would have missed the wickets at any rate. Hadlee had just hit a four from the first ball.
Those damn Aussies…
View the match highlights here:
-Paul Montague: firstname.lastname@example.org