'Play hard, play fair, enjoy it'

“The leg cutter was my best weapon. If you can bowl a batsman, that is the ideal way. But I got a lot of my wickets with catches behind the wicket,” says Richard Hadlee in this chat.

“Test cricket is the ultimate. It is a game of real skill,” says Richard Hadlee.   -  Getty Images

“No bowler I’ve seen had better control of seam and swing.” This is what Sir Donald Bradman had to say about Sir Richard Hadlee.

“No other cricketer has stirred the imagination of the sports-loving public of New Zealand more than Richard Hadlee,” said our own Sunil Gavaskar.

Hadlee is the ultimate model for any student practising the art of fast bowling. In a brilliant career, which he started like any other tear-away, Hadlee developed strongly with his dedication and discipline, ripping through the opposition with elan.


He was orthodox, satisfying the purist and had an immaculate temperament, unheard of in a pace bowler.

The Kiwi took a world record 431 Test wickets, in just 86 Test matches, a fraction better than his master Dennis Lillee’s 355 in 71! Hadlee did not have the best of support from the slip cordon, otherwise he would have had a bigger haul. He also took the rebellion in the team when he decided to keep the Alfa Romeo car that he won as the ‘International Player of the Year’ in the 1985-86 season in Australia in his stride. Hadlee argued that if he had been paid in cash he would have had no qualms in sharing the booty. He was upset that some of his team-mates forgot that he had contributed as much as $50,000 earlier, which came as the cash equivalent for the cars he had won.

There were supporters for him in the team like wicket-keeper Ian Smith who once commented, “I’ve had the best seat in the house to watch the master in action.”

Martin Crowe, the current New Zealand captain, too had initially wanted the spoils to be split in the car controversy but later changed his attitude and went on to write in Hadlee’s testimonial souvenir — “His career coincided, hardly accidentally, with New Zealand’s best period of cricket performance.”

Hadlee set himself high standards, and as a keen student he not only studied Lillee’s technique but, more importantly, also those of the best of batsmen in the world that he came across.

In the later years, five-wicket hauls to help his team win Test matches, became a routine for Hadlee. In 1979-80, it was a memorable achievement for him when he took 11 wickets apart from scoring a half-century in Dunedin to enable New Zealand humble the mighty West Indies in a Test match and eventually win the series.

Four years earlier he had shown his class, in skittling India with a haul of 11 wickets when pundits had earlier predicted that he would only be the 12th man in that Test!

Hadlee took five or more wickets in a Test 36 times and 10 or more in a match on nine occasions. He finished his Test career in June 1990, with a five-wicket haul in Birmingham that saw England slump to 158 in the second innings, after having made 435 in the first. New Zealand could not take advantage of this, and lost by 124 runs. Hadlee was bowled for 13 in his last innings by Devon Malcolm, who took the knight’s autograph on a scorecard.

Hadlee’s best of nine for 52 came against Australia at the ‘Gabba, Brisbane, in November 1985. He took six more in the second innings to make it 15 for 123, his best in a match. He went on to collect 18 wickets in the next two Tests, to round off a memorable series that New Zealand won 2-1. Hadlee took his 33 wickets in the series at the cost of 12.15 per wicket.

Hadlee was always a winner. To him a winner means, “one who plays hard to the absolute of his ability, putting in no less than 100 per cent effort to achieve those goals set by himself... To be highly competitive, relentless in performance, ethical in action and perfectionist in execution.”

India may not appeal much to Hadlee, in the sense that he suffered health problems, but it was in Bangalore that he achieved his memorable 374th wicket, that took him past Ian Botham’s world mark. It was a doubly sweet achievement because he had to wait for nearly a year, missing a series against England at home due to injury.

Once he makes up his mind, Hadlee can be a tough customer and the New Zealand team discovered this quality when he refused to tour the sub-continent for the World Cup in 1987.

Over the years Hadlee seems to have changed his opinion of India, as one could make out on meeting him during his brief stay in New Delhi. Hadlee was on a trip to introduce a brand of peas named after him. On the eve of the launch, he fainted at the New Zealand High Commission premises. He later revealed, “It was the heat and exhaustion” that upset his health.

The supremely fit athlete, who underwent a surgery nearly a year back to set right the rhythm of his heart beat, recovered after a day’s rest, and spoke cheerfully to The Sportstar. Hadlee will be enjoying, spending a holiday with wife Karen and sons Nicholas, 10 and Mathew, 7, in South Africa along with Clive Rice’s family soon.


Question: How is life after retirement from cricket? Are you in touch with the game?

Answer: I feel very satisfied. I work for the Bank of New Zealand, which sponsors international Test series in New Zealand. I am an Ambassador with the bank, which means a public relations job. So I am there at all Test matches and the one-dayers. I am in close touch with the players, media and the administrators. I certainly am pleased with my career after cricket.

What is your view about the present New Zealand team? How do you compare it with the one led by Geoff Howarth?

Geoff Howarth’s team was a very good side. Howarth was a very good captain. The best I have played under. This is a new side and it will take time for them to perform.

Do you regret not having led New Zealand?

I was never asked. I have never looked for it either. So no regrets.

What have you to say about the New Zealand cricket structure?

The New Zealand cricket structure is very good. We have got a cricket academy in Christchurch where players attend a camp for four or five days, to get the benefit of the top coaches. It has motivators, dieticians, doctors, physios, running instructors, so that there is a complete cricket education that works out to be very beneficial. Senior players also coach there. The national sides get it, youngsters get it, and women cricketers too. All in one academy.

What has been your approach to cricket?

To compete, to play hard, to play fair and to enjoy it. Yes, that is it.

How much did the nature of wickets bother you?

One has got to adapt to any condition that is there. You can’t change them, so just play on. Well obviously, one had been disappointed with some conditions that one had encountered. But nothing can be done about that. One day the conditions are not good for you and the next day or next match they are. You make the most of the good ones!

In your bowling armoury, which was your favourite weapon and in which manner did you like to get a batsman out?

The leg cutter was my best weapon. If you can bowl a batsman, that is the ideal way. But I got a lot of my wickets with catches behind the wicket. That is why I often had three slips and a gully. A lot of my catches went in that area. Depending on the conditions, I relied both on the movement in the air and off the seam. If there is no movement off the wicket, you have to swing the ball. If there is plenty of movement off the pitch, then there is no need to swing it. There will be too much movement then.

What has been the most memorable performance for you?

The Test against Australia at the ‘Gabba in 1985-86. I took nine wickets in an innings, and 15 in the match. We won the match. That was my best performance. It was very satisfying because that was the first time we had beaten Australia on Australian soil. It was the near ultimate performance.

How was it to reach the world record of wickets?

Very special, very important. I thought it was a bonus on the way. And Kapil is likely to beat that.

Do you think that you retired early, instead of setting up a tougher target for the rest?

No. It doesn’t matter. I was 39 when I got out. And that itself was five or six years more than what I had thought. So the timing was right to get out. Kapil is likely to <FZ,2,0,16>beat me, and he deserves that. There is nothing I can do about it. I didn’t wish to play anymore or compete anymore. It was time to go. If Kapil reaches it, I will be the first one to congratulate him. Already I have sent him a message urging him to go for it.

What is your assessment of Kapil’s ability and what number is he likely to end up with?

He has been a fine performer. When he gets that far and gets that many wickets as well, he obviously has got to be a very good player.

Don’t you want to fix a number, 450 or so, for Kapil?

No. He still has got to reach the record, isn’t it!

We know Hadlee as a serious competitor. Can you recall any lighter moment that you cherish?

I can’t remember a lighter moment. But there has been a most embarrassing moment — me falling over my feet at Lord’s when I ran into bowl in a Test match in 1978. After a long run I had a sideways shuffle and as I did that, I fell over my feet. It was very embarrassing to undergo such an experience in a Test match in front of 28,000 people and live television. I enjoyed my duel with Dean Jones, though it can’t be categorised as light. It was competitive, an intensive one for that matter. The media battle and the battle in the middle, it was a confrontation. I got him out four times in a Test series reasonably quickly.

Don’t you feel that you didn’t do justice to your batting?

Is that a question or are you telling me!

It is a question!

Yes, I should have done better with the bat. My average works out to about 27, and I should have definitely done better. My batting in the latter stages of my career was pretty good. Probably averaging about 35 or 36. In the early stages it was not so good.

What appeals to you the most, the ‘colourful one-day cricket’ or Test cricket?

Test cricket is the ultimate. It is a game of real skill.

Is not the ‘one bouncer per over’ rule unfair to the bowlers?

It is not fair at all. Because if you bowl a bouncer in the second ball of the over, the batsman knows that for four balls he is not going to get another bouncer. If you have got, say, three every two overs, it will be good. There has got be an element of surprise, isn’t it? The extra one will strike a balance. So one an over is not good.

What is your opinion about the ICC match referee?

It is a good idea. It has proved very important, especially seeing the way the Pakistanis are playing in England at the moment — bringing the game into disrepute. It has got to be sorted out.

There is a view that the money spent on the match referee is going waste. Your comments?

Well the series in New Zealand and Australia have been incident free. But a series can also be full of incidents, the way Pakistan is playing it. Now it is paying its worth. Isn’t it?

Will forming an international panel solve the problems of umpiring?

Yes, it will. Because the umpires involved will be the best in the world. Therefore they will be respected more by the players. And because they are the best their confidence will obviously not be at question. And they are going to get decisions right more often, aren’t they? They should also be able to defuse explosive situations.

If we have a panel, many may not get a chance to officiate in Test matches.

Exactly. The best have got to be doing the job, whoever they may be.

For any umpire officiating at the top level is the aim. If we have the international panel, a lot of umpires in a particular country may not get a chance.

I don’t feel there is anything to worry about. It is going to be competitive. In the international panel, if an umpire doesn’t perform, he will get out and somebody else will take his place. So one still has got a chance of getting into the top.

Richard Hadlee set himself high standards.   -  Getty Images


How do you view the Test status given to Zimbabwe?

I have no real comment on that. But I thought they had to prove to the world. It is debatable. I don’t know how good they are. Zimbabwe struggled in the World Cup. They beat England, but that is one-day cricket, and one match performance. They really need to be playing unofficial Test matches, don’t they, just to know how strong they are in Test cricket. But they have been given Test status now. The merit of the decision will be proven very shortly. Time will tell!

Why is that cricket has not picked up like other games and remains restricted to only a few countries?

Well it is the same problem as in Rugby league. Is it not? In Rugby league, you probably have five playing nations in the world. Papua New Guinea, France, Great Britain, England and Australia. Well, five. That is it. But still it is a world competition. In cricket, we have got nine teams, and it is probably enough for playing international Test cricket. It is probably too many!

Some say that the game of cricket has changed and some say that the attitude towards the game has changed. What is your observation?

The game has only changed to the extent that there is a lot more one-day cricket these days. But Test cricket is still the ultimate game, the most important game. I don’t think it has changed too much except for the bouncer ruling. The one-day game is pretty more avid. But you have got to have it to pay your bills. Is it not? Test cricket has still got to remain. But the thing is that TV exposes it so much that it reduces crowds coming to the ground. They watch it on TV. But if there is less coverage, maybe more people will go and watch at the grounds. The price of tickets have to come down too, so that people can afford to take their families to matches.

Unfortunately people don’t have the time and patience to sit through a Test match.

Yes, one-day game is the glamour game. It is a lot more exciting for a lot of people.

How much did you enjoy the last World Cup? What would you say about New Zealand’s show?

It was a very exciting World Cup wasn’t it? Well organised, well staged and very competitive. Pakistan, I think, deserved to win. The New Zealand side performed exceptionally well till the semifinal. The whole of New Zealand was disappointed that the team failed to make it to the final.

Your view regarding the rules, particularly the one relating to the rain?

They need to be looked at. The ‘rain rule’ is not a fair one at all. Well there has got to be a better rule. I can’t come up with an answer. I can only say that there has got to be a better rule.

You bowled to Sachin Tendulkar and you have also watched him during the World Cup. How do you rate him?

Tendulkar! Obviously he is a bit of a whiz kid. A wonder boy who has made an impact on world cricket. He has a long way to go yet. He is just 19 years of age and has got a lot of cricket ahead of him. There is no reason, why he can’t go on and be the leading run-scorer in the history of the game. He has got youth on his side. He has already gained a lot of experience. Technically he looks to be a very good player, in the mould of Gavaskar. And therefore the future looks very bright.

How beneficial will be his stint with Yorkshire?

He hasn’t scored a century so far, but has been scoring the 80’s. Not too bad. The experience will do him a lot of good. 

There is criticism that playing six days a week in England may kill his appetite. Will it be counter-productive?

No. It is all going to be good experience for him. For a batsman there can’t be a negative factor in playing county cricket. No way. He should only become better. It works harder for a bowler.

How do you sum up your contemporary all-rounders and whom do you rate as the best?

Imran must be the best. He was a better or more consistent performer with both bat and ball. He can make the team as a specialist batsman or a specialist bowler. Probably the only one who can do that. Kapil is a fine player. Botham was pretty inconsistent. I would like to think myself a better bowler than all of them. But my batting probably let me down.

In which country did you enjoy your cricket most?

England, because it provides the best of conditions. It is the home of cricket and hence has got to have the best. You have professionalism in every aspect, from umpiring to everything. Well, the pitch conditions and the weather conditions didn’t remain the same. 

But if you play six days in a week as you do in county cricket, you get into good habits, discipline and retain them. You get to play against some world class players. Therefore your standard must improve if you are to survive.

Which ground appealed to you the most?

‘Gabba in Brisbane, because I returned my best figures; the Lord’s for historical reasons; Eden Park, New Zealand, for its atmosphere and Trent Bridge, because I spent 10 years with Nottinghamshire. It is very, very special to me. In India I would like to remember the Wankhede Stadium in Bombay, because New Zealand won a Test match there and I took nine wickets.

Your advice to the aspiring young fast bowlers of India.

Just keep running in. You’ve got to keep running in. Bowl, ball after ball after ball. I have bowled over 66,000 balls in my first class career. That is a lot of running in! So just keep running in. That is my tip. It is best to keep it as simple as that!

What do you feel about India?

It is a difficult place, but fascinating nonetheless. Coming to India is an educative experience. It is nice to be in the hotels, but when you go out it becomes a tough proposition. The heat in particular, is menacing. I was thrilled to see the magnificent Taj Mahal on my last visit.

How did it feel to be knighted?

It was the final accolade in my career. That was a beautiful moment. A very special moment.

This article was published in The Sportstar of August 15, 1992.

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