Cricket legend breaks silence over infamous ODI controversy

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Michael Bevan memorably won the 1996 New Year's Day ODI against the West Indies on the last ball, after he was controversially dropped by bowler Roger Harper earlier in the final over. (Photo by Getty Images)
Michael Bevan memorably won the 1996 New Year's Day ODI against the West Indies on the last ball, after he was controversially dropped by bowler Roger Harper earlier in the final over. (Photo by Getty Images)

A television replay condemned West Indian cricketer Roger Harper as a villain in the eyes of millions of Australians 26 years ago, but it was the vision no-one got to see that still eats away at the former international all-rounder after all this time.

It was on New Year's Day 1996 – more than a quarter of a century ago – Harper and Australian ODI specialist Michael Bevan were the central figures in one of the most remarkable and controversial limited overs game witnessed on home soil.

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Chasing the Windies' 172 from a rain-reduced 43 overs at the SCG, Bevan walked to the crease with the home side 4-32 and awaiting last rites.

When Australia slumped to 6-38, thousands headed to the exit gates to avoid what they assumed would be a massacre.

But those who stayed the course were rewarded with a knock the legendary Bill Lawry described as "one of the all-time great one-day innings".

Bevan (78 not out), with great assistance from Paul Reiffel (34), dragged the home side back into the contest before hitting Harper for four from the final ball to win the game with just one wicket in hand.

But it could have ended a lot earlier had replays not saved the Australian.

Harper claimed a caught and bowled off Bevan when the left-hander was on just 14.

The 193cm West Indian, who played 105 ODIs, took the return catch before throwing the ball away in jubilation and "high-tenning" teammates as Bevan stood his ground furiously shaking his head.

Replays clearly showed the ball hitting the ground as the bowler spilt it and then attempted to trap it between his hands and legs as he fell to the ground.

Roger Harper speaks for the first time about New Year's catch controversy

Greg Chappell said in commentary: "Michael Bevan was quite right in standing his ground…I have the feeling Roger Harper should have known."

But speaking to Yahoo Sport Australia from his home in Guyana, Harper - for the first time publicly - claims he didn’t know.

Calling it the "infamous dropped catch", the 58-year-old explained: "I thought I'd managed to get my hand underneath it before it had bounced.

"I was a little off balance and instead of being able to skip across I fell to the side and the ball popped out.

"I thought I'd gotten my hand on it but when you look from behind you can see the ball just touch the ground.

"It took a while to be able to tell that."

Just four years after the 1996 ODI controversy, Roger Harper had been promoted to West Indies Test coach. Credit: Robert Cianflone/ALLSPORT
Just four years after the 1996 ODI controversy, Roger Harper had been promoted to West Indies Test coach. Credit: Robert Cianflone/ALLSPORT

Asked recently about the catch that wasn't, Bevan said: "I knew he did (drop it) but that was from my angle.

"Whether or not he was sure about it or not sure I’m not 100 per cent on, but I definitely wasn’t going to walk and it was a little bit contentious."

Harper, who has just finished a two-year stint as West Indies chairman of selectors, was loudly booed by the parochial SCG crowd but had no problem with Bevan standing his ground.

But he is still haunted by a subsequent inconclusive replay that may have stopped Bevan's match-winning dig dead in its tracks.

"There was an underarm throw from the covers and it hit the stumps direct. There was a run out appeal and he got away with it because a frame was missing," Harper recalled.

"They couldn’t get the exact frame. It was very tight but that's how it goes.

"Coming into the last over we still thought we had a good chance of winning that game."

Twist of fate which put Harper and Bevan on collision course

Harper wasn't originally scheduled to bowl the final over but volunteered after the Windies quicks reached their quota in a bid to bowl Australia out.

The hosts needed six runs from four balls when No.11 Glenn McGrath joined Bevan in the middle.

Bevan took a single from the third ball of the over before McGrath squeezed out a run from the fourth ball to relinquish the strike.

A dot from the penultimate delivery left Bevan needing a boundary from the last ball.

"I'd been bowling the ball in the block hole so that was my plan," Harper recalled.

"He came down the track to the fifth one and couldn't get it away, so I looked to bowl the same place for that last ball."

Roger Harper later went on to serve as the West Indies' chief selector. (Photo by RANDY BROOKS/AFP via Getty Images)
Roger Harper later went on to serve as the West Indies' chief selector. (Photo by RANDY BROOKS/AFP via Getty Images)

Correctly predicting Harper would serve up an identical ball, Bevan gave himself a little bit more room and smashed him down the ground for four as the SCG erupted.

Batsman and bowler high-fived in a touching post-script to a match full of drama and controversy.

"Good luck to him. The ball wasn't inch perfect but he made room to create the shot, so you've got to give the batsman credit for that," Harper said.

"His record speaks for itself. He's rightly rated one of the best finishers in one-day cricket.

"But it was a game we should have won."

While Bevan was the centre of attention in Australia for weeks after the game, Harper has never publicly spoken about his role in the game until now.

"You hit the winning runs then everyone wants to talk to the batsman but no-one has asked me about it," he said.

"When you’re in a position of control and the opposition claws it back to win it…they're not games you want to remember."

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