Not since Mick Molloy hacked into the cheese-wheel in the film Crackerjack has the genteel sport of lawn bowls been plunged into such disarray.

Official complaints have been lodged against the New Zealand national team, the Black Jacks, accusing them of deliberately folding in their game against lowly ranked Thailand in an important tournament last month.

There was no cash at stake; online bookmakers offer betting options on everything from darts to European ice hockey, but it seems there’s still no market for lawn bowls.

Instead, the Black Jacks have been accused of losing the game to ensure that rivals Canada would be eliminated from the Asia-Pacific Championships held in Malaysia.

Officials now have the unenviable task of weighing into what one commentator called the “Trevor Chappell dilemma” – whether it is illegal for a team to underperform to advance its overall strategic position.

The chief executive of Bowls Australia, Neil Dalrymple, said it would be hard to find fault under the written laws of the sport.

But in a sport where there are many unwritten laws, the act of rolling over would be widely criticised. “There’s nothing in the rules to say you can’t underperform … but there’s a question as to whether it’s in the spirit of the game,” he said.

A Black Jacks spokeswoman told the Herald that she was unable to comment on the matter while it was before the judiciary.

But Gary Lawson, one of the four players under investigation, said: “We didn’t throw the game. We lost,” he said. “It happens occasionally. Apparently we’re not allowed to do that.”

Lawson blamed the loss on the poor performance of the New Zealand coach, Dave Edwards. “[He] should be charged with impersonating a coach,” he said. As it was, New Zealand did advance to the semi-finals of the championships, only to be eliminated by Australia.

Mr Dalrymple said the incident had shaken the lawn-bowls world. “It’s something you don’t expect to see,” he said.

“But the sport has progressed to a point where these guys are playing for reasonably high stakes.

”Like every sport, you’re going to have some people willing to push the limits.”