Disgraceful moments in cricket history: Underarm '81

Is that you Trevor?

Trevor Chappell sending a rat scurrying. The non-striker, Bruce Edgar, is not amused.
Trevor Chappell sending a rat scurrying. The non-striker, Bruce Edgar, is not amused. | Source

Date: Sunday, February 1 1981


Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground, Victoria, Australia


Occasion: 3rd final - Best of five finals, Benson and Hedges World Series


Match: Australia vs New Zealand


Result: Australia won by 6 runs and also enhanced their reputation as international cheats

In sport, nothing is like a good derby or intense rivalry. Australia and New Zealand have a cricket rivalry owing to their geographical proximity. The Underarm '81 incident was just one of several incidents that fuelled the flame of this rivalry.


The Underarm Incident


New Zealand were chasing 236 runs to win from 50 overs; at stake was a 2-1 lead in the five-match finals. Needing 14 off the last over, Richard Hadlee smote a boundary off the first ball. However, New Zealand lost two wickets and scored three runs in the next four balls. They needed seven runs to win off the final ball - six to tie the match.

Although the odds were firmly against New Zealand, Aussie captain Greg Chappell instructed his brother, Trevor, to bowl an underarm delivery to Number 10 batsman Brian McKechnie off the last ball. McKechnie was bemused and could only block the delivery that rolled all along the pitch. Australia won by six runs. The fallout was immediate, with even former Aussie captain Richie Benaud denouncing the delivery on Channel Nine.


Experience the over that changed the rules

Greg Chappell: Cheat?

More controversies in the match


The match had two other contentious issues. The first occurred in the first innings of the game, when Greg Chappell had scored 52 runs. He skied a ball towards long on and Martin Snedden game running in to take what appeared to be a spectacular catch.

Greg stood his ground, refusing to take the word of the fielder. The umpires did not have a clear sight of the incident. Those were the days when the third umpire was not yet a feature of cricket. The Aussie umpires gave the Aussie captain the benefit of the doubt. Chappell went on to score 90 - valuable runs in a close-run game.

The other controversy is often overlooked because it occurred before the infamous underarm delivery. Dennis Lillee was not in the inner circle at the time the delivery was bowled. Given the field restrictions of limited overs cricket, Australia had one too many fielders outside the circle. The deilvery was supposed to be a no-ball on account of that. However, in the mayhem, that fact was lost on the umpires.

McGrath sees the funny side of it

Glenn McGrath dummies an underarm delivery - mocking Trevor's Underam '81.
Glenn McGrath dummies an underarm delivery - mocking Trevor's Underam '81. | Source

Fallout and legacy


  • Trans-Tasman fallout: New Zealand fans, players, cricket administrators and even politicians had something to say about this incident. Many Australians, including the Chappells' older brother Ian Chappell, were very critical of the incident.


  • Underarm bowling was banned in limited overs cricket by the ICC since it contravened the "spirit of the game." While the Chappells' were within the laws of the game, they were well outside the spirit of it. The ICC took this step to prevent such nonsense from happening again. They should have banned the Chappell brothers for a few games as well.


  • Glenn McGrath saw the lighter side of this affair when he dummied an underarm delivery to Kyle Mills in a Twenty20 match against New Zealand at Auckland in February 2005. New Zealand umpire Billy Bowden showed McGrath a mock red card; it was all in good fun. Mcgrath dismissed Mills (with a proper delivery) and Australia won that game by 44 runs.


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