“I have no regrets”

Sir Richard Hadlee at the press conference.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

“If you are contracted to your country, that is the first priority. If the cricket board is not engaged in any other form of cricket at the time when the IPL or any other league is on, then the players are free to ply their trade anywhere,” Sir Richard Hadlee tells a group of select print media houses. Ashwin Achal reports.

Sir Richard Hadlee’s ascent to the top of the charts is truly inspiring. After battling depression, a crippling heat stroke, and a less than professional environment in New Zealand, the all-rounder went on to break the record for the most number of Test wickets. The record subsequently changed hands and 25 years after achieving this feat, Hadlee returned to Bangalore, the city where he made history. He was a part of the KSCA’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations and spoke to a select group of print media houses, in an hour-long interaction where he patiently answered questions on a wide range of topics.

Excerpts: Question: When you broke the world record for most Test wickets, did you think people would go on to take 700-800 wickets?

Answer: For me, it was nice to be a pace-setter. I knew then that somebody would go beyond my record, but I also knew that it would not devalue what I did. A new record would not devalue what Fred Trueman (first to 300 wickets) did either.

However, I did not envisage that Shane Warne would go to 700, and (Muttiah) Muralitharan to 800. That suggests that there is a lot more Test cricket today. It also means that there is longevity of players, which shows a fair amount of fitness, skill and the motivation to keep going. But, it is going to be very difficult for somebody to go beyond Murali. He would have to play for 30 years (laughs).

You had a period of depression, where you even thought about taking your life. How did you overcome that?

Firstly, if you have a problem, you have to acknowledge it. There is nothing wrong in admitting that you have depression. By getting it out there, you can try and find solutions.

In my case, I think I was depressed for about six months. What happened was that I was so busy, I was up and down the country, saying ‘yes’ to everybody. All of a sudden, you get a heat stroke, and you collapse. You get chest pains, headaches. Trivial things become important. For example, a picture on the wall is crooked, so I have to go and straighten it; there is a dead fly on the floor, I have got to remove it. I often thought, “Why is this happening to me?” I did not want to be seen in public either.

Then, I just removed myself from everything, and became quite reclusive. The question for me was, “Do you want to play cricket again?”, and the answer at that time was “No”.

The recovery process started when I started training again, which means you have got to face the public. Things started to fall back in place. I soon wanted to play international cricket again, so I started from scratch, and gradually started getting the enthusiasm back. I played for New Zealand that year, when people thought that I was in poor mental and physical condition. I did well, however, against England in 1983, and had seven more years of international cricket. Those were probably my best years.

When I finished my career, I could say “Hey, I have no regrets”. What is done is done.

Hadlee’s then world record wicket, Arun Lal caught by Kuggeleijn in the Bangalore Test on November 12, 1988. This was wicket No. 374 for Hadlee with Ian Botham on 373. Hadlee finished up with 431 and Botham 383.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

How did you begin to learn the art of bowling?

We were amateurs when I started off. I worked five days a week, and played club cricket in the weekends. You do not really know how to train or prepare, because you are doing everything yourself. And then, all of a sudden, you get picked to play Test cricket. In the first four years of my Test career, I did not really know what I was doing.

When you find that your fitness and technique are not right, you start taking an analytical approach. My approach was to start talking to people like Dennis Lillee. He was hugely influential. I would ask him, “Dennis, how do you train?” He showed me how to run, sprint, stretch and bowl. He also helped with my diet plans. I began to put together the whole package of what is needed to make it in international cricket.

I wasted the first four years of my career, whereas today, the young players get all the support — academies, cricket experts, physios, trainers, dieticians, mental skills trainers, computer analysts etc. If I had all that, I might have been a better performer. But, sometimes, all this information that players get can be too much to handle.

Why did you decide to shorten your run-up?

That was through necessity, through injuries. The injuries took their toll on the body. Reducing the run-up put less pressure on the body, and technically, I became more efficient by getting closer to the stumps and bowling wicket-to-wicket. I got a lot tighter, and with more finesse in my technique, I was three times more effective off the shorter run-up.

Has the task of bowlers become tougher over the years?

There is more cricket today, which means the wear and tear on the body is more. In the 18 years that I played international cricket and club cricket, I bowled something like 100,000 balls. The body was not designed to handle that sort of wear and tear. I have had hip and knee replacement surgeries. The body just breaks down. Bowlers have to be very conscious of how much they play, as injuries could affect their life after cricket. There has to be a nice balance somewhere.

How do you prioritise between playing in T20 leagues and for your country.

To me, the situation is quite simple. If you are contracted to your country, that is the first priority. If the cricket board is not engaged in any other form of cricket at the time when the IPL or any other league is on, then the players are free to ply their trade anywhere. The only problem I would have, though, is if the player is injured. If he is a contracted player, he is, in effect, then owned by his national cricket board. The owner should have the right to say whether the player is fit enough to go and play in other parts of the world.

You played in an era of all-rounders. Are they a dying breed now?

Jacques Kallis is actually one of the few that has adapted to all formats of the game and survived. Statistically, he is the greatest all-rounder ever. But, being an all-rounder is physically demanding. You do not see many of the current lot — like Shane Watson — coping with the physical demands. There are some pretty handy all-rounders, but we are unlikely to see any new great ones.