Bruce Edgar: 'Under-arm act did good for cricket'

Edgar was at the non-striker’s end, with an unbeaten hundred against Australia, when a sordid act of underarm bowling unleashed by Aussie medium pacer Trevor Chappell, ignited a controversy that threatened to jeopardise political relations between the two countries.

Australia's keeper at the time, Rod Marsh, didn't approve of the act. "Rod Marsh was not happy and was saying to Greg 'no way mate you can’t do this'," Edgar said.   -  AP

When 60-year-old Bruce Adrian Edgar, the former New Zealand opener, visited Anantapur with his team – Hutt Hawks from Wellington - not many locals knew that he was part of an extraordinary event which shook the world of cricket in the early eighties; straining the diplomatic relations between Australia and New Zealand.

Edgar, 24 then, was standing helplessly at the non-striker’s end, with an unbeaten hundred in the third tie of the five-match World Services Cricket tournament at Melbourne (Feb 1, 1981) against Australia, when a sordid act of  underarm bowling unleashed by Aussie medium pacer Trevor Chappell, ignited a fresh controversy.

With six runs needed from the last ball for a tie, the world felt that wasn’t the best way to finish what had been an exciting game. Edgar, who was at Anantapur with his team for an exposure tournament, on an invitation from local Rural Development Trust recently, expressed his views on the dramatic incident in an e-mail interview with Sportstar. The excerpts:

Q: Did you see the infamous act when Greg (Chappell) approached Trevor (Chappell)?

A: The only time I knew something was up was when Greg came down to Trevor to tell him to bowl the ball underarm.  He made an underarm motion to Trevor and then Greg advised the umpire that it was going to be underarm.

Q:  Do you think the incident overshadowed your unbeaten century? You carried the bat?

A: At the time I did think that I was barely mentioned as both countries were at each other’s throats. Rod Marsh had a joke with me when we travelled up to Sydney for the next match.  He said “were you playing in that game – didn’t you get a 100?  You wouldn’t have read about it.”

Q: Was that indecent act good or bad for cricket then?

A: The incident was so good for cricket.  The free promotion of the game led to full houses when we had a return series in New Zealand.  In a way we have a lot to thank Greg for as he did the marketing for NZ Cricket.

Q: What did Rod Marsh say to you when you were walking back? He wasn’t happy. Was he?

A: Rod Marsh was not happy and was saying to Greg “no way mate you can’t do this.” He certainly wasn’t in favour of it with his words and body language.

Q: Talk about what happened in New Zealand after the incident. Did (the act) it help for the growth of cricket?   

A: There were many very upset New Zealanders who felt that this incident was not in the spirit and it ignited the big brother-small brother rivalry.  The incident was top of mind with the NZ Prime Minister Muldoon suggesting that canary yellow was quite apt for the Aussies.  He also engaged in strong debate with the Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Fraser. Any Aussies coming into NZ at the time got bit of a hard time.

Q: How is your relationship with Greg and Trevor – now and then?  Did you ever ask them why they resorted to the non-sportive act?

A: My relationship with Greg and Trevor is friendly.  I’ve seen more of Greg over the years and we get on really well.  Just last year I visited him at Cricket Australia’s National Performance Centre where he is the National Talent Manager.  I always enjoy his company and hearing his views on the game. 

Q: Did you express your unpleasantness over the underarm act to them?

A: The only thing I did was vent on Trevor.  He received a 2-finger salute and a few words about the fact that this wasn’t the best way to finish what had been an exciting game.  I think Greg received so much “stick” from the public that I didn’t need to mention anything to him. 

We have banter and I know that when I’ve been in his company and people see me, he gets a few more comments.

Q: Was the incident an eye opener for the cricket administrators to take a relook at the prevalent laws?

A: Underarm bowling was outlawed in the UK but the rules for World Series Cricket (WSC) in Australia said it was permissible. Greg was within his rights but perhaps not in the spirit as we all know.