‘Preserve Test cricket’

Sir Richard Hadlee, was in Delhi recently as brand ambassador of New Zealand Invest 2010. "I am here to promote investment in my country," says Hadlee, one of the finest bowling all-rounders.-

“There is not enough of Test cricket these days. Test cricket is the ultimate test of a player’s skills. It is a game that tests your temperament and technique over a period of five days. The state of the game keeps changing as the match progresses. There is so much of mental pressure to cope with in a Test match,” says New Zealand great Sir Richard Hadlee as Vijay Lokapally catches up with him.

Humility has remained an essential part of Richard Hadlee’s character. When you mention the falling standards of batting and bowling in modern cricket, he smiles and counters, “Do you think so? I don’t agree. I think cricket is still quite competitive.” Co-incidentally, in the background, a large screen is playing some vintage stuff from his playing days, his magical spells that created victories from nowhere for New Zealand, even as news trickles in of Bangladesh struggling against India in the Dhaka Test match. The difference in quality of Hadlee snaring the Englishmen on the screen and the Bangladeshis succumbing to Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma is beyond comparison indeed.

“Times have changed and one must accept the best of what is available,” says Hadlee, who was in Delhi recently as brand ambassador of New Zealand Invest 2010. “I am here to promote investment in my country. It is a beautiful country, land of opportunities, land of rivers, lakes and mountains, very safe and very green. You are welcome to New Zealand,” says Hadlee, one of the finest bowling all-rounders the game has seen.

Back to the game, Hadlee, who had a career haul of 431 wickets in 86 Tests at 22.29 apiece, firmly believes that Test cricket needs to be protected from the threat of Twenty20. “There is not enough of Test cricket these days. Test cricket is the ultimate test of a player’s skills. It is a game that tests your temperament and technique over a period of five days.

“The state of the game keeps changing as the match progresses. There is so much of mental pressure to cope with in a Test match. It must be preserved at all costs.”

Hadlee, with a batting aggregate of 3124 runs (two centuries and 15 half centuries with a best of 151 not out), had some harsh views on Twenty20. “It is not real cricket. It is by business people and it suits some of the Boards and the players. I don’t think it is a good idea of having too many T20 games. The problems would come when more and more of such cricket would lead to more and more injuries. The fear of failure would rise because it is linked to the amount of money at stake. It dilutes the spectacle of Test cricket because the participants in the T20 brand are in pursuit of the dollars. We need to balance the game and I firmly believe that once that happens, all the forms of the game can co-exist.”

Has making runs and taking wickets become easier than what it was when he was playing? Hadlee, who took five wickets or more in a Test innings on 36 occasions and 10 wickets in a Test nine times, reacts quickly, “I wouldn’t say that. There may not be many genuine swing bowlers today. We had them in good numbers in the 70s and 80s…even in the 90s…but then you have the reverse swing and the slow bouncer. The bowlers have become far cleverer now because the challenges are greater now. The power-packed batting, short boundaries and different formats mean huge pressure on the bowlers. The batsmen are under pressure too to win more and more games. Cricket has become interesting.”

What of the speed factor? “It is more about accuracy and not just bowling fast. You can bowl at 150k and try and put the fear in the batsmen when the giant screen at the stadium flashes the speed. Then you strive for more pace and in the process can possibly hurt yourself or compromise on accuracy. But then it doesn’t guarantee wickets.”

The New Zealand great did not support the referral system. “I don’t like it because it means the player is questioning the decision of the umpire. That is not what cricket was. It amounts to dissent. You are trying to seek clarity to a blunder and you are given a specific number of appeals. What happens when you run out of the number of appeals you can make and then the umpire makes a bad decision. I would prefer all decisions be left to the umpires. If the third umpire sees an error he should step in immediately before the next ball is bowled. He can reverse the original decision if it merits so. It would not only quicken up the game but also ensure that correct decisions are made right through the match.”

Hadlee, 58, had a note of caution for the young millionaires of the game today. “What they are being paid today (in Indian Premier League for instance) is out of proportion. I believe they should be paid to their abilities.

"For little effort they are getting great awards. But you can’t blame the players. They are bound to sign contracts based on their interests. But the disparity (between Test earnings and IPL) is huge. I think you have to have your priorities right. You can’t look for rewards before having performed.”