The bald facts first.
On 1st February 1981, in an ODI match at the MCG, New Zealand needed 6 to tie off the last ball. The Australian captain Greg Chappell asked his bowler, who happened to be his younger brother Trevor, to bowl an underarm delivery (not against the rules yet, but definitely not in the ‘spirit of the game’), which was duly blocked in ostensible disgust by the Kiwi batsman, as the match finished. There was widespread criticism from all quarters, particularly Australian. Prime ministers of both countries commented on this moment and it is still remembered as an all-time low in trans-Tasman relations.
Now for some context.
The No. 10 Kiwi batsman who faced that ball was pace bowler Brian McKechnie playing his 14th ODI. His batting average was 13.5 and strike rate was 37. He had never hit a six in international cricket (nor in first-class cricket, on the evidence available). And he was playing his first ball in the innings. Also, the MCG boundary was the fence then, so it was 100 meters to the boundary -the longest outfield in world cricket then.
So, the chances of McKechnie hitting that six were as close to zero as numerically possible. Greg Chappell did not make this decision to prevent New Zealand from winning, but to make a statement.
4.02 ordered 3.76 to go underarm.
Even though he played just 74 ODIs, Greg Chappell is Australia’s fourth-highest impact ODI player ever (minimum 60 matches) after Dennis Lillee, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Watson. As an ODI batsman, Chappell is the sixth-highest impact in Australia’s history. Moreover, Chappell was a very successful bowler in this format; in fact, he was higher impact with the ball than the likes of Bob Willis, Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul, Jacques Kallis, Daniel Vettori and Fanie de Villiers have been in this format.
Curiously, Trevor Chappell was a high impact ODI player too, primarily due to two SDs (
Australia went 2-1 up with this win in a best-of-five finals. Since 23rd November, Australia had played 10 ODIs before the knockouts began, with 6 Tests fitted in between them (3 Tests each with both these sides. The knockouts began on 29thJanuary -this was the third match in four days. So, altogether, that meant a scheduled 43 days of international cricket in 70 days! The insane scheduling had taken its toll on the team, particularly its captain, who stood at long-off for this match, which is not where captains operate from. He would have done anything to avoid an extra match at that stage.
Greg Chappell was sick about a lot else too -about the post-WSC/ Kerry Packer scenario where everything they had fought for seemed to be a waste as the Australian board had stopped listening to the players yet again. Little things assumed bigger proportions too that day in his head -his team’s fielding, the MCG pitch, not having seen his family for too long. For the first time in his life, as he admitted later, he was sick of cricket.
This was not the best move by a sportsman of his stature but it should help to know he wasn’t all there mentally. And despite all that, his intent was not dishonourable, even if it was a regrettable act.
It was a ‘cry for help’ to say you’re not listening, this might help you sit up and take notice.
Greg Chappell has said that he would not have done this if New Zealand actually had any chance of hitting that six. On the other hand, it would not have had got this attention perhaps if the match had already been won, and that ball had been a formality. In every sense, the situation seems to have been ripe for it.
Give all that was going on, it is remarkable that this was Greg Chappell’s highest impact ODI series in his career. He produced the highest impact batting performance of his ODI career earlier in the tournament when he made 138 out of 289, also against the Kiwis. In the closing stages of the tournament (the best-of-5–finals), he made 31 in the first final that Australia lost, and then, at the height of this fatigue and disgust, top-scored with an unbeaten 58, 90 and 87 as his team won three in a row to win the tournament.
In fact, in this match rendered infamous thus, he registered the fourth-highest impact performance of his career (as, besides making 90, he also took 3-43 in ten overs).
Trevor Chappell, who also curiously registered his highest impact ODI series here, would play for three more years. In the 1983 World Cup, he would produce the highest impact batting performance of his career (110) against eventual champions India, but would play his last international match barely a week after that.
Oddly enough, this is the last ball Brian McKechnie would play in international cricket. Later, McKechnie, who had had a more successful Rugby career with the All Blacks before this, would say that this incident was actually good for New Zealand cricket – it at least increased interest in cricket back home.
Jaideep Varma/ Soham Sarkhel
Art- Gokul Chakravarthy
NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.