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25 years along, Kiwi bat sees funnier side of it

Trevor Chappell sends down the underarm delivery to Brian McKechnie
at the MCG in 1981.

Trevor Chappell sends down the underarm delivery to Brian McKechnie at the MCG in 1981.

By Will Swanton
January 23, 2006

THE 25th anniversary of one of the most controversial incidents in limited-overs cricket history — Trevor's Chappell's underarm delivery — is fast approaching.

Brian McKechnie, the New Zealander who threw his bat down in a fit of blinding rage after the ball was rolled along the MCG pitch, has revealed: "I never thought it would become an issue."

On February 1, 1981, Australia set the Kiwis 236 runs to win the third and deciding final of the one-day series. McKechnie walked out to bat with one ball left; seven runs to win, six to tie. Australian captain Greg Chappell proceeded to lose the plot.

Ignoring Rod Marsh's protestations of "No! No!" from behind the stumps, Chappell ordered his brother Trevor to bowl underarm in a move he describes as the biggest regret of his career.

"I look back on it more humorously now than I did on the day," McKechnie said from NZ.

"Twenty-five years is a long time. I wish it all went away the day after it happened, to be honest. I wish it never happened. It still gets raised in other contexts, inside and outside of sport. When someone thinks Australia have done something to NZ they shouldn't have, the underarm comes up again.

"We were pissed off at the time, but I never thought it would become an issue. Let's face it, the chances of hitting a six off that ball were remote. But I suppose we were denied the opportunity. A six would have only been a draw, we wouldn't have even won.

"Next day, the prime minister got involved, everyone was talking about it and a lot of people still are. I had no idea it would still be coming up 25 years later."

McKechnie and Trevor Chappell plan to give their versions of events at functions to be held in Auckland early next month and Sydney in March.

And yes, if McKechnie, now 51, has heard it once how he should have flicked the ball in the air and belted it over the fence, he has heard it a million times.

"An hour or two after the game, when we'd all had a shower and were back at the hotel, we were joking about it, trying to work out how you could hit a six off an underarm," McKechnie recalled.

"We tried a few years later to flick it up and hit it. You can flick it up if the ball is at the right pace, but the coordination of it is damn difficult. And then you'd have to hit it about 90 metres for it to be six at the MCG. I would defy anyone to do that.

"When we tried, it took about 30 or 40 goes to get to the level where you could actually hit the ball. But we could only hit it 40 metres."

McKechnie still remembers his abject disbelief at the worm-burner. "The umpires told me it was going to be underarm and I had no idea what I was going to do, to be honest," McKechnie said.

"The boundary was the fence in those days, there weren't any ropes, so it was almost 100 metres to the boundary. I decided I wasn't going to have a swing and get bowled. Throwing the bat down was just in frustration. It was a hell of a good game of cricket.

"In reflection, we were more disappointed that Greg, we believed, had been caught in the outfield earlier in the day and was given not out. In those days, you tended to take the word of the fielder whether he caught it or not. We were disappointed with that."

Few Australian players, and certainly neither Chappell, dared visit the Kiwi dressing room. Embarrassed officials from the Australian Cricket Board shuffled in to offer sheepish apologies.

"I'm sure Greg wishes he had never given the instruction and Trevor wishes he never had to carry it out," McKechnie said. "Everyone has times in their life when you look back and think, 'Geez, I wish I hadn't done that.'

"It's probably one of those times for Greg. It was within the rules of the game, so you couldn't argue against that, but you could argue against the spirit of it."

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