Monday, May 14, 2012

New Zealand's Wisden Cricketers of the Year – Sir Richard Hadlee

Sir Richard in familiar pose
I had intended for this piece to cover New Zealand’s four ‘modern’ inductees to Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year but the more I read about Sir Richard Hadlee, and the more personal memories I recalled, I thought it was apt that Paddles was shown the reverence he deserves and exalted to a spot on his own. Why? Yes, he was a fantastic cricketer – there is little sensible argument that can sway pundits away from the premise he was, and will likely always be, New Zealand’s finest cricketer.

But the true confirmation of his greatness? He is the only New Zealand sportsman to regularly, and almost singlehandedly, move the gaze of a sporting nation away from the All Blacks, and as with the performances of the most dominant rugby force on the planet he was able to change the mood of our tiny island nation. At a time when Fox, Fitzpatrick, Buck and Kirwan were at their prime Sir Richard usurped them all as New Zealand’s most recognisable sporting star.

Growing up, kids all over the country tried to emulate Hadlee’s trademark style. Christchurch-born Andrew Caddick is the most prominent example of a Hadlee disciple - England finally got their own version of a Kiwi cricketing legend.

Given Sir Richard’s unrivalled success as a test bowler I have concentrated on his test and first class performances, as I have bowling over batting. That’s not to say he couldn’t wield the willow, a test average of 27 bares that out, but his bowling was on another plain.


Sir Richard Hadlee – 1982 Wisden
Bowling – Tests: 86, Balls: 21918, Runs: 9611, Wickets: 431, Best bowling: 9/52 (I), 15/123 (M), Average: 22.29, Economy: 2.63, Strike rate: 50.8, 5 wickets (innings): 36, 10 wickets (match): 9
Batting – Innings: 134, Not outs: 19, Runs: 3124, High score: 151*, Average: 27.16, 100s: 2, 50s: 15

The international bowling career of Richard John Hadlee, KBE, by his own assessment may be divided into three distinct periods: the first five years when he was "erratic, inconsistent and without a great idea of how to get through three days, let alone four, or five"; the years 1977 to 1980 when, according to Glenn Turner, he "came of age"; and the final decade, when he positively raced to his record number of 431 Test wickets by summoning every resource of experience and guile.
          Don Mosey, Wisden 1991


Though he was the preeminent fast bowler of his era, and one of international cricket’s famous four allrounders of the 1980s, Sir Richard Hadlee, minus the knighthood, was awarded his spot in Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year for his performances in the 1981 County Championship season for his beloved Nottinghamshire. In his first three seasons he had played only sporadically, but he had shown he had the ability to succeed – in 1981 he repaid the County’s faith many times over. His figures were better in 1981 than the three previous seasons combined. The ‘81 season came on the back of six tests in New Zealand and our West Island (Australia) and a World Series that culminated in a finals loss to Australia. That Hadlee then made himself available for a rigourous full pre-season, played in every championship match and took the field in all bar two of the 21 limited overs fixtures says something for his commitment and drive – today he would have been rested, rotated and wrapped in cotton wool, whether the choice was his or that of the coaching group. What’s more, he bowled the most overs of any bowler in the Championship – a strike bowler who kept running in like his role was that of a work horse.

In that historic 1981 season he was the only bowler to reach 100 Championship wickets and helped bring the title home to Trent Bridge for the first time since 1929 - in all he took 105 wickets and hit 745 valuable runs. As a batsmen for Notts he simply worked on the philosophy of “if it’s up, it’s off” – a theory that helped his side gain momentum through the middle of an innings and push for outright victory. When he was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year he was the only New Zealander to have taken 100 wickets and scored 1000 runs in tests. That his great mate, Clive Rice, with whom he shared so much county success, received the accolade a year earlier would have strengthened the resolve of the future Knight in Nottinghamshire’s successful Championship season.

New Zealand’s finest cricketer, it’s no surprise that the career of Richard John Hadlee coincided with the most successful era in New Zealand cricket. The fortunes of his side, especially through the 1980s, rested heavily on his performance – it is debateable whether that balance has been so lopsided either before or since. Hadlee is one of the very few New Zealand cricketers who would have made most any side in any era the world over.

Given his genes Hadlee was destined for greatness but no one could have foreseen his unparalleled impact on our great game both in New Zealand and throughout the cricketing world. Cricket was a family affair – his father Walter captained New Zealand, and his two older brothers Dayle and Barry both donned the famous black cap. His ex-wife, Karen, played a single ODI for the White Ferns in 1978.

At the start of his 20 year career Hadlee was a tearaway quick with a trademark shuffle before he broke into his run – the antithesis of the refined version of the 1980s. No matter the surface, a batsman relaxed at his peril. He could make the ball talk but the key was the mental game and doing just enough to get the batsman out, whatever his ability – why bowl an outswinging off-cutter to a tailender when a straight yorker would do?

In the early ‘80s he shortened his run-up against the common modus operandi of any fast bowler of his time, where long runs were the accepted norm. Hadlee suffered criticism and vitriol, especially in his homeland, for his shorter approach and was labelled selfish - maybe he was but the current New Zealand captain, Ross Taylor, would love someone as selfish if he could only match the results. Even off his shortened run Hadlee could not only bowl with the consistency of a metronome but he beat the bat more regularly than most and could still have the best ducking and weaving when the situation required.

Hadlee spent hours watching footage of Dennis Lillie and modelled much of his action on the man he saw as the game’s preeminent fast bowler. The key to the success he developed in the late 1970s was his intense study of opposing batsmen and assessing their game in a short time – he then had the skills to exact his plan. His repertoire was immense – he could bowl any ball but he chose his time – why regularly bounce people and lose the element of surprise. His stock ball moved away, in the air and off the deck, but he had a limitless arsenal.

Looking back on old clips he was the master of setting a batsmen up, though he understood more than any other that success was not gained by bowling every ball in pursuit of a wicket. On a flat track he was relentless with his consistency – with help in the air or off the deck he made the ball sing – not like one of today’s television-manufactured “superstars”, but the lead in an opera whose voice will be remembered through the ages.

His bohemian look in the early ‘70s changed as his bowling matured – pity, fast bowlers should all look a little unkempt a la Dizzy Gillespie – business at the front, party at the back!

Paddles had a nose for records and was stringent with setting goals – he used it as motivation to push himself forwards. He was one of four dominant allrounders of a magnificent 1980’s era and freely admits to keeping tabs on the performances of Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Ian Botham – as a foursome they made almost as many headlines as the Windies’ pace quartets.

He was often seen as aloof by a New Zealand public who prefer their sports stars to be down to earth good blokes who don’t talk about their achievements, goals or offer candid comment. “It was a game of two halves” and “yeah, definitely” are the extent of what many of my countrymen want – Hadlee saw little value in such tedious and clich├ęd opinion. 

County Cricket played a huge part in refining Hadlee as a cricketer and helped his longevity – he got out of the glare of an expectant New Zealand public who expected unrivalled greatness at every turn and was amongst those who appreciated his precocious talent. He spent 10 rewarding seasons at Nottinghamshire between 1978 and 1987, much of it in combination with his great friend, South African Clive Rice – the pair were inseparable and made a dominant cricketing force.

I have spoken of his first four years that culminated in his Wisden recognition but in the 1984 County Championship he achieved the double; 100 wickets and 1000 runs, a feat not achieved since Fred Titmus in 1967. In 21 matches Hadlee bludgeoned 1,179 runs in excess of 50 and took 117 scalps at a tick over 14. Making it more noteworthy is that it was the first time the double had been achieved since the number of Championship matches was reduced in 1969.

In 1987 Hadlee and Rice led Notts to both the County Championship and the NatWest Trophy, but he fell three wickets short of repeating the double.

In a decade at Trent Bridge, Hadlee played eight full seasons – on five occasions he topped the first class bowling averages and he was second in another two. He scored 5854 runs at 38.76 (with 11 centuries and a double) and captured 622 wickets at an average of 14.5. Though he was seen as a tall poppy who often struggled for acceptance in New Zealand; we loved his deeds not his attitude or our perception of it looking from the inside out, Notts was the complete opposite – they loved him and all he stood for.

Though his English County career gets more acclaim than his efforts at home, largely because of the fervour of English fans and the regard their domestic competition is held in, Hadlee played 20 years of first class cricket in New Zealand. He debuted for Canterbury in the Plunket Shield as a 20 year old, opening the bowling with older brother, Dayle. In just his third first class match he took a hat trick against Central Districts.

In 342 first class matches he amassed 1490 wickets at just 18 and compiled more than 12,000 runs at a shade under 32. Over 20 years he won the Windsor Cup for New Zealand first class bowling on 13 occasions, 12 of them in consecutive years.

He may have swept almost every test bowling record before him in 17 years at the highest level but his test debut against Pakistan late in the 1972/3 home summer didn’t provide an insight into what was to follow. Hadlee’s first ball at test level, a low full toss, was dispatched for a boundary and he finished with match figures of 2-112 off 25 overs.

Sir Richard only played sporadically in his first three years at international level; in and out of the side more regularly than drinks are run on to the field in modern limited overs cricket. He took seven wickets in New Zealand’s maiden test victory over Australia in 1973/4, but he began to show his wares after he was included at the expense of a spinner in the third test against India at home in 1975/6. He snared match figures of 11-58 – record New Zealand test figures at the time. Sensationally, it included figures of 7-23 in 8.3 overs in India’s second innings as they were dismissed for 81 on the way to New Zealand’s first test victory by an innings. To Hadlee, this was the turning point in his career and he continued his growth on the subcontinent tour to India and Pakistan later in 1976 – he bowled with the vigour of a young tyro on a green top at home.

In the 1977/8 England series at home Hadlee spearheaded the New Zealand attack and led his side to their first victory over England, at The Basin, with match figures of 10-100. His 6-26 in the second innings destroyed the England batting order as they were dismissed for just 64 in pursuit of a paltry 137. The growth of New Zealand’s finest cricketer was finally moving exponentially.

Hadlee’s undoubted ability with the willow came to the fore in the home series against the might of the West Indies in 1979/80. Under a barrage from Croft, Garner, Holding and Roberts in the second test he plundered his maiden test hundred off just 92 deliveries. Sir Richard’s batting against the short ball had improved quickly with the advent of helmets at international level – does anyone remember the Perspex grill? Hadlee’s century set up a draw and helped New Zealand to a 1-0 series victory – it’s first at home with Hadlee named Man of the Series. The sole victory had come in the first test with Hadlee starring in the one wicket victory with an 11 wickets match haul.

It was the start of a 12-year unbeaten home series record for New Zealand and the West indies’ last test series defeat in 15 years (if you haven’t already, make sure you get a copy of Fire in Babylon)! Hadlee’s heroics are largely forgotten due to the spiteful nature of the tour – it included Michael Holding kicking stumps out of the ground, Colin Croft shoulder charging umpire Fred Goodall in his delivery stride and Clive Lloyd keeping his charges in the shed for 12 minutes after tea in Auckland in protest at the umpiring standards.

When Hadlee returned home after his successes in the 1981 County season he got stick for his new shorter run. In this country many saw it as Hadlee not putting in the effort he should have – his returns tell another story, and criticism died pretty quickly. However, not before an indignant Hadlee was stung by the comments of New Zealand’s leading cricket scribe, Don Cameron, who wrote of “. . . New Zealand's heaviest artillery operating off a pop-gun run-up". Hadlee finally moved to the shorter run permanently in 1982 but he continued to get negative comments from both the media and public for at least two years afterwards.

New Zealand recorded their first test victory in England in 1983 – a remarkable victory – the answer to the pub quiz question is that Hadlee had match figures of 0-89; a rare wicketless match in an historic win! England went on to win the series 3-1 but Hadlee topped both batting and bowling averages for New Zealand. Meanwhile he continued his move up the world rankings when he dismissed Norman Cowans for his 200th test wicket in the final test at Trent Bridge, his winter home.
New Zealand was able to affect their revenge on England’s return tour in 1983/4 with a 1-0 series victory. In the second test at Lancaster Park, Hadlee scored 99 off 81 balls, falling agonising short of his second test 100; England could only muster 82 and 93. His 99 was over 50 more than his nearest team mate and well in excess of England’s best in both innings, Derek Randall, who top scored with just 25. He also finished with match figures of 8-44 off 35 overs.

In a career that provided firsts, records and memories with monotonous regularity, there are few that beat the annihilation of Australia at the Gabba early in the 1985/6 season. Hadlee often refers to it as his crowning glory and it’s hard to argue. He terrorised the Australian batsmen in the first innings with a career best 9-52 in a score sheet that included Hadlee in all ten dismissals after he caught the ninth wicket to fall off the bowling of Vaughn Brown. 6-26 in the second dig for match figures of 15-123 left Australia humiliated in a match that is seared in the mind of every Kiwi cricket tragic.

Two tests later Hadlee took 11-155 at the WACA Ground to secure a 2-1 series victory; New Zealand’s first in Australia. He finished the three test series with 33 wickets at 12.15; the best return in a three test series since England’s Sydney Barnes took 34 in a series against South Africa in 1912! The series result was repeated in the return series later that summer in New Zealand.

Granted his Nottinghamshire benefit in 1986 Hadlee got clearance to skip the first class and ODI matches on New Zealand’s tour to England, only playing in the test matches. However he swept 19 wickets in the three test series and led the Kiwis to their first test series in England, including victory in the second test at Hadlee’s second home, Trent Bridge. He took 10-140 and any number of the home fans weren’t sure whether they were delighted for the home town hero or disappointed at the dismantling of the English team. Hadlee with the ball and Crowe with the bat were immense – it is rare for a New Zealand side to include two cricketing geniuses in the same side. As a young boy in his formative years I will never forget the pictures of absolute joy from The Oval after the third test with the New Zealand players awash with champagne in scenes seldom seen in New Zealand cricketing circles.

With bat in hand Hadlee never quite displayed the potential and immense skill he possessed - the time he put into his bowling meant his practise with the willow was often little more than an afterthought. He scored his second and final test hundred on the 1987 tour to new test nation Sri Lanka.  He compiled 151 not out in the drawn first test before the tour was called off due to a bomb blast at the team hotel in Colombo.

Hadlee should have broken Ian Botham’s record and taken his 374th wicket with the dismissal of Australia’s Mike Whitney in the final test of the Tran-Tasman series in Australia in 1987/8 but neutral umpires were still an oxymoron; the rose-tinted glasses of local umpires had worked in Hadlee’s favour many a time at home. Whitney survived, the test was drawn and the series lost.

In the following series against England at home, young and old, cricket tragic and casual sports fans alike waited with baited breathe to see the seemingly inevitable wicket fall. However Hadlee limped off injured on the first day of the first test of the series and didn’t play again during England’s tour. He was so determined to get the record that he went back on a previous decision not to tour India and travelled to the subcontinent in 1988 dismissing Arun Lal to take the record in the opening test on his way to 18 wickets in the three tests, though New Zealand lost the series 2-1. 

In the return series in New Zealand two years later Hadlee dismissed Sanjay Manjrekar to claim test victim number 400 at his home ground, Lancaster Park.  I still recall the match pausing while roses were presented to Hadlee at the wicket – inspirational images for a young man becoming more serious about our great game.

In the only test against Australia at home in 1989/90 Hadlee took his 35th five wicket bag; his 100th in first class cricket, in helping New Zealand to victory whilst inflicting Australia’s first defeat in 15 tests. He also brought up his 3000th run to complete the 300/3000 double joining Kapil Dev, Ian Botham and Imran Khan in an exclusive club. He then announced the upcoming tour to England would be his swansong.

Playing against England at The Home of Cricket as a Knight must have been something quite surreal – a Sir had never been included on the scoreboard at the Lord’s Ground. Hadlee’s knighthood was announced prior to the second test of the series at Lord’s in June 1990 and Sir Richard became the second Sir to play international test cricket. Maharajkumar of Vizianagram was awarded the honour in 1936 though his recognition was for administrative services to Indian cricket not his ability to play the game – he played just three tests and 47 first class fixtures. Hadlee celebrated the achievement, named Man of the Match in the draw for a well-hit 86 at quicker than a run a ball. 

Sir Richard pulled stumps for the final time at Edgbaston, July 10, 1990 with this 36th haul of five wickets in the second innings of the third and final test.  Though his final deed as a test cricketer was to be bowled by Devon Malcolm for 13 in a New Zealand loss – the career of a legend does not guarantee a fairy tale ending. However he finished his bowling spell with a wicket with his final delivery and left the ground to a rapturous standing ovation.

In close to 18 years at the highest level Hadlee averaged five wickets a match over his 86 tests - he took 10 wickets in a test match on nine occasions. It is worth looking at the breakdown of his career returns; in the first five years of his career, prior to his introduction to County cricket, Hadlee took only 61 wickets at 35 from 17 tests. His decade at Nottinghamshire changed his views on the game and allowed him to flourish, spurred on by an appreciative support structure with people who saw the game in the same way he did. Subsequently, in the corresponding years from 1978 through 1988 he took 330 wickets at under 20 in 60 test matches.

Hadlee’s bowling average in New Zealand’s 22 test victories was a sublime 13.06, whilst over the course of his international career he took marginally over 35% of all the opposition wickets that fell. Likewise in 115 ODIs his batting and bowling averages will almost identical – close to 22 in both.
Hadlee regularly had run-ins with New Zealand administrators and rubbed teammates up the wrong way – he came from a professional background and expected the same of others in the side. Like Glenn Turner he expected the same professionalism that his career in County Cricket had taught him, though he often played largely with amateurs around him. For all that, he helped New Zealand to win where once they lost – few he played with will ever forget that.

He caused disharmony both within the dressing room and the corridors of power when he won an Alfa Romeo for the 1985 International Cricketer of the Year in the Australian season. Where the money was usually pooled in a team fund to be shared amongst the touring party, Hadlee set a dangerous precedent and broke tradition keeping the cash equivalent for himself.

Some of that bad blood resurfaced during the Windies tour to New Zealand in 1986/87 when he spoke publicly about the poor attitude of some of his team mates – his honesty may have been refreshing but it’s a team sport and there are certain taboos. The incident caused such a rift that then captain Jeremy Coney refused to speak to Hadlee on the field. Regardless, Hadlee took nine wickets, including six in the first innings, and led the Kiwis to a five wicket victory. Instructions were passed on by John Wright and Martin Snedden – Hadlee may have been disliked at times but there is little doubt players would have liked it less if he hadn’t played.

Hadlee was 39 when he retired as cricket’s first playing Knight. He had the poetic timing to take a wicket with his final delivery in test cricket – it’s just a pity it was part of a loss. However, it was fitting given the period of mourning we all went through when he removed the wrist bands for the final time.

The title of his autobiography, Rhythm and swing, embodied the essence of his bowling success. Add to that a vast cricketing intelligence and an insatiable appetite for records and Hadlee had the traits that set him on the path to cricketing greatness. 


I’ll post the final piece in the next week, detailing the final three ‘modern’ New Zealand Wisden Cricketers of the Year. I’d love to hear your recollections of these great players, and some of the stories passed down through generations – post a comment below or send me a tweet @aotearoaxi. If my research is wrong, let me know – this blog is primarily for me to develop a stronger understanding of where New Zealand cricket has come from, and the players who have shaped our great game. If you enjoyed it, sign up for email alerts for future pieces from a cricketing Buddha.

If you enjoyed this, have a read of my two previous pieces on New Zealand’s Wisden Cricketers of the Year:

Part 1: The trailblazers
Part 2: The first continue

1 comment:

  1. oh my God, Richard Hadlee, pardon me, I meant Sir Richard Hadlee was such a extraordinary player and he is one of my favorites of all time

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