Cecile: Understanding the 'underarm incident'

CECILE MEIER
Last updated 05:00 30/05/2014

My English friend told me to ask Kiwis about "the underarm bowling incident". He said to "bring popcorn" and that this would be fertile ground for a column.

I had no idea what he was talking about and assumed he was mocking me the way he always does. But I did it anyway and was indeed blown away by the responses.

Young and old all recounted the 1981 cricket match final with burning passion. The most interesting responses came at a journalism class reunion.

"It's one of the most disgusting moments of sport ever," said sports reporter Andrew.

I learned that the Australian captain, to prevent New Zealand from any chance of scoring the six they needed to tie, instructed his bowler to deliver the last ball underarm, along the ground.

"The action was legal at the time," Andrew explained, "but it was dishonourable."

He explained that Australia won the game but were booed off the field by spectators.

I shrugged and said: "I don't see why it should be wrong to win a game playing by the rules."

"And that is why the French don't play cricket," he said.

TV reporter Ben gave a detailed explanation of why exploiting the rules was wrong. "I don't know how they do it in Europe, but that's not how you do it in New Zealand. Everyone knew you just don't throw underarm balls."

His friend disagreed. "It's like getting the student allowance. If there's a loophole in the rules, you should exploit it," she said.

I turned to radio journo Daniela. She summed up New Zealand's feelings about the incident in one clear sentence.

"That was Australians being complete expletives."

Her boyfriend, Max, an English reporter, was more phlegmatic about it. "At the end of the day, you do what you can to win. In any other country they can understand that. But it was a big deal for Kiwis because they see Australia as their biggest rival for everything. But Australia thinks England is its biggest rival, and England thinks its biggest rival is France."

"France wins then," I said. Because I don't care about cricket, I found it hard to understand how the event had incensed so many people. But then I remembered a game of Ticket to Ride I had played a few months ago.

This board game's goal is to build as many trains as possible to complete routes going through a European map. If you don't complete one of your routes, you lose lots of points.

When you place your trains on the map, you might happen to block someone - annoying for them but part of the game.

However, I had played Ticket to Ride several times until then with Kiwi friends and there seemed to be an unwritten rule against going out of your way just to block someone.

That day, an Irish friend did the unspeakable. He deliberately blocked my route from Cadiz to Rostov, even though he did not need to build there for one of his routes. Did he not know the unwritten rule? Two minutes later, he blocked me again, saying there was no rule against it. I was so angry I nearly flipped the board.

When you expect fair play, acts of skulduggery come as a shock.

So what have I learned? Well, it seems to me that Kiwis put a great deal of store in fair play - and that's something I'm happy to admire.

What is more important for you: Playing fair, or winning? Comment below, email me at cecile.meier@press.co.nz or follow me on Twitter.

- The Press

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