A Test of Character

Forty years on from Trevor Chappell's infamous underarm bowl, Simon Smart reflects on the importance of integrity and fairness.

It’s 40 years this week since an infamous moment in Australian sport which has lived on in the memories of cricket fans of a certain age, like a stone in our collective shoes. When Greg Chappell ordered his younger brother Trevor to deny New Zealand any possibility of victory by delivering the final ball in a one-day game underarm, he couldn’t have imagined the fall-out that would follow. We all felt the shame.

Chappell described leaving the ground to resounding boos and a small girl tugging on his sleeve saying, “you cheated.” New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon didn’t hold back: “I thought it was most appropriate that the Australian team was dressed in yellow”. Both Chappells admit to being haunted by the incident ever since.

Professional sport is, by nature, ruthless and uncompromising. Those characteristics have been foundational in the Australian cricket team’s periods of domination. But ironically, the New Zealand team, these days edging towards the Number 1 spot in Test cricket is possibly most known for its sportsmanship, integrity and fairness. Perhaps success doesn’t necessarily entail being a jerk.

Fans love to win, but it’s the moments of great sportsmanship that live most vividly in people’s memories. Runner John Landy stopping to help Ron Clarke to his feet in a 1500m National Championship; English sailor Pete Goss abandoning the round-the-world race he was leading to battle through storms to rescue stranded competitor Raphael Dinelli.

Character, selflessness, courage in the service of others are virtues that never lose their magnetic appeal no matter what arena of life we observe them in. That was a life-lesson I learned in reverse as a young boy watching in horrid fascination as Trevor Chappell crouched to deliver that final, fateful grenade.