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Australia v New Zealand at Melbourne Cricket Ground, 1980–81

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The underarm bowling incident of 1981, also known as the Australian underarm bowling incident, was an international sporting controversy in 1981, between Australia and New Zealand, which resulted in underarm bowling being made illegal by the International Cricket Council. It is considered one of the most disgraceful moments in the history of cricket, and seriously damaged the image of Australians as fair sportsmen.

The events

A screenshot of the underarm delivery with Trevor Chappell bowling, Brian McKechnie facing, and Bruce Edgar at the non-strikers end.

The controversial match occurred on 1 February 1981, when Australia was playing a One Day International final against New Zealand in the 1980-1981 Benson and Hedges World Series Cup, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.[1] The five-game series was tied one-all as New Zealand had won the first match and the Australia the second match. It was the third match in which this incident took place. Australia having won the toss chose to bat and accumulated a reasonable score of 235 for 4, in 50 overs. Australian captain Greg Chappell top scored with an innings of 90, despite appearing to have been caught on the boundary by Martin Snedden on 52 and refusing to walk.[2] New Zealand strongly replied by scoring 229 in 49.5 overs with Bruce Edgar scoring 102 not out, and they required six runs to tie the match with two wickets remaining, off the final delivery. Trevor Chappell prepared to bowl the final ball of the match, and had already claimed two wickets that over, one dubious lbw (Richard Hadlee) and one bowled (Ian Smith) with his regular bowling action, when Brian McKechnie walked out to bat with one delivery to face. Then Greg Chappell instructed his bowler (his younger brother) Trevor Chappell to roll the ball underhand along the pitch so that McKechnie who was on strike, a lower-order number ten batsman who had never before hit a six in his career, could not score six runs from over the boundary of the world's largest cricket ground. McKechnie was unable to loft the ball for six and was forced to block out the delivery, then threw his bat in the direction towards the New Zealand dressing room in disgust as both teams left the field of play. Even though Australia had just won the match, spectators booed and jeered the Australian team off the field for displaying such bad sportsmanship.[3] As it turned out, in the confusion before the final ball was bowled, one of the fielders, Dennis Lillee, had failed to walk into position, meaning that the underarm ball at delivery was a no-ball, because under the playing conditions Australia had one too many fielders outside the field restriction circle, but was not called so by the square-leg umpire. Extra police came on to the field to cordon the ground from a crowd invasion, and a furious New Zealand captain Geoffrey Howarth ran up to the umpires, disgusted at what transpired, pointing out that under the Rules of the Benson & Hedges Cup - 1980 Appendix H (iii) No Ball - Mode of Delivery; no bowler may deliver the ball underarm. The umpires refused to overturn their decision to end play, pointing out that that specific rule had not been included for the current series.

The act was roundly criticized on both sides of the Tasman Sea, with both nations' Prime Ministers castigating the Australian team. Then Prime Minister of New Zealand, Robert Muldoon, called it 'the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket', and 'it was an act of cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow'.[4] His Australian counterpart Malcolm Fraser agreed that it was 'contrary to the traditions of the game'.[5] Veteran cricket commentator Richie Benaud called it 'a disgraceful performance' and 'one of the worst things I have ever seen done on a cricket field'.[6] Despite this, the Australian Cricket Board took no action against the Chappell brothers. The incident angered many in the cricketing community prompting an immediate change in the laws of cricket.[7] It was the cause of much anger and consternation of New Zealanders towards Australia, and still casts a shadow over trans-Tasman sporting events. As a result of this match, underarm bowling was banned in all limited over cricket games by the International Cricket Council as 'not within the spirit of the game'. Since the incident, both Greg Chappell and Trevor Chappell have refused to discuss the matter or offer an apology, and the result has never been reviewed, cancelled or altered.


  1. 3rd Final: Australia v New Zealand at Melbourne, Feb 1, 1981. Cricinfo (1 February 1981). Retrieved on 14 July 2013.
  2. Blofeld, Henry (1982). “World Series Cup - Third Final Match: Australia v New Zealand 1980-81”, Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1982. John Wisden & Co. ISBN 978-1-4081-2466-6. 
  3. Williamson, Martin (29 January 2011). Underhand, underarm. ESPN Cricinfo. Retrieved on 4 October 2013.
  4. Rowney, Jo-Anne. The line between gamesmanship and cheating, British Broadcasting Corporation, 13 July 2009. Retrieved on 14 July 2013. (in English)
  5. The Underarm incident. Melbourne Cricket Ground (1 February 2009). Retrieved on 14 July 2013.
  6. Benaud, Richie (1 February 1981). Most disgraceful moment in the history of cricket (.flv). YouTube. Retrieved on 14 July 2013.
  7. Frith, David (March 1981). "Grim prophecy fulfilled". Wisden Cricket Monthly. ISSN 0263-9041. Retrieved on 14 July 2013.