It remains one of Australia’s darkest sporting moments, but Greg Chappell is starting to see the funny side of the infamous underarm bowling saga.
During an ODI match in 1981, the Black Caps required six runs off the last ball to secure an unlikely tie against Australia at the MCG.
With his younger brother responsible for bowling the decisive delivery, Australian skipper Chappell did the unthinkable.
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“I walked up from deep mid-on where I was fielding, Trevor was bowling,” Chappell said on Channel 7’s The Front Bar.
“I asked him how he was bowling his underarms. He said, ‘I don’t know’. I said, ‘Mate, you are just about to find out’.
“I then spoke to the umpire at the bowler’s end, because … the bowler has got to tell what he is going to do.
“The eyes in the umpire’s head rolled back.
“It could have been a real disaster if he had bowled a wide. I’d have been in serious trouble.”
New Zealand cricket fans have never forgiven Chappell for that fateful delivery, and the footage infuriates many of our Kiwi rivals to this very day.
But there was a silver lining to come from the underarm debacle, which Chappell joked made the entire ordeal worthwhile.
“I was having a beer with the captain of the New Zealand team at the time a couple of days earlier,” Chappell said.
“Jeff (Howarth) was bemoaning the fact that we had huge crowds in Australia. He said, ‘In New Zealand we don’t get anyone to turn up. The All Blacks are the big thing in New Zealand, the cricket team run a very distant second. We find it really hard to get people motivated to come and watch us’.
“I said, ‘Leave it with me’.”
In 2019, Howarth conceded the underarm delivery was “the greatest thing to happen to New Zealand cricket”.
READ MORE: Definitive word on Aussie’s divisive tactic
Although Chappell was for a while public enemy No. 1 across the Tasman, the 72-year-old has fond memories of his time in New Zealand after 1981.
“The response from the New Zealand team and the New Zealand public has been fantastic,” Chappell said.
“We went to New Zealand soon afterwards, the first one-dayer we played was at Eden Park. They turned up from everywhere … it was like Beverley hillbillies, they all turned up.
“Seriously, they have all come from the farm, because as I walked out to bat there was a duck pushed out on the ground. There was a pig that was let loose.”
Most Australians are fast asleep when Trevor Chappell begins his work day. By the time he’s done, it’s unlikely their alarm clocks have even buzzed.
ABC radio host Trevor Chappell has been presenting Overnights for 20 years
Chappell’s audience members come from all walks of life and are located around the country
The host says he strives to create radio that is inclusive
Chappell has spent the past 20 years living a semi-nocturnal life and, around the country, thousands of night owls join him while listening to Overnights from 2:00am to 6:00am AEDT on ABC local radio.
There are countless reasons why listeners tune in to AM radio in the middle of the night and join Chappell — who is not to be confused with his famous cricketer namesake, who’s most likely fast asleep when the radio program reaches its devoted audience.
Some listeners are working, hauling huge trucks across the country, or doing night jobs. Others are battling crippling physical pain that makes even a few consecutive hours of shut-eye impossible.
There are people disturbed by their own mental demons. And some, quite simply, just cannot fall asleep.
“Also, we do programming that isn’t going to create more worries for people.”
A look back at the program’s past week conveys Chappell’s point. Topics covered include gardening, history, skin health, television and manufacturing.
There was a lengthy chat about how to pick an Australian ham from a foreign import when preparing for Christmas lunch. Recently there was a wildly popular call-out for people to share stories of when they were featured in a local newspaper.
Of course, there is a key staple of all overnight radio programs — quizzes.
Chappell presents the program from Monday to Thursday from Melbourne, while Rod Quinn does the other three days from Sydney.
Creating a ‘community’, not a ‘family’
Djarrah King, a regular talkback caller to Overnights, says he has “an opinion about most things”.
In a past life, Djarrah spent 25 years in the defence force, serving tours in Somalia, Iraq, Timor and the Solomon Islands. He recovered from being shot and suffering a broken neck.
These days, Djarrah enjoys the peace of his current job, driving truckloads of pre-packed supermarket salads overnight between Nhill, in western Victoria, and Melbourne.
“It gives you that solitude. You’re not surrounded by a lot of people, which is good,” he says.
Djarrah says there’s a special bond between the program’s host and regular callers like him. Over the years, they have grown to know each other.
It’s a safe space where everyone gets a chance to have their say. And when someone who is struggling rings in, others will offer messages of support.
“It’s a real good community,” he says.
Chappell likes this word — community — when it comes to describing his show.
“I’ve always thought that the program is a bit like a dinner party, in that you can sit around with a group of 12 others and you can be talking to somebody. You can be part of the conversation without joining in, so you can still be part of the group by listening.”
‘Without them, there is no program’
The sense of community prompted listeners to create an unofficial fan page for Chappell and Quinn, where they critique the show and its guests. The page has more than 8,000 followers, and declares in its ‘About’ section: “When Trevor is on — it’s the best four days any week could ever have.”
Audience members say they are drawn to Chappell’s warmth and willingness to not take himself too seriously.
Long-time listener, Carolyn Meier, says his personality makes him perfect for the job.
“He’s compassionate and understanding. Trevor has a very kind and gentle manner,” she says.
Sam Somerville, who has tuned in for 18 years, puts it succinctly.
Chappell describes his audience just as fondly, using terms like “kind” and “generous”. But, much like a dinner party, he concedes the odd “arsehole” does show up. Such is the nature of live radio.
Chappell, who came to broadcasting after stints in mining, construction and social work, said he was taught early in his radio career to value relationships with the audience.
The intimate nature of the show puts Chappell in an unusual position. He has chatted with some audience members for years, but seldom meets them in person.
To Chappell, they aren’t exactly “friends” in the traditional sense, but at the same time he views them as more than just acquaintances.
“The best way I can describe it is that it’s like a colleague that you get along really well with. Without them and their input, there is no program,” he says.
“Just recently Barry from Mount Isa passed away. He was a lovely fellow who was very open and very generous. You develop a relationship with people and you miss them when they’re gone.”
Barry from Mount Isa was Barry Byrne, a prolific talkback caller, monarchist, and same-sex marriage advocate who came out as gay on the radio a few years ago.
Online death notices were filled with tributes from ABC listeners around the country who loved hearing the 52-year-old’s trademark sign-off, which would begin with: “I’ll bid you and everyone at the ABC a good night.”
Two naps a day, and no coffee
After two decades, Chappell says he still loves the job and its unusual hours. He rarely drinks coffee to stay awake, and prefers water instead.
On work days he heads home straight after his show and naps until midday, and then tries to do some exercise and run the day’s errands. He has another quick kip and then heads into the office.
Only once in 20 years has he ever dozed off while on-air. In a classic live-radio moment, he was abruptly woken when the person he was interviewing over the phone stopped talking and said, “Hello?”.
Chappell says he is thankful for the support of his show’s producers and his partner, Cathy.
“When I first started doing it, I made a decision that this is what I was going to do. I was going to make a commitment to doing overnight radio,” Chappell says.
Michael Blissenden of Dural shares that “a mate (whose driving record is not too flash) has been allowing his son to drive his car for the past six months. Now that September is upon us and his licence is about to be returned, I said to him that CarKeeper must surely be coming to an end.”
The signs that life is getting more serious (C8) are not just COVID-related, according to Alan Marel of North Curl Curl. “For the last few years, sports reporters have described increasing numbers of ‘serious’ footballers, ‘serious’ cricketers and ‘serious’ athletes. The one that always cracks me up is the description of ‘serious’ racehorses. How can you tell, when they all have such long faces?”
“At our local club they have cancelled ‘Happy Hour’ with obviously no intention of bringing it back. Jim Pollitt’s ‘Trivia cancelled’ (C8) is nothing!” grumbles Doug Lindsay of Wamberal.
Bryce Templeton of Bonogin (Qld) thinks it is grossly unfair that, as he has to use the closed captioning to understand what Alan Kohler is saying, he cannot read the titles of his books. “Maybe they could position the captions so the book titles are visible. I need to be part of the action.”
Gara Baldwin of Maroubra has been “wondering if there’s a queue of publishers vying to put their books on Alan Kohler’s desk (C8), as I sometimes find I’m too distracted by checking the book pile to concentrate on what he’s telling us.”