- Publish Date
- Sunday, 3 February 2019, 8:00PM
Bruce Edgar was the closest bystander to the most infamous moment in New Zealand cricket and sport.
And now the solid opener has stepped into the middle of the underarm controversy, 38 years after that extraordinary day in Melbourne, with a bizarre claim involving the legendary Australian paceman Dennis Lillee.
Edgar was unbeaten on a century when Trevor Chappell, at the behest of captain and brother Greg, delivered the underarm ball to Brian McKechnie which robbed that 1981 ODI match of a dignified ending.
Australian wicketkeeper Rod Marsh had pleaded with Greg Chappell not to go ahead with the unsportsmanlike act, which denied McKechnie a chance to hit a match-tying six and led to an uproar which lingers to this day.
But Edgar is now claiming that an angry Lillee may have deliberately tried to invalidate that famous last ball in an act of defiance against his captain.
On the eve of a new documentary about the underarm bowling controversy being aired, Edgar told Newstalk ZB's Martin Devlin that Lillee may have deliberately stepped outside the inner fielding circle.
This would have created a no-ball for an illegal fielding move, thus giving the Kiwis another shot at six - but for victory this time.
As it was, McKechnie was highly unlikely to have hit a six at the massive MCG. If Lillee did step outside the circle, it was more an act of protest than giving New Zealand a winning shot.
Wellington opener Edgar, a highly respected New Zealand opener for nine seasons, says he was approached by a student researching the incident to see if Edgar knew of aerial shots which might show what Lillee had done.
"The only question I have is did Dennis Lillee step outside the circle on last ball to make it a no ball?," the 62-year-old Edgar said.
"I know he was at short fine leg, I do remember him standing down there. There is no evidence of it, and I don't know if he was interviewed or not.
"Rod Marsh was saying no way mate, no way mate (to the Chappells) you can't do this. He was pretty clear on that.
"Dennis was maybe doing something we don't know. I think there were four inside the circle, he may have stepped out to make it three...something to that effect.
"I know he was down there and he was fuming and whether that happened or not I don't know. I don't know if he has ever been asked. I've never seen him. It would be interesting to know."
Edgar said he felt mentally drained by the time of the underarm delivery, having been on the field the whole time.
"I was angry at the end then reality struck — I didn't quite know what the ramifications would be," Edgar said.
Marsh is the only leading character in the drama who turned down an approach to be interviewed for the documentary, which is screened on Prime tomorrow (Monday) night at 7.30pm.
He told the documentary team he did not want to be in a position of having to say anything against his mate Greg Chappell.
Lillee and 'keeper Marsh were a famous wicket snaring combo along with being West Australian comrades. They have a stand at the WACA in Perth jointly named after them.
Interest in the documentary further confirms that the underarm controversy represents a moment in sport that will never die.
Underarm: The ball that changed cricket was initiated by Australia's new free-to-air cricket broadcaster Network Seven.
But the trans-Tasman production ended up being driven from this side of the ditch, with Prime newsreader and former cricket writer Eric Young conducting the interviews.
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.