August 23, 2000

From 'Paddles' to 'Sir Richard': Hadlee's long journey

Richard Hadlee
  Audio Interview

There are times when work causes you to brush shoulders with people who you have idolised.

When growing up, playing cricket in your back yard, you tend to bowl at least a couple of overs imitating the action of every prominent bowler. As a mediocre mediumpacer with delusions of grandeur, I've delivered several overs in the Richard Hadlee mould. With very little success naturally.

To sit next to a man who took 431 Test wickets in 86 Tests with far more 5 wicket hauls than anyone else, was in itself an experience. A man who scored 1000 runs and took 100 wickets in a season of county cricket in England. A man who was on the scoreboard for all ten dismissals in an innings including returns of 9/52. A man who scored 99 against England in a match where England made 82 & 93 in the two innings. A man who was knighted for his achievements on the cricket field.

Sitting at the edge of the outfield in a match between New Zealand Cricket Academy and a local team at Chennai, Sir Richard Hadlee spoke in depth, exclusively to CricInfo's Anand Vasu about his journey from being "Paddles" to "Sir Richard."

AV: You were one of the most accomplished all rounders of your times. People talk about the 15/123 you took against Australia in Brisbane in 1985-86. Would that be the most memorable moment of your playing career?

RJH: I think that's probably the most perfect Test match New Zealand have played in. It was our first ever Test win on Australian soil. It was a significant game in the history of New Zealand cricket, and for me personally it was possibly the best I've ever bowled. Statistically my returns would prove that, although on other occasions I might have bowled just as well without the same success. Conditions were ideal for medium pace bowling, it was hot and humid and the ball swung a lot in the air. The pitch was fresh and we picked up early wickets. We held ninety-five percent of our catches. I was delighted to get my name on the scoreboard 10 times! I got the first eight wickets and then I caught the other fellow out, which gave Vaughan Brown his first wicket. I then got the last wicket and so in fact the sequence was broken. To get my name on the scoreboard ten times in the first innings was indeed very pleasing. I picked up six further wickets in the second innings and a half-century as well, so as an individual performance in one Test match I'd have to say it was my most complete performance.

AV: Looking back, you took ten wickets in a match many times. However the very first Test match you played for New Zealand must have been a special moment.

RJH: The ultimate goal or achievement for any young sportsman is representing their country. You go through the process, with all the age group tournaments, then you go on to represent your province, which was Canterbury in my case, and all of a sudden you're picked to play a Test match. It's obviously a special occasion, but also a nerve-wracking experience. All of a sudden you're going to another level and playing against another country and often you're playing against players you have idolised. I remember my first Test match and in fact it wasn't a great start. The first ball I bowled was a full toss and it got hit for four. It took some time to get my first ever Test wicket. I was able to pick up a couple of wickets in that innings, then picked up 46 with the bat, and I got dropped for the next Test match. All of a sudden that was a high that ended in a low!

AV: Your first 10-wicket haul came against India, including a burst of 7 wickets that came in 8.3 overs. That must have been a particularly lethal spell of bowling.

RJH: It was, there was an interesting lead up to that game. I didn't think I would be playing. I thought I'd be twelfth man. The selectors decided on picking four pace bowlers and decided to leave a spin bowler out. With Bevan Congdon, the captain, being the fifth medium pace bowler, we were in with an all seam attack. I didn't open the bowling or even bowl first change. In fact I bowled second change and I picked up four wickets in the first innings so that gave me a bit of confidence. In the second innings I was able to have a bit of a blitz and pick up 7/23, which at that time was a New Zealand record. It gave me a lot of confidence because I had been in and out of the side since 1972-73 for three years and hadn't really established myself. I think that was the turning point in my career. Straight after that we came to India and Paksitan for a six match tour and again I had pretty good success. Glenn Turner, the captain, said, "Richard Hadlee had come of age." So it took me four years to fulfill the potential or promise that I had, in the sense of showing consistent results. From then on to 1990, when I retired, I look back at that period as the turning point.

AV: You brought up consistency. You were known for your line and length and yet bowled with good pace. How difficult was it to strike a balance between striving for pace and being accurate?

RJH: In the early days I did strive for pace. I was a young tearaway fast bowler and tried to run in and bowl as fast as I could. I often bowled too short and early statistical results would show that when you 1/90 and 2/120 you must be doing something wrong! After a while when you look at those performances you ask, "what do I have to do to get it right?" One had to look at fitness, at developing an efficient technique, the mental side of it was very important. Having belief and confidence in oneself was important. Obviously it was important to adapt to various pitch conditions and analyse the weaknesses of various batsmen. I went through a number of paces. First from being a tearaway fast bowler, to a more thoughtful bowler who was physically better and had a good technique. The final phase over the last ten years was operating off a shortened run up, operating off about 15 paces. That made me clinically efficient. While I lacked a yard or so in pace, I made up for it with better control and the ability to bowler for longer periods of time. I could still bowl the odd quicker ball that would put the batsmen on their backsides! My results were three times more effective in the last ten years than what they were in the first eight or nine.

AV: Though you did considerably well with the ball, you don't seem to have fulfilled your potential with the bat. In all the Tests you played you made just 2 centuries. Do you regret that?

RJH: I have no regrets. The point is that you're right. I should have done better. But that's not really a regret. You're faced different circumstances and take decisions. Hindsight we know is a wonderful thing. Certainly I should have got more Test hundreds. I got 99 against England in one Test match, and England didn't get 90 in either innings so that 99 was worth probably a hundred and fifty! I got into the 70s and 80s and 90s and they should have been converted into hundreds. They weren't and I've got to say that I missed out.

AV: The 151 not out against Sri Lanka in 1986-87 must have been special.

RJH: Conditions are particularly hard in Asian countries. You have to battle with the heat and humidity, the tiredness and dehydration. I was never a good player of spin bowling. I preferred the ball coming onto the bat with the quicker bowlers. To get 151 not out, which was my highest Test score against Sri Lanka, who had some pretty handy players including the Ratnayake's was good. I batted a pretty long time for that score and I have fond memories of that innings. There are other times as well, when I made less runs, but played a significant role with the bat, that I remember equally fondly.

AV: You set the benchmark for the maximum number of wickets in Test cricket. After that it's been medium pacers who have overtaken the record. Do you find that surprising given the fact that spinners bowl longer spells and indeed have longer careers?

RJH: Some of the quick bowlers these days are going on a little bit longer than normal. In the older days, quick bowlers were past their best in the early thirties and have retired by the mid thirties. In my case I kept going till I was 39. Courtney Walsh is 37, Ambrose is 36. Through durability, longevity, having good technique and just wanting to keep going, bowlers are able to do that. One must also remember that there is more cricket being played in the world these days. At that level, if you play the games and bowl the balls you're going to get the wickets! In my case it took me 86 Tests to set the then record of 431 wickets. Bowlers today are playing 120-130 Test matches, over a shorter period of time. It took me eighteen years to play 86 Tests.

AV: You are now an icon of New Zealand cricket. People look up to you, idolise you even. Who were your idols when you grew up?

RJH: In the early days, Sir Garfield Sobers was a fine player to watch and admire. In New Zealand cricket we had a big fast bowler by the name of Dick Motz who was the first New Zealander to capture 100 wickets in Test cricket. Those players were important in my development. The most influential person as I developed and went through my career would have to be Dennis Lillee. He was a great role model. He was the epitome of what fast bowling was all about. He was big, strong, fit, confident, aggressive, had marvelous skills, great technique, he intimidated the batsmen with sheer presence and of course he got you out! I'd venture to say, that if it wasn't for World Series cricket where he picked up some around 70 unofficial Test wickets, he could have well been the first man to capture four hundred Test wickets. I rate him, arguably the best ever, and it's hard to believe that there could be anyone better than him, in the history of the game. Especially when things got tough, I put myself in his shoes and thought to myself, "what would Lillee do?" One thing was for sure - he would never give up. He was a hundred percent man, the complete fast bowler.

AV: New Zealand cricket has not really been littered with flamboyant characters. After you there was Martin Crowe and now Chris Cairns. There have been many changes to the way New Zealand cricket is run in the recent past, with Chris Doig taking over and things like that?

RJH: In the last ten years we've had a mixed bag on the field. We've been inconsistent and yet we do have some talented players. I would like to think, as chairman of selectors, that we have some good young players who would in the next three years kick on to another level. There's no doubt that Chris Cairns, Nathan Astle and Daniel Vettori have stepped up in the last year into high class international level players. There are others who have the ability to go further and produce better results than they are doing at the moment. What is important for us is to develop talented players and depth in our cricket so that we have in effect a situation where 20 players are vying for 11 positions. In other words we are creating competition for those places so that players do not rest on their laurels and take it for granted that they are not automatic selections. That's really what we want to see happen. We're really targeting the 2003 World Cup. We've been semifinalists on four occasions and quarterfinalists on two occasions I think. We've been close but haven't quite got there. We really have to get a pool of players between now and the 2003 World Cup that will give us the depth, talent, strength, form and ability to seriously take that title.

AV: Although the methods used in coaching, playing and running cricket seem to have become more scientific, we don't seem to producing all rounders of the class of yesteryears?

RJH: The advent of One-Day cricket may have a bearing on that. You can survive and have a team that has bits and pieces players. Sure you need a specialist strike bowler and a couple of specialist batsmen, but if you've got other members who can bat and bowl a bit or bowl and bat a bit that's enough. The Sri Lankans proved that in 1996 in the World Cup. They had players who could bowl 4 or 5 overs here and there or come in and get 15 or 20 runs late in the innings. That's the way the One-Day game is heading I believe. To be a quality all rounder these days, with the amount of cricket that's being played is just too tough. To be a top quality bowler and a top quality batsman and put it all together is just physically and mentally demanding. You have to be a special breed of player to be an all rounder. The South Africans have Shaun Pollock, Jacques Kallis and Lance Klusener who are very talented cricketers. Chris Cairns in New Zealand is another one. Wasim Akram you could argue is an all rounder although his batting is a bit suspect. Can't really think of anyone compared to the likes of Imran Khan, Botham and Kapil Dev.

AV: One of the highest moments of your life must certainly have been when you were knighted. What is it like to have the best part of the world call you Sir Richard Hadlee, while your close friends in the cricket world call you 'Paddles'?

RJH: I think with my friends I'm still good old Paddles, that doesn't change. That's the nickname I picked up because of my large feet. Of course the knighthood is the ultimate accolade. It's not the sort of thing you plan and work for. It's something that happens when other people recognise your achievements and want to honour you for them. It's very special. It's fair to say that knighthood has changed my lifestyle somewhat. There's a lot of respect and dignity associated with it. Back home in New Zealand I'm now asked to be involve in a number of charities and even be patron of various charities. You get involved in many activities like that and it's a nice compliment. To be honest, knighthood sits quite comfortably with me!

AV: In your cricketing life you've achieved more than what most people can dream of. What goals have you set for yourself now?

RJH: I'm a level three coach, I do some work with the pace bowlers in our cricket academy in Christchurch, New Zealand. I'm now chairman of our national selection panel and have an involvement in picking our Test team, One-Day team, 'A' teams and development squads. That means I get to travel around and watch a bit of cricket these days. The fact that I'm manager of this academy team touring India for 3-4 weeks allows me to keep an eye on the young players. The goal clearly is to make New Zealand cricket competitive and to improve our international rating. I think we're currently 5th in the Test ratings and maybe 4th in the One-Day ratings. There's no reason why we can't get ourselves further up the pecking order. We certainly want to be able to beat the Australians more often than we have done. And as I said we are targeting the World Cup as something we are due to win. Those sorts of goals mean a lot of planning, a lot of watching cricket, a lot of talking to players and basically getting them to lift their standards and fulfil their potential. If we can do that, I see my role as being successful.