Underarm bowling incident of 1981 – Cricket Scandals

The underarm bowling incident in February 1981 ushered in one of cricket’s biggest scandals in recent memory. In this game, Australia faced New Zealand with the Kiwis trailing and chasing a tie in the last over. Aussie cricketers and brothers Greg and Trevor Chappell would enact a now-banned along-the-ground bowling technique called the underarm.

Australia was able to deter New Zealand from tying the game with that final underarm ball, but the victory was shrouded in controversy. The underarm bowling incident of 1981 was legal during that game; but outcry from several quarters was so loud it forced authorities to act.

What Public Reaction Trailed the Incident?

Fans, commentators, and many cricketers were not happy with how Australia and the Chappells eked out their win over New Zealand. The incident caused a massive row that gained attention in several quarters, including among politicians.

The Prime Minister of Australia at that time even condemned his team’s conduct; tagging the underarm bowling as contrary to conventional traditions of cricket. New Zealand’s top minister also condemned the Australian team tagging their performance in the last over as “the most disgraceful incident in the history of cricket“.

The New Zealand minister also labeled the underarm play as “an act of true cowardice” and was visibly disgusted over events in that last over.

A former Aussie cricket captain, Richie Benaud, also weighed in to pile more pressure on his compatriots; calling their performance “utterly spineless”. It was evident after the scathing remarks from several quarters that something had to give; and the international cricket governing body will act accordingly later on.

How Did Cricket Authorities Act After the Underarm Bowling Incident of 1981?

Resolutions from the International Cricket Council (ICC) termed the underarm bowling of Team Australia as wholly contradictory to conduct expected from professional players. The body moved to amend international cricket laws, preventing underarm bowling from ever occurring in professional games ever again.  

How Did Fans React to the ICC’s Decision on Underarm Bowling?

Surprisingly, the ICC’s decision did not sit well with fans worldwide. Fans claimed the underarm bowling was a part of cricket for decades and an outright ban was not a wise decision. However, fans were divided over the final decision as later events would show. In 1982, Greg Chappell was hassled by a New Zealand fan with a lawn bowl while coming out to assume a batting position. The reminder brought back debates about underarm bowling, but it never was strong enough to see the ban lifted.

What Did Greg Chappell Say About the Incident?

Greg Chappell would later reveal that he was under stress from a long cricket calendar and wasn’t in the best mental state as skipper. He confessed that the scorching heat and a stress buildup affected how he discharged duties on that afternoon. Ironically, the heat had no effect on his performance on the field as he got 90 runs and bowled 10 overs throughout this game.

However, fans argue that his long stay on the pitch was a major reason; why he requested an underarm from a teammate. Chappell also claimed he wanted to rest during gameplay but couldn’t leave the field. Later on; it was confirmed that Chappell told teammate Rod Marsh that he would want to retire during the 40th over.

Marsh would comment on the topic later on and claim Chappell was visibly exhausted from that over onward. Chappell’s captaincy meant he had to see the match through at that time; since he was one of Australia’s most reliable field cricketers. He had to switch to fielding towards the boundary to relieve some pressure as match records would later show.  

Why Was Underarm Bowling Banned?

The ICC tagged underarm bowling as not being in the spirit of cricket, moving forward to ban it shortly after. But some express laws state that underarm bowling could happen in some matches if they agree upon it before a game.

Has the Underarm Been Used Since 1981?

Aussie bowler Glenn McGrath would mimic the underarm bowling incident in a Twenty20 game against New Zealand over two decades later. On 17 February, 2005; the Aussie pace bowler humorously made a copycat gesture of the 1981 incident; much to the comical delight of fans and players on both sides.

McGrath mimicked an underarm delivery to Kyle Mills in a playful manner, prompting an umpire to fake-brandish a red card. The Kiwis needed over 40 runs to win the game from their last delivery; so the result was settled before McGrath’s playful gesture.

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