Underarm incident is a gift that keeps on giving

Publish Date
Sunday, 10 February 2019, 10:47PM
Getty Images

Getty Images

Calum Henderson on the infamous under arm bowl issue - now the focus of a documentary.

I never thought I'd say this, but here goes: I feel a bit sorry for Greg Chappell.

Yes, the former Australian cricket captain, Greg Chappell, who in 1981 instructed his brother Trevor to bowl the last ball of a game against New Zealand along the ground, an act of such astonishingly bad sportsmanship and inexplicable cowardice it's been ingrained in our cultural memory as a symbol of all that's wrong with Australia and Australians ever since. It's just, after watching the Prime documentary, Underarm, last week, I feel like it's possible we might have lost a little bit of perspective.

I admit I'm part of the problem. The underarm incident happened before I was born, a good decade before I started watching cricket and yet, the prospect of an hour-long documentary about it still had me rubbing my hands together with pure glee. With Eric Young's authoritative narration, innovative use of Scanlens trading cards and an overall tone that wouldn't have felt out of place between a JFK assassination special and a Hitler conspiracy doco on the History Channel, it didn't disappoint.

All the main players from both sides were involved – imagine the phone calls the producers must have had to make to Greg and Trevor Chappell. Between them and the likes of Ian Smith, Bruce Edgar and Brian McKechnie, the events of the day were recounted in vivid, absorbing detail. This included the game's often overlooked preliminary controversy: Martin Snedden's disallowed miracle catch.

It seems unfair that Greg Chappell should have to shoulder all the blame when this all could have been avoided if the umpires had been remotely competent earlier in the day but that's just how sport - and history - goes. And Chappell didn't seem to particularly want our sympathy. He played it with a straight bat, told it how it was: he was under an unreasonable amount of pressure, nobody who had the power to help would listen, and so he cracked.

In that light, exploiting a loophole in the laws of the sport to bring the game into disrepute and make a stand actually seems kind of cool. The real villains, as is so often the case, were much higher up: blame the greedy Cricket Australia administrators, blame Kerry Packer. Underarm, which at first glance might have seemed like an exercise in flogging a dead cricket controversy horse, was in the end worthwhile for restoring some of that long-overlooked context to the narrative.

So now we can put the underarm incident to bed, leave the Chappell brothers alone, and move on to some of the many other transtasman cricket controversies that deserve full documentary treatment. Have we all forgotten the game at Carisbrook in 2000 where a Brett Lee bouncer knocked Adam Parore's helmet on to the stumps and he was given out hit wicket despite the law at the time stating anything above shoulder height was a no ball? Now that was a controversy.

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.