Watch: The ACC's underarm excorcism

By Paul Ford

On the 35th anniversary of the underarm bowl. The ACC cleanse the original ball of evil. Photo / WatchMe.
On the 35th anniversary of the underarm bowl. The ACC cleanse the original ball of evil. Photo / WatchMe.

The Underarmorama 1981-2016

The underarm incident was the single greatest thing to ever happen to cricket in New Zealand, apart from Richard Hadlee. The lightning rod of controversy galvanised a nation around cricket, and delivered an unprecedented explosion of attention and sympathy for our men in glorious beige.

Watch:
On the 35th anniversary of the underarm bowl. The ACC cleanse the original ball of evil.

The despicable deed also gave us the cricketing and moral high ground against our transtasman cousins: an indefensible act that forever banished them to their own axis of evil in any clash between the two nations.

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

It was a sunny yet dark day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and we all know what happened in the end. But if you soak up the whole over you get a sense of the air thick with tension and the toenail-biting drama of the game. You see 52,285 feral, shirtless, shoeless, towel-hatted Australians baying for Kiwi blood, with blood alcohol levels almost as high as their shorts.

The Crowd Goes Wild breakfast talk with Bruce Edgar:

Hadlee swipes the first ball for four, then is sawn off next ball in an LBW decision that even Ian Chappell admits was dicey - even though his soon-to-be-infamous brother Trevor is bowling. A svelte Ian Smith strides to the crease and promptly swipes white leather through square leg, and it's down to nine from three balls.

Smith swings like a rusty gate at the fourth ball, belly-flopping back into his crease for two. Seven from two will win it. Ball five and he slogs across the line addictively and is bowled middle peg, leaving the most famous equation in New Zealand cricketing history: six to tie, one miserable worm-burning ball to come.

Australian captain Greg Chappell was the villain - a man who had utter contempt for one-day cricket most days. Ironically he hated the way the white ball pyjama version forced teams into defensive cricket with fielders spread to all parts and economical bowling being enough to win games.

The underarm option was a direct outcome of Chappell losing his mind and taking limited overs to an absurd place to make a point - a point which has meant that one of the greatest batsmen in the history of the game is also one of the most detested sportsmen in our nation's history.

It put a multi-panelled dent in how reputation in The Lucky Country too - it was a fair dinkum un-Australian act. As legendary Australian all-rounder Keith Miller put it bluntly on 2 February 1981: "Yesterday one-day cricket died, and Greg Chappell should be buried with it."

Chappell claims he hadn't really thought through the likely reaction - and it is fair to say few would have predicted the epic furore that ensued. It kicked off with the McKechnie bat throw, the retro gesticulation from Bruce Edgar, and a sock-clad rampage to the middle by NZ captain Geoff Howarth. "One little girl ran beside me and tugged on my sleeve and said: 'You cheated'. That was when I knew it would be bigger than I expected," Chappell recalled.

Thirty-five years later, we should remember the underarm-o-rama for what it was: a massively controversial act of evil by an immoral Australian, but one which played a crucial role in cementing the popularity of our great summer game. Greg and Trevor, we thank you.

Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade, and one-seventh of the Alternative Commentary Collective. You can email him here beigehq@beigebrigade.co.nz.

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