What is Underarm Bowling in Cricket?

Cricket is known for its diverse range of bowling techniques – and one such technique that has captivated audiences and sparked debates is underarm bowling.

It involves delivering the cricket ball along the ground, with the bowler’s arm below the waistline.

In contrast to the overarm bowling technique, where the arm swings above the shoulder, underarm bowling offers different challenges for the bowler, batsman, and the game.

While underarm bowling has largely fallen out of favor in professional cricket, it remains a noteworthy aspect of the sport’s rich heritage.

Understanding the nuances of underarm bowling sheds light on the evolution of the game and the strategic choices made by players in different eras.

In this exploration of underarm bowling, we delve into its origins, its variations across different formats of the game, and the reasons behind its decline in professional cricket. We also examine the impact it has had on matches.

What is Underarm Bowling Technique in Cricket?

Underarm bowling is a technique where the bowler delivers the ball along the ground with their arm positioned below the waistline.

In contrast to the more common overarm bowling technique, where the bowler’s arm swings above the shoulder, underarm bowling involves rolling or skimming the ball toward the batsman.

It is known for its low trajectory, making it difficult for batters to generate power and score boundaries. The bowler aims to keep the ball close to the ground, preventing the batsman from playing lofted shots effectively.

Underarm bowling is often employed as a defensive strategy to restrict scoring opportunities and build pressure on the batsman. It allowed for greater accuracy and control, particularly on uneven or unpredictable pitches.

However, as the sport evolved and became more standardized, overarm bowling gradually replaced the underarm technique, offering greater speed, variation, and excitement to the game.

History of Underarm Bowling Technique

While underarm bowling is no longer prevalent in professional cricket, it occasionally resurfaces in informal or recreational matches, where players may adopt it for fun or nostalgia.

The history of underarm bowling in cricket dates to the sport’s origins. In the early stages of cricket’s development, underarm bowling was the primary method used by players. However, as the game evolved and standardized, the technique became less applicable in professional cricket. Here is a timeline highlighting significant milestones:

Pre-18th century: Underarm bowling was the predominant style in early forms of cricket. The bowler would simply roll or skim the ball along the ground towards the batsman.

The 1760s: The “roundarm” bowling style emerged, where the bowler would swing the arm below the shoulder but above the waistline, introducing a subtle change in the bowling technique.

The 1835s: The introduction of the “Laws of Cricket” by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) brought about a significant shift. The laws stipulated that the ball must be delivered with the arm swinging above the shoulder, effectively banning underarm bowling in professional cricket.

The 1864s: The Laws of Cricket were revised to allow the bowler to release the ball at any height if the arm remained above the shoulder. This change marked the official acceptance of overarm bowling as the standard technique in cricket.

The 1980s: Underarm bowling resurfaced in a highly controversial incident during an international match between Australia and New Zealand. In the final ball of the match, New Zealand needing six runs to win, the Australian captain Greg Chappell instructed his brother Trevor Chappell to bowl the ball underarm along the ground. This act was widely condemned and led to rule changes banning underarm bowling in limited-overs cricket.

Since then, underarm bowling has largely been regarded as inappropriate and against the spirit of the game, particularly at the professional level.

What Was Famous Under the Bowling Incident of 1981

A notorious incident unfolded during a highly controversial One Day International match between Australia and New Zealand in 1981, causing great uproar and leaving a lasting impact on the cricketing world. At the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground, it was the third game of a five-match final series, with the overall score tied at 1-1.

Australia had set a target of 235/4, and as New Zealand chased down the total, they found themselves at 229/8 on the final delivery of the match. Requiring six runs to tie the game, the Australian captain, Greg Chappell, made a decision that would reverberate through cricketing history. He instructed his younger brother, Trevor Chappell, the bowler at the time, to roll the ball along the ground using an underarm action. While this method was legally permissible under Australian rules, it was widely regarded as a breach of the game’s spirit.

The underarm delivery was met with immediate outrage. New Zealand batsman Brian McKechnie blocked the ball and visibly expressed his disappointment by throwing his bat in disgust. The reactions from both teams further intensified the controversy, with Australian players, most notably wicketkeeper Rod Marsh, openly displaying their dissent even before the ball was bowled. The incident resonated strongly as a flagrant violation of the spirit of cricket, tarnishing the fair play and sportsmanship that the game strives to uphold.

This infamous occurrence marked a significant turning point, leading to widespread condemnation and subsequent changes in the game’s rules. It highlighted the need for clearer guidelines and reinforced the importance of upholding the integrity and sportsmanship that cricket holds dear.

Decades later, the incident remains a topic of discussion, serving as a cautionary tale and a reminder of the repercussions that arise when the spirit of cricket is blatantly disregarded.


Underarm bowling, once a prominent technique in the early days of cricket, has gradually faded from the professional game, giving way to the more dynamic and versatile overarm bowling style.

While its use in modern cricket is rare, underarm bowling remains a captivating aspect of the sport’s history and evokes spirited debates among enthusiasts.

By keeping the ball low and close to the ground, underarm bowlers aimed to restrict scoring opportunities and challenge batsmen to adapt their techniques. It demanded accuracy and control, relying on subtle variations in line, length, and pace.

While the professional game has moved away from underarm bowling, it occasionally resurfaces in recreational matches, allowing players to pay homage to the sport’s rich heritage and experience a different aspect of the game.

It serves as a bridge between cricket’s past and present, connecting modern players to the techniques and challenges faced by their predecessors.

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