Richard Hadlee August 19, 2013

'I wasted the first four years of my career'

The New Zealand great recalls his tours to India, his battle with depression, and speaks of the challenges facing modern-day allrounders

Richard Hadlee's first tour to India was in 1976, an ill-tempered affair during which New Zealand were unhappy with the umpiring throughout. Their frustrations came to the fore in the final Test, in Madras, when Hadlee flung a bail at the umpire after Anshuman Gaekwad wasn't ruled out hit-wicket. To make things worse, the heat and humidity contributed to him falling violently ill ten minutes into the game, and kept him off the field for a day and a half. He swore that he would never return to the subcontinent.

He did come back, reluctantly, in 1988, clearly enticed by the opportunity to break Ian Botham's Test record for most wickets. Hadlee had a harrowing six months preceding the tour, recovering from a calf injury that Richie Benaud thought would keep him from ever playing cricket again. On the rest day of the first Test, in Bangalore, Hadlee and several of his team-mates came down with severe stomach problems, and New Zealand were forced to request a cameraman to take the field.

There was mitigation for Hadlee, though, as within 18 minutes of the series starting, he achieved his long-coveted record. It was in honour of this achievement that he was in Bangalore last week, invited as part of the Karnataka State Cricket Association's platinum jubilee celebrations. He was far more at ease on his latest visit to India, joking and sharing anecdotes about his previous trips.

"Seeing Gundappa Vishwanath, I reminded him of the time he got a hundred in Kanpur in 1976. [It] happened to be the last over of the day when he was 99 not out, I wanted to make sure he wouldn't get a hundred and he'd have to come back and bat next day. I did bowl a fair barrage of short-pitched deliveries. Mind you, they didn't have to be that short to get over his head, even my yorkers would go over his head, so to speak!"

There was an Indian connection to another highlight of Hadlee's career: he dismissed Sanjay Manjrekar at his home ground, Lancaster Park, to become the first man to 400 Test wickets. Fred Trueman, the first to 300 wickets, had famously said when asked whether his record would be broken, "Aye, but whoever does will be bloody tired." Hadlee similarly expected his record to stand a while, but Kapil Dev broke it less than four years after Hadlee's retirement.

"I thought when I got to 431 in England in 1990 that the benchmark had been set and that it was going to take a long time for somebody to get past my record, and it was Kapil that did that when he got to 434, I think. For me, it was nice to be a pace-setter, I always realised then that somebody would go beyond what I did, and it wouldn't devalue what I did, and it wouldn't devalue what Fred Trueman did." With Muttiah Muralitharan now having stretched the count to an almost unbelievable 800, Hadlee again thinks the record will stand a while. "[Whoever breaks it] would have to play 30 years probably," he says, with a chuckle.

One of the motivations for Hadlee in an 18-year career was the equally impressive achievements of the three other great allrounders of his time, Imran Khan, Botham and Kapil. Hadlee has no doubt who was the best of the four.

"Jacques Kallis is actually one of the few that has adapted to all formats of the game and survived. Remarkable. Statistically he is the greatest allrounder ever in the history of the game"

"As a batsman, Imran could bat anywhere in the top six, sometimes in the top four, and play any type of innings depending on the circumstance of the game. He was quite versatile as a batsman. As a bowler, he was a potent strike bowler with the big inswingers, and he was at you and he was quick. And his record suggests he was a fine bowler. Charismatic person, good captain, successful captain for Pakistan. Had a lot of respect. He had the package."

With three different formats and an increasingly packed calendar these days, Hadlee said the demands are so great that chances of a great allrounder emerging are slim. "The responsibility of the allrounder is to change the course of the match with an inspired performance either with bat or ball or with both. If you are doing both, you are going to help win games. And that would take its toll physically."

There was one exception to the trend, according to Hadlee. "Jacques Kallis is actually one of the few that has adapted to all formats of the game and survived. Remarkable. Statistically he is the greatest allrounder ever in the history of the game," he said, before adding that we won't be seeing the likes of Kallis soon. "There are some pretty handy allrounders but whether you are going to get the great allrounders back again, I think highly unlikely. Once Kallis goes, I don't think there is anyone else that can start matching up."

Hadlee himself suffered plenty of injuries during his career, and over the years he has needed a hip replacement and a left-knee replacement. He thinks the job has become tougher not just for allrounders but bowlers as a whole, especially if they play all three formats. "You really are going to have to do it all in a short period of time. If you last about ten years as a pace bowler particularly I think you've had a good career.

"The body breaks down. I think bowlers have to be very conscious, if they get stress fractures of the back or severe knee problems or ankle problems, that it could affect their life thereafter. So there's got to be a nice balance somewhere, as to how long you keep playing and how much you are prepared to suffer body-wise and whether you can get it fixed."

With the right technique and fitness regime, injuries could be minimised, Hadlee said, but the challenge for him early in his career, in the days of amateur cricket, was the lack of proper guidance and facilities. He and other cricketers had to hold down a day job.

Hadlee worked as a sales manager. "You practised two nights a week with your local club side, where practice conditions and facilities were pretty average to poor. And then you play a club game on Saturday, you play something on a Sunday, and then you go back to work for five days. And then all of a sudden, out of club cricket you get picked to represent your province or zone or state, and we played five three-day games. That was our first-class season - five three-day games."

The system left players unprepared for the rigours and intensity of Test cricket. For Hadlee the first call-up came when he was just 22. "I have always said the first four years of my Test career, I didn't really know what I was doing. I didn't know what it was about… When you find that your fitness is not right, your technique is pretty wayward and inconsistent and you are getting poor results, then you start taking an analytical approach."

Till that difficult '76 tour of India - four years after his debut - Hadlee averaged 33.01, substantially more than what he ended his career with, 22.29. The transformation from a scattergun tearaway to one of the shrewdest bowlers to grace the game had just begun, and conversations with another legendary quick, Dennis Lillee, were pivotal.

"He was hugely influential. 'Dennis, how do you train, how do you prepare?' 'Well, I do all this running, I do the sprinting, I do the stretching. I do the bowling.' 'Oh, what do you eat?' You start looking at the dietary things. And all of a sudden you start learning and get this whole package together of what you need to be, in effect, [as] a professional sportsperson to compete and survive and perform in the international arena."

Hadlee was happy that today's bowlers get far more technical support to help ease the transition to the top flight. "Today the young players get all the support network around them, such as the academies, experts coming in, batting, bowling, fielding coaches, wicketkeeping coaches, physios, trainers, dieticians, mental-skills trainers, technicians on computers doing all this analytical work, giving you all this information. If I had that way back in the '70s, I might have been a better performer."

A chronic knee injury after nearly a decade of international cricket and the county treadmill led to more technical tweaks, perhaps the most significant of which was a shortened run-up. "It put less pressure on the body and technically I became more efficient by getting closer to the stumps, bowling wicket to wicket," he said. The pace was reduced and the focus was squarely on outwitting the batsman. "I got a lot tighter and [got] more finesse in my technique, and the skill factor improved considerably. In fact, I was three times more effective off the shorter run-up in the last ten years of my career than those first ten years."

It wasn't only physical problems that Hadlee had to overcome. In the early eighties, he was regularly demolishing Test sides, was a huge celebrity back home, and was well on his way to becoming an all-time great when he faced a battle with depression.

"For the previous six months [in 1983] I was up and down the country, saying yes to everybody, appear here, there and everywhere, a book-signing session, be at a training session, to play a charity game, that sort of thing. All of a sudden you get a bit of a heat stroke and you collapse, all of a sudden you get chest pains, headaches, you get home and think, 'What's wrong with me?'"

Hadlee became something of a recluse during his phase of depression. "The question was, 'Do you want to play cricket again?' And the answer at that time was 'No.'"

It was a struggle to cope with a condition that has started receiving major attention in cricketing circles only in recent years. "Firstly, if you have got a problem you have to acknowledge it, otherwise you are keeping it inside and there's this denial that you think 'Everything's all right', but in fact it's not all right.

"There's nothing wrong in admitting that you have depression or a low or a mental problem, by getting it out there, you can talk about it, you can try and work through a process to find solutions to those problems, get your focus and your health right, and get back on track."

It was especially difficult to deal with after having been at the top of his profession for several years. "Of course it was tough, because you think at times that you are invincible. You think, 'Why should it happen to me?' [But] I'm no different from anyone else, I can have any sort of health issue that anyone else can have. I break down like a car will break down - sort of like not serviced."

Hadlee said he became something of a recluse in that phase. "The question was, 'Do you want to play cricket again?' And the answer at that time was 'No.' Through that process [of working through the problem], all of a sudden you start thinking, 'Well, I've got to get out there and I've got to start training again', which means you have got to face the public and then all of a sudden you get out there, start training, start practising, then the world starts to come back, 'Yes, I want to play cricket again.' I have got to do all these other things if I want to play cricket, so you start from scratch, then all of a sudden you start getting the enthusiasm back, and I played for New Zealand that year when people thought that I wouldn't."

When England came visiting in 1983-84, Hadlee turned in another vintage performance at Lancaster Park, lashing an 81-ball 99 in a match where England were bowled out for under hundred in each innings. "That was the trigger and the catalyst to get back on track, and I had seven more years of international cricket, and those were probably my best." Hadlee went on to become the only cricketer to be knighted before retiring, New Zealand's greatest player, with a record-breaking magic moment in Bangalore along the way.

He now looks back on his wretched India tour in 1976 as one of the turning points of his career. His captain, Glenn Turner, said it was the series in which the 25-year-old Hadlee came of age, a comment that gave him a huge confidence boost.

He happily recounted his big moment in Bangalore. "I was stuck on 373 wickets and back home I had visualised getting Kris Srikkanth out to take the record. All along, I had visualised Srikkanth in a blue helmet, but when he came out to bat in a white helmet, it put me off. At the other end was Arun Lal, who I had not bowled to before, so it was a bit of a nervy start for me. Ian Smith, the wicketkeeper, told me to pitch the ball up and the 14th ball I did that and Lal obligingly edged to gully."

And his other big moment against India. "That was a major milestone in the history of world cricket, to get to 400 and that was special, and Bishan [Bedi] will remember the game did stop for a period of time and 400 roses were delivered. At the end of the day I enquired as to where those 400 roses were and I understand the Indian team had 396 of them and I ended up with about four."

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo