Andrew Alderson: Thirty-five years are enough, time to get over the underarm

Trevor Chappell bowls a change-up to Brian McKechnie at the MCG. Photo / NZ Herald
Trevor Chappell bowls a change-up to Brian McKechnie at the MCG. Photo / NZ Herald

Brian McKechnie and the Chappell brothers, Greg and Trevor, must dread February 1 rolling around, so to speak.

Thirty-five years ago tomorrow, their worlds collided forever when the younger Chappell, Trevor, obeyed older brother and captain Greg by underarming the last delivery of the third tri-series final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to McKechnie. The visitors needed six to tie. The New Zealand No10 blocked out the straight delivery and tossed his bat.

In one of sports commentary's more memorable understatements, Bill Lawry said: "That's a disappointing finish."

While legal, the Chappells' tactic was morally dubious and has arguably had more column inches devoted to it than any other New Zealand sporting controversy.

The trio have become strange bedfellows, united in wishing they weren't subjected to the annual mental agony of reliving the memory.

Little new has been added to the narrative for years. The last major advance came in the Herald on Sunday on the 25th anniversary, involving a dispute between the Beige Brigade and the West Australian Cricket Association. Both sides claimed to be in possession of the delivered ball.

For many New Zealanders, the incident envelops them in a cocoon of nationalism; a gimme to stir Anzac rivalries after too many at the local boozer. It smacks of a little brother holding a grudge.

"Those bloody Aussies" became a familiar catchcry for a generation. New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon got his 1981 election rhetoric into gear early, stating, "It was an act of true cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow."

A play, The Underarm, was performed in 2008 and, in the From Cloth Cap to Helmet documentary circa 1993, McKechnie was asked to re-enact the moment to see if he could whack a six.

The saga became a refrain indoctrinated into families around dinner tables. Unbeaten century-maker Bruce Edgar's presence of mind to give the siblings the fingers through sausage batting gloves remains a subtle footage treat.

But surely it's time to move on.

The International Cricket Council amended their laws to make underarm deliveries illegal. Maybe New Zealanders should amend their social mores to outlaw living in the past.

Why the urge to keep hiking back sanctimoniously to this moral high ground? New Zealanders are not immune to committing dubious sports acts against Australians (see 'Kiwis can get dirty ...').

Kiwis can get dirty in transtasman rivalry, too

Exhibit A: Sir Colin Meads treated Australian halfback Ken Catchpole's leg as a chicken wishbone in a 1968 rugby test, ensuring his hamstring and groin parted company. Meads, defending his action to The Guardian in 2002 said: "I didn't know his other bloody leg was stuck at an angle. So he did the splits. Bloody sad."
Exhibit B: Once Stephen Fleming's side realised they couldn't beat South Africa in a 2001-02 VB Series pool cricket match, the permutations of the bonus point system meant they needed to avoid a narrow defeat to prevent Australia sneaking into the finals. If New Zealand couldn't win, a score under 216 was required in the chase. They made 203.
Exhibit C: Australian-born Nathan Fien claimed eligibility to play for the Kiwis through a New Zealand-born grandmother for league's 2006 Tri-Nations. It later emerged the relative was a great-grandmother.

- Herald on Sunday

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