Australian cricketer Trevor Chappell played three tests and 20 one day internationals for Australia, but he is forever destined to be remembered for an episode in 1981 which the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, Rob Muldoon, described as, ‘the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket.’
New Zealand and Australia were contesting the final of the Benson and Hedges World Series and New Zealand needed to score six runs from the final ball in order to tie the match. Trevor Chappell was the bowler and, to ensure that the New Zealand batsman had no chance of getting the necessary elevation to lift the ball over the boundary, he bowled an underarm delivery. And not just any underarm delivery, but a full-on grubber.
This decision received universal condemnation. Even Chappells’ older brother Ian, who was commentating on the match was heard to call out, ‘you cant do that!’ In fact Trevor acted on the instructions of his other brother, Gregg, the Australian captain actually ordered him to bowl the contentious delivery but unfortunately for Chappell this crucial detail is generally overlooked.
Chappell bowls a grubber
Chappell is famously reluctant to discuss the underarm incident but during a recent visit to Phuket to play 6 a side cricket he lost a little of his usual reticence,
‘I don’t regret it. It probably wasn’t the best thing for the game of cricket but it seemed like a good idea at the time,’ he said.
According to Chappell there are no hard feelings between him and brother Greg over the incident but neither of them could have predicted the furore that it would cause. The prime ministers of both Australia and New Zealand got involved with the latter describing it as, ‘an act of true cowardice’ and the former, Malcolm Fraser, admitting it was, ‘contrary to the traditions of the game.
In any other sport the Chappell brothers would probably have been applauded for their initiative but cricket still clings to the traditions of sportsmanship and fair play upon which it was founded and to which the Australian prime minister of the time was referring.
The prime ministers of both Australia and New Zealand got involved with the latter describing it as, ‘an act of true cowardice’
Much has changed since 1981, not least in the world of competitive sport, but this erosion of the values on which cricket was founded is still a concern, particularly with the advent of a new type of cricket, 20/20.
The fan friendly format of these 20 over matches has seen interest in cricket reach unprecedented levels and Chappell feels the game has benefited from the introduction of this new format,
‘I think that 20/20 is good for the game of cricket. It has brought a whole range of new spectators who would never watch test cricket or even 50 over cricket. It’s also changed the game because seeing how many runs can be scored in 20 overs has really opened peoples’ eyes to how much they can score in test or one-day cricket. Now more runs are being scored it’s made the game more exciting,’ he said.
However he is concerned that the 20/20 might erode interest in the more traditional format of test cricket,
‘They have to be careful because the popularity of test cricket has dropped off. It’s only really still popular in England and Australia. Without test cricket the game might not survive, you can’t build the game from 20/20,’ he said.
These reservations do not stop Chappell from participating in the occasional 20/20 game himself. Despite his advancing years he is still a regular participant at sixes competitions in Thailand where he will normally captain a team in a 20/20 exhibition match.
Were he to find himself in the same situation again, bowling the final delivery of the match to a batsman needing six runs to win, he would be spared the dilemma of whether to bowl overarm or not. Underarm deliveries were banned in the aftermath of the Benson and Hedges World Series in 1981.
It is a shame for Chappell that this clarification did not come sooner. He once scored a century for his country against India but it is for the notorious underarm incident, rather than this achievement, that he will forever be remembered.
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