The delivery that lingered... with a bad odour

TOM HUNT
Last updated 05:00 02/02/2013
Underarm Bowl

JUST NOT CRICKET: The ‘‘underarm’’ bowling incident by Trevor Chappell to Brian McKechnie during a 1981 New Zealand-Australia match in Melbourne.

Underarm bowl
OVER IT: Trevor Chappell and Brian McKechnie in 1997. Trevor admitted at a 25th anniversary function that his career was defined by the underarm bowl.

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It was an infamous incident that left an unpleasant odour. And it left one New Zealand batsman with a whiffy nickname.

Bruce Edgar was at the non-striker's end at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on February 1, 1981, when Australian Trevor Chappell - under orders from his big brother Greg - bowled underarm to Kiwi batsman Brian McKechnie to make sure he couldn't hit a match-saving six off the last ball of a one-day international.

In Australia, the spiritual home of nicknames, underarm bowling equals underarm deodorant - and so Edgar picked up the name Rexona.

The incident has lived in the annals of New Zealand and Australian infamy since, as Edgar, who lives in Sydney, can testify.

"Someone would mention the game on a weekly basis to me," he says.

He remembers sitting on 102 not out that day, 32 years ago yesterday, as McKechnie was about to face the last ball. "It got a bit eerie - the feeling that something was about to happen."

He recalls Aussie captain Greg Chappell instructing Trevor to bowl underarm and the "disbelief" on the bowler's face.

"He bullied his brother into doing it," Edgar says, later adding: "[Trevor Chappell] was probably the victim when you look back."

The younger Chappell had just got Richard Hadlee out lbw for 4, then bowled Ian Smith, also for 4.

As Smith walked off the field, the commentator said: "New Zealand's only hope now is a six off the last ball for a tie."

For McKechnie, a lower-order batsman not among the most likely to whack the ball from the park, that was always going to be a tall order, but he walked out with the intention of going for it.

Speaking from Christchurch this week, McKechnie said "that all went out the window" when the umpire told him an underarm delivery was coming. "It was somewhat of a stunned, ‘What am I going to do?'

"I only thought, ‘I'm not going to have a swing and get bowled by it'."

Even today, the scene looks farcical - Chappell in his slightly flared green and golds walking to the crease and kneeling to deliver, McKechnie hitting it off a few metres along the ground, then tossing his bat away in disgust.

The outrage spread far and wide. New Zealand prime minister Rob Muldoon thundered that it was "the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket". Canary yellow was an all-too-appropriate colour for the shameful Australians, he said.

McKechnie thought the furore would have died down within days.

An All Black as well as a Black Cap, he would no doubt rather be remembered for kicking the match-winning penalty to beat Wales 13-12 in 1978.

But on the 20th anniversary of the Melbourne game he accepted: "It's still being talked about 20 years on. And I suppose it will be talked about 40 years on.

"I must admit, I hate this time of the year."

In the years since, McKechnie has been at various luncheons and reunion games and holds no grudges.

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Greg Chappell was quick with an apology. Trevor, at a 25th anniversary function, admitted his career was defined by that moment.

"I bowled 736 deliveries in international cricket and only one of them was underarm. It was the only significant one that I bowled."

Edgar is not surprised people are still talking about the incident that stopped the nation 32 years ago.

"I think I would always thank Greg Chappell for it. It caused so much interest in the game."

- The Dominion Post

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