Thirty-five years ago, cricket was enjoying a golden era. World Series Cricket had ushered in a new age of limited overs action that provided the perfect foil to the longer, more nuanced form of the game in Tests.
But on February 1, 1981, the most disgraceful act in Australian sport and cricket world wide took place -- much to the disgust of players, fans and commentators.
In a five-match World Series Cup series between Australia and New Zealand, the Aussies had a six-run lead with just a ball left in the Kiwi innings. To be clear, the Black Caps needed an unlikely six to tie the match; anything else would result in a victory to the Australians.
The spirit of cricket would simply dictate that you bowl your best ball and hope that it's enough to avoid the tie. Not a win, just a tie. Had Kiwi batsman Brian McKechnie pulled off that unlikely six, you'd simply doff your cap, shake his hand and put it down to an epic act of batting.
But Greg Chappell had other ideas. The Australian captain decided that he couldn't handle the limited possibility of tying the match. He ordered the bowler, his brother Trevor Chappell, to deliver the final ball underam. A legal option at the time, but one that clearly ruled out any possibility of the batsman striking a six.
Australian wicketkeeper Rod Marsh shook his head furiously, making clear his objections to a clearly unsportsmansly act. But Chappell T obliged his captain and brother, and the match was won by Australia.
The Melbourne crowd booed off the home team, McKechnie threw his bat in disgust, and the incident has never been forgotten.
"That's a disappointing finish," Bill Lawry said in a very understated reaction to the anti-climax.
Richie Benaud was more to the point: "[It] was a disgraceful performance."
Benaud's post-match analysis was even more fitting. The late Channel Nine cricket anchor was renowned for his impartial commentary so this editorial was a significant departure from his M.O.
But he nailed it.
"We always get letters and phone calls about different things that happen so I don't expect anyone to agree with me. I don't expect that you’ll get more than 50 percent agreement on anything. Let me just tell you what I think about it. I think it was a disgraceful performance from a captain who got his sums wrong today and I think it should be never permitted to happen again. We keep reading and hearing that the players are under a lot of pressure, and that they're tired and jaded and perhaps their judgment and their skill is blunted. Well perhaps they might advance that as an excuse for what happened out there today. Not with me they don't. I think it was a very poor performance. One of the worst things I have ever seen done on a cricket field. Good night."
Thirty-five years on and that still perfectly sums up the infamous Underarm Ball.
Let's hope it remains cricket's worst act, condemned to a past failing of sportsmanship, captaincy and the Australian spirit of a fair go.Suggest a correction