Hadlee and dust bins!

How did a percipient coach spell success for Sir Richard Hadlee?

Richard Hadlee... a wonderful interaction with some select scribes in Mumbai.   -  PRASHANT NAKWE

Even off a shortened run-up, Hadlee had a menacing approach.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Coach Glenn Turner raised Hadlee's performance levels with a simple observation.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

If Sunil Gavaskar’s stylish stride from the dressing room towards the wicket was compared with that of a lion who stamps his authority on the jungle, Richard Hadlee’s sprint towards the batsman was that of a tiger haring towards his target. Isn’t that one of the glorious sights in cricket? A fast bowler sprinting towards the batsman to hurl the ball and break the stumps if possible.

But as Hadlee matured through his career, in the early 1980s — what was virtually to be the mid-point in his international sojourn — the long run-up that is synonymous with a fast bowler disappeared. Instead, it was replaced with a shortened one of not more than 15 paces before delivering the ball.

The shortened run-up did not add to Hadlee’s ability to literally make the ball talk and in turn make the batsmen dance to his tunes. Still, it drew widespread reactions about whether Hadlee, widely criticised as a self-centred cricketer during his playing days, was trying to extend his career. However, the first bowler to break the 400-Test wicket mark and the first active cricketer to be knighted revealed in Mumbai recently that his decision had nothing to do with adding a few more years to his career.

Hadlee’s career in international cricket can be summed up in two halves.

“I started first-class cricket in 1971-72 as a tearaway fast bowler, just trying to bowl as fast as I could. Not a lot of control; halfway down the pitch and all that sort of stuff. There’s not a skill in doing that! By the time 1976 came, I took 25 wickets in six Tests on tours to India and Pakistan — three in each country. That’s not bad in sub-continental conditions. I was just starting to get it right with my rhythm and technique, bringing in a little more efficiency,” Hadlee, dressed immaculately, recalled at the headquarters of the Tata Group in Mumbai.

“Another big change happened during my career with going from a long to a short run-up in English county cricket. In Sunday League games, you had (to bowl with) a 15-metre run-up. There’s a line beyond which you can’t go. I got six for 12 in my last Sunday League game at Notts in 1980 and I was finishing county cricket back then because of injuries. I couldn’t play a lot. The chairman of the club there said, ‘Richard, we want you back even if you bowl off two paces.’ I thought it was a pretty strong vote of confidence! And so that was the start of the short run-up.

“I was criticised in my initial season of the shorter run-up internationally by the media, fellow players and spectators. I copped a fair bagging because people felt that I was taking short cuts, and that if you’re a fast bowler you’ve got to run in from 25 yards. And so I made a professional decision to stay with a shorter run-up and I really honed in on a classical action.

“Everything happened quickly, nicely and efficiently. I was three times more effective off the shorter run-up internationally than I was off the longer run-up. So, the decision I made was right, and I was pleased about it.”

Once the cricket world witnessed how effective the shorter run-up had been for the Kiwi, the Hadlee phenomenon spread rapidly. “You don’t need a long, long run-up. All the run-up does is it gets you to the crease to get you the right position for balance. It’s a technical thing,” Hadlee stressed. “In the old days, we still had eight-ball overs in first-class and international cricket. I ran out of puff after four balls! You get hit for two fours off the first two balls, and it’s a really long over! So I was really pleased that six-ball overs came in. That was another big change in my career which helped me better my performances.”

Coaching in cricket, especially at the international level, has often been termed “overrated” by a plethora of former great bowlers. “You don’t need a coach for an international team, you need a man-manager,” has been an oft-quoted line. However, if Hadlee’s experience is to be used as a case study, the importance of an experienced and qualified coach — even at the highest level — is underlined.

No conversation with Hadlee can be over without a reference to his spell at the ’Gabba in Brisbane during the 1985-86 series, when he dismantled the Australians with 15 wickets in the match, including a nine-for in the first innings. When asked about the secret of his success in that series, where he finished with a whopping 33 wickets in three matches, Hadlee revealed how the New Zealand coach, Glenn Turner, had played a big role. We have read and heard the tales of how Hadlee tried to emulate Dennis Lillee, but this was something new.

“Look, there’s always a stage during your career where everything works, goes well for you. I’d actually made a technical change just prior to the first Test at the ’Gabba. Our coach Glenn Turner had noticed in the build-up games that I was bowling mid-crease, and he said, ‘I’ve got to get you closer to the stumps so you’re bowling more wicket to wicket.’ So he stood there as an umpire at practice. After a couple of balls, I said to him, ‘you’re pushing me a bit wider, can you just stand back a bit.’ So, I got a bit closer. And we worked out that it was six feet behind the stumps, we scratched a line there, so that’s where he stood. I got a bit closer to the wicket,” Hadlee said.

“When he (Turner) left that net session to do other things, we put a rubbish bin as an umpire. So, a rubbish bin got 33 wickets in that series, effectively! Because I got so close to the wicket, had the outswinger going, the off-cutter, bowling good lines, good channels. We caught 90 per cent of the catches behind the wicket. That change in 1985-86 effectively got me a lot more wickets in the last four years of my career. Just one little thing that somebody had picked up can make a big difference. And I had great rhythm, I was fit, and the Aussies imploded!”