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ICC WC: 1981 underarm helped popularise ODIs in NZ, says Bruce Edgar

NZ chief selector on the ugly delivery and Kiwis' chances in the World Cup final versus Australia at the same MCG today

Melbourne: There are two or maybe three people at the most that are instantly remembered when one recalls the infamous under-arm incident of 1981 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground – Australia captain Greg Chappell (who ordered the under-arm delivery), his brother Trevor Chappell (who bowled it) and New Zealand's Brian McKechnie (who faced it).

Bruce Edgar
Bruce Edgar 

There's another and very significant fourth person, who often misses out on even a mention despite having been the game's highest scorer - former NZ opener Bruce Edgar, who stayed unbeaten on a fine 102 and was at the non-striker's end during cricket's most controversial delivery bowled on February 1, 1981.

Edgar (58), one of NZ's finest opening batsmen, played 39 Tests and 64 ODIs between 1978 and 1986 with an average of 30-plus in both formats. On the eve of World Cup final at the same venue as the under-arm incident, Edgar (58), who is now the general manager of NZ Cricket's national selection committee, spoke to SUNDAY mid-day, about his team's chances against Australia besides obviously that under-arm moment.

Excerpts

On NZ's batting power:
We are a strong team. If you look at how we have played throughout the tournament (eight out of eight wins) – we put pressure on teams by posting huge totals, chased down some big runs and even handled different scenarios well. There is a lot of capability in this batting line-up. We have some batting firepower upfront in skipper Brendon McCullum and go on to bat pretty deep too, with guys lower down who can adjust to different match situations

A billboard of the underarm delivery at the Melbourne Cricket Club earlier in the tournament. Pic/Ashwin Ferro
A billboard of the underarm delivery at the Melbourne Cricket Club earlier in the tournament. Pic/Ashwin Ferro 

On too much reliance on Brendon McCullum:
I don't thing there is a over-dependence on McCullum. There have been times when he hasn't fired and we have still go on to bat well. In the match against Bangladesh, for example, he was out early (for eight) and Martin Guptill took over and went on to score a century (105) followed by decent contributions by Ross (Taylor, 56) and (Grant) Elliot (39) and (Corey) Anderson as we chased down just under 300 (290/7). So, we have guys, besides Brendon, who can bat for long, but obviously whenever Brendon does get going, we've done very well. Against South Africa, for example (in the semi-final) he really fired and a fine bowler like Dale Steyn would've probably been thinking 'where do I bowl to this guy because he's just standing there and carving me here and there.' So, we'd love for Brendon to fire against the Aussies.

On the MCG being a lot bigger than venues in NZ:
It's true that grounds in Australia are a lot bigger than the ones back home. Having said that, it also offers more space to our batsmen to work around the twos and the threes. We have guys like Kane Williamson, who is very good at working the ball around the ground. Also, a bigger ground is better for our bowlers too. And most importantly, people forget that despite us having played at smaller grounds throughout this tournament, Dan (spinner Daniel Vettori) has had the best economy rate of under four…3.9 to be precise. We played Australia at Eden Park (in the league stages) and even at this small ground, they struggled to get Vettori (10-0-41-2) away.

Bruce Edgar in his younger days
Bruce Edgar in his younger days 

On the 1981 under-arm incident:
That was a magnificent game, full of controversy right from the start. I remember Martin Snedden had caught Greg Chappell in the outfield and that was given not out. Then, I caught Greg but by that time he had already added another 50 runs or so. Then, of course it went down to the wire. I thought it was very disappointing end to a great game when Greg asked Trevor to bowl that under-arm delivery. On the flip side, that incident helped popularise ODI cricket in NZ for the next 10 years. And when we played Australia at Eden Park (Auckland in 1981-82) thereafter, it was a full house. So, Greg, who got a lot of flak for what he did obviously, had actually done the advertising and marketing of NZ cricket to the world for free. Had that incident not happened, that would have been just another game, and you and me wouldn't have been talking about it almost 35 years later.

On that final over:
Personally, it was very frustrating that I could not get to the other end. Hadlee hit a four an then there were a couple of twos taken and I remained stuck at the non-striker's end. I had practically been on the field the whole day, having fielded earlier a then opened the batting, so it was tough on me to miss out on the strike at the end. I remember thinking that I can have a go for sure because I was seeing the ball really well, but as fate would have it, that wasn't to be.

On the aftermath of the incident:
The aftermath still continues. I lived with my family in Australia (Sydney) for nine years (from 2004 to 2013) before I returned to Auckland to take up the selection job. And throughout that time I got called a lot of names due to the under-arm incident. The most popular among them was 'Under-arm Bruce.' The Australians always suggested to me that the Kiwis should get over the incident, but interestingly, they themselves haven't gotten over it yet.

On the under-arm incident serving as motivator for NZ today:
I don't think there is any need for our players to think about what happened back in the past. Sure, it must be in their minds and the beauty of history is that it must be respected and honoured. But on Sunday, our players have a chance of creating their own bit of history and that should be their priority. This is the first occasion that a New Zealand team has reached the cricket World Cup final and it being played on the biggest ground in Australia. It's a big occasion, we must embrace it and go out there and win.

All about the underarm
On February 1, 1981 in the third and final ODI of the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup between Australia and New Zealand at the MCG, NZ needed 15 run for victory off the last over. NZ had won the first match and Australia the second.

Eight runs were taken off the first five deliveries of the final over by Trevor Chappell, leaving NZ six to get off the last ball to tie the match. Australia captain Greg Chappell then asked his brother Trevor to bowl the last ball under-arm as there was nothing in the rules then to suggest that something like that could not be done.

Trevor rolled the ball along the ground and NZ's Brian McKechnie, who was on strike (with opener Bruce Edgar 102 not out at the other end), simply played the ball and threw his bat away in disgust.

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