Richard Hadlee: Battling cancer has put life in perspective

The New Zealand legend says he is “at the moment all clear” in his two-year-old battle with cancer.

Sir Richard Hadlee was diagnosed with cancer in June, 2018.   -  Rajneesh Londhe

New Zealand pace legend Sri Richard Hadlee says he is “at the moment all clear” in his two-year-old battle with cancer, which necessitated two surgeries and changed his perspective on life. Hadlee was diagnosed with bowel cancer in June, 2018. A month after undergoing a surgery to have the tumour removed, he had to be operated for a secondary liver cancer.

“It puts life into perspective because I never had symptoms. It was purely a freak situation where a routine colonoscopy determined the problem. I was faced with a huge challenge in my life as odds were not in my favour,” Hadlee said during a free-wheeling chat in one of his rare public appearances.

One of the greatest fast bowlers of all time and probably the best-ever from New Zealand, Hadlee said the next five years are important. “Two years have gone by and I have to go through the next three years. Tomorrow I could wake up with a symptom,” Hadlee said with the familiar grit of his playing days writ large on his face.

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He recalled the first six months after diagnosis which were like living hell for the legend, who played 86 Tests for New Zealand, taking 431 wickets, a world record at the time. “At the moment all good, I lost 10 [kilograms]. I do all normal things now, just watch my diet. I get regular check-ups every three months. Tests were also in my favour but I am not out of the woods. I have to still get through the next 12 to 24 months without re-occurrence. If it comes back, I will deal with it then, but it won’t be good. But at the moment all clear,” he said.

'Balanced attack'

'Phenomenal' - Hadlee on James Anderson. - AP


These challenges haven’t prevented Hadlee from keeping a tab on international cricket. “India have got some wonderful fast bowlers. Ishant [Sharma] has done a wonderful job in Test cricket. I like [Mohammed] Shami. He brings in a lot of energy as he runs into bowl. Bumrah is one of his kind, very unorthodox but hugely effective. That’s the point of difference that he is unusual. They are a very balanced attack and that’s why they are No 1. Good batsmen and world-class bowling attack,” he said.

Among the current generation, Hadlee loves England swing bowler James Anderson. There is a glint in his eyes when he talks about him. “Anderson has been phenomenal. You just watch it on telly, watch what he is doing — outswinger, inswinger, the release and wrist position. Nearly 600 Test wickets. Stuart Broad has also got a bit to do over the years. What a combination. They are the most successful combination in the history of the game. Incredible,” he said.

The Canterbury Cricket Association will be building an indoor facility that will be named after him. Hadlee is also looking forward to it and hopes that adequate funds are raised. “That makes you appreciate the value of living life, having something to look forward to. Like this project (Hadlee Indoor facility), wanting to see it start, to be completed and opened in my lifetime,” he said.

'Test cricket is real cricket'

A purist at heart, New Zealand pace great Sir Richard Hadlee is not a fan of T20 cricket. He asserts that the shortest format will not survive if Tests are not taken care of.

Hadlee said the foundation of cricket must be “preserved” and all three formats can co-exist if a balance is struck. “Test cricket must be preserved. It’s the foundation on which the game is based. So we must look after the five-day game,” Hadlee said.

“Certainly with emergence of T20 cricket which is a revolution in the game, all three formats need to live together. They can co-exist but I hate to see that T20 cricket will dominate world cricket,” the 68-year-old told PTI.

Twenty20 cricket won’t be able to sustain the game if the traditional format is not taken care of, Hadlee pointed out. “Probably too much T20 cricket is played around the world. But I hope that the game doesn’t try to just survive through T20 cricket because T20 cricket is not real cricket. Real cricket is Test cricket,” said Hadlee, the owner of 431 Test wickets and 3,124 runs from only 86 Tests.

Hadlee, however, feels T20 has produced more skilful players even though they might not be better cricketers. “I am not saying they are better players but they are certainly more skilful. Because of different formats that they play, they have to adapt to different situations particularly in T20 which is a high risk game anyway with all the trick shots that they play,” he stated.

“The T20 generation bowlers today have at least five variations. They bowl different deliveries like knuckle ball, back of the hand slower one. Back in my time, I only had two variations (inswinger and outswinger). That’s all I needed,” Hadlee said.

Too much of T20 cricket will lead to burnout and premature retirements, Hadlee felt. “At 34 or 35, you probably end your career as quick bowler but you can have three or four years left in T20 cricket because if you play Test cricket, you can burn out, get injured and be less effective. People will retire prematurely to pursue where the money is. That’s not a criticism at all but a sign of times and way the game has gone. I was 39 when I retired and it was Test cricket. That’s it,” Hadlee said.

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