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Statistically best of all fast bowlers, and excellent in terms of control and intelligence

By Harsh Thakor 

Richard Hadlee is the greatest cricketer ever to have set foot on a cricket field from New Zealand, who shaped his country into major cricketing power. Few cricketing colossuses have played the role of a one man army as Sir Richard. or manifested cricketing computer, skill and artistry, more.
Richard Hadlee was born in a cricketing family. His father Walter Hadlee was a lanky, bespectacled opening batsman who represented Canterbury who toured England and Australia after the Second World War, and led his country in eight Tests. He also played role of the president of the New Zealand Cricket Council. His greatest contribution to New Zealand cricket was his producing five sons of cricketing talent, three of whom played for the national team and one who rose above all other cricketers ever produced by the tiny nation.
In the 1975 World Cup, Barry Hadlee played as a batsman, Dayle Hadlee as an opening bowler and Richard Hadlee as a tearaway pacer. By early 1972, he had opened the bowling for Canterbury and had taken a hat-trick against Central Districts in his third week as a First-Class cricketer.
In February 1972, Hadlee made his test debut; capturing 2 for 112, which was hardly a sensational start, though he compensated it with a quick fire 46 with the bat. The selectors opted for brother Dayle for the next two Tests of the series.
In 1973 he toured England playing in just one Test. However, in the latter half of the summer he did enough in the tour games he excelled. It sowed seeds to turn him into one of the greatest of all time and New Zealand into a formidable side because of the one man who made all the difference.


If pure figures were the criteria, Richard Hadlee would arguably rate as the best fast bowler ever. In spite of spearheading or bearing the brunt of the weakest of attacks or teams,Hadlee averaged 22.29, capturing 431 wickets in 86 tests , at a strike rate of 50.9 and captured a five wicket haul on 36 occasions ,and 10 wicket hauls ,a record 7 times.
In his peak era from 1978-1989, Hadlee captured 330 wickets in 60 test matches, with a strike rate around 47 and an average around 19.Hadlee's number of five and 10 wicket hauls, and haul of scalps in peak era, surpass the likes of Malcolm Marshall, Dennis Lillee and Imran Khan. Glen Mcgrath, Wasim Akram or Curtly Ambrose do not match Hadlee’s 5 and 10 wicket hauls in test matches.
In the Kiwi wins, Hadlee’s contribution was meritorious In 22 won Tests; he captured 173 wickets at 13.06, better than any bowler with 100 or more wickets in victories. However he did not perform as well in defeats, though he captured 94 wickets at 21.71 from those 28 losses. He captured 36% of the opposition wickets to fall in all Tests, and almost 41% in the victories.
On the home New Zealand tracks, he captured p 201 scalps at 22.96. In away venues he reaped richer rewards, with 230 scalps at 21.72. On the lifeless wickets of the subcontinent, he captured 68 at 21.58 in 13 Tests. In ODI cricket Hadlee was highly effective averaging 21.62 taking 158 wickets.
Hadlee was more than useful batsmen, who has a century against West Indies to his name, and scored some of the most effective quickfire fifties. Although he scored 3.124 runs, averaging 27.17 with the bat, on his day he could match the likes of high class batsmen. Hadlee scored 15 fifties and 2 centuries. I can never forget his blazing 86 from a mere 84 balls, at Lords, in 1990.

Bowling skill

No paceman possessed better control or was more effective or lethal on a green top .Hadlee simply resembled a computerized machine who mastered the weaknesses of his opponents. Few were ever more rhythmic. For most of his career he bowled at fast-medium. Few bowlers ever had as classical a sideways on action, inspite of a short run up, of a mere 15 paces.Even if basically fast-medium he was as lethal as the best ever. No pace bowler more clinically, craftily or classically made ball leave the bat. Consistently none more was an embodiment of bowling machine, than Hadlee. The out swinger and leg-cutter were a frequent part of his repertoire, which were both perfection personified. Later he added an ineffective in swinger to his armoury..He brilliantly blended the in swinger with an out swinger and propelled the ball to land on the seam, cutting it both ways, like noon else. With brilliant foresight he would slip in a most unexpected bouncer.
No paceman bar Glen Mcgrath was as consistently pitching the ball in the corridor, to entice a batsman. Hadlee was an architect in New Zealand beating every side in the world between 1979-1984.Very few bowlers in cricket history so single-handedly won test series for their country.
In February 1972, Hadlee made his test debut; capturing 2 for 112, which was hardly a sensational start , though he compensated it with a quick fire 46 with the bat. The selectors opted for brother Dayle for the next two Tests of the series. In 1973 he toured England playing in just one Test. However, in the latter half of the summer he did enough in the tour games he excelled. It sowed seeds to turn him into one of the greatest of all time and New Zealand into a formidable side because of the one man who made all the difference.
In 1973-74, at Sydney, Hadlee’s 4 for 33 and 2 for 16 wrecked Australia led by Ian Chapell, but rain came to the rescue of the home team .. However, in March 1974, Hadlee produced 3 for 59 and 4 for 71 at Christchurch to give the Kiwis their first taste of victory over the trans-Tasman neighbours. In home and away series against India in 1976, Hadlee took control and accuracy to superlative heights. His 7-23 at Dunedin, simply rattled India.
When taking 6-26 against England at wellington in 1977-78 at Dunedin Hadlee bowled with the conviction of an invincible emperor, epitomising seam bowing craft in regions rarely penetrated. One got a sensation of a spell being pre-meditated, with Hadlee making ball dart across both ways ,as almost nobody ever.
In 1979-80 in a series at home against West Indies his 19 wickets were instrumental in the Kiwis toppling the world champions, against all odds. He simply made the likes of Greenidge, Haynes Lloyd and Kalicharan tremble.
In1980-81 in Australia Hadlee was the heroic man of the series, inspite of his side facing a 2-0 loss, capturing 19 wickets at 19.15.vIn 1983 taking 21 scalps in England and 1986 capturing 19 in England he had the English batsmen hopping all over the place, unable to come to terms with his phenomenal control and late movement. Simply, consistency personified. In 1986 Hadlee captured 19 wickets, including six first innings wickets at Lord’s and 10 at Nottingham in the victory that ensured a series win. It was the first time New Zealand had ever won a series in England.
In home and away series against India in 1976, Hadlee took control and accuracy to superlative heights. His 7-23 at Dunedin, simply rattled India. In a 1985 home series against Pakistan, Hadlee took 19 scalps at average of 19.12, which was remarkable. In West Indies in 1985, although he only took 15 scalps at average of around 27, he was ever accurate against possibly the best team ever.
In 1985-86 in Australia Richard Hadlee possibly manifested pace bowling skill or manifested in zones never traversed, when capturing a record 33 scalps. His haul of 9-52 and 6-57 at Brisbane epitomised fast bowling virtuosity in heights possibly unscaled. It was simply a spectacle witnessing how the batsmen were forced to play at balls or perplexed. Control of a cricket ball transcended regions untouched, making batsmen flounder as never before
In 1987 he captured match-winning 9 wicket haul at Christchurch against a top West Indies team while in 1988-89 he all but won a test at Melbourne with a 10 wicket haul, being robbed by a defiant last wicket partnership of Mike Whitney and Craig Mcdermott. In India, in 1988-89, Hadlee on flat tracks was simply a metronome, taking 18 wickets at very low cost. At times, the best Indian batsmen floundered.


Hadlee's drawback was that on flat or unhelpful tracks, he possibly lacked the repertoire or weapons of bowlers like Lillee, Wasim or Marshall. This was revealed in 1987, when representing Rest of the World against MCC.Like Lillee,he could not fall back on leg-cutter or like Marshall extract pace or bounce. He also went into a defensive mode, in West Indies, when being attacked, in 1985.In my personal view although more classical Hadlee did not outthink opponents in the manner of Glen Mcgrath ,who would conquer all conditions.Hadlee lacked the aggression or explosiveness of a Malcolm Marshall,Imran Khan ,Curtly Ambrose or Dennis Lillee.He also did not prove his craft on unhelpful sub continent tracks like Kapil Dev, Andy Roberts or Wasim Akram.
Hadlee averaged an expensive 44.70 in tests in Pakistan and was expbsive in India in 1976-7 averaging 33.61. His outstanding record in the sub-continent is due to his efforts in Sri Lanka in 1984 and India in 1988-89.
Weighing all factors, I would place Hadlee in the top 5 test match bowlers at all time, at 4th place, behind Marshall, Lillee and McGrath.and ahead of Wasim Akram ,Imran Khan and Curtly Ambrose.In respect to pure skill Hadlee would comprise my top 8.of all-time .A whisker would not seperate Hadlee from Ambrose and McGrath. I feel Hadlee still lacked the versatility or all-round skill of Andy Roberts,Ray Lindwall,Dennis Lillee ,Malcolm Marshalll and Wasim Akram.
I rank Dennis Lillee ahead of Hadlee, considering his 105 scalps at five wickets per game in unofficial tests, against top class opposition, including 79 in World Series cricket from 1977-79.He also overshadowed Hadlee against West Indies and in England. Hadlee’s possessing the best ever average in matches won with bowlers with 100 scalps of around 13, reflects his contribution. Still only around 40% of his test wickets were in winning causes, less than likes of Marshall,Lillee, Mcgrath,Wasim and Ambrose.
Hadlee was an architect in New Zealand beating every side in the world between 1979-1984.Very few bowlers in cricket history so single-handedly won test series for their country or shared their nation into major cricketing power. Frequently, Hadlee , was the recipient of a man of the series award,even in losing causes.
As a pure allrounder, debatably, at his best in the 1980’s, he was the best allrounder in the world .Overall,he was a worthy contender to stars like Ian Botham ,Imran Khan or Kapil Dev. For selection in a world XI in the mid-1980’s he was a certainty, arguably more meritorious than even Ian Botham or Kapil Dev.
Possibly I would select him in my all-time XI to join Sir Gary Sobers, with his batting prowess. ,and his control being an ideal accomplice to the movement of Wasim Akram. Very hard to analyse how Hadlee would have performed had he played for a champion side, like Glen Mcgrath or Malcom Marshall. It could have worked either way.
Overall ,as a cricketer, adding ODI's, to me, Hadlee would rank ,just a whisker below Wasim Akram and a whisker ahead of Kapil Dev .Cristopher Mratin Jenkins places Hadlee at 25th place in his best 100,while Geoff Armstrong puts him at 14th position and David Gower at 25th place. In Australian conditions, with Curtly Ambrose I rank Hadlee as the best overseas pace bowler ever. His record is simply impeccable, taking 77 wickets at 17.83 in 12 test matches.
Nine cricketers selected Hadlee in their all time XI, including Alan Donald,Kapil Dev, Joel Garner, Arjuna Ranatunga ,Mohammad Azharuddin ,Bishen Bedi, David Boon ,Aravinda De'Silva and Zaheer Abbas.


After retirement Hadlee was a prominent member of the cricket media, and later assumed the role the chairman of New Zealand’s selectors The new cricketing responsibilities did not witness his bearing similar pressures that he bore with him during his playing days.
Hadlee has been a very astute judge of the game. He chose Greg Chappell as the most complete, Viv Richards as the most domineering, Boycott the most technically correct and Gavaskar, the statistical giant. Hadlee regarded Tendulkar as the best of all batsmen, and chose Ian Botham, Viv Richards, Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock and Dennis Lillee in his all-time team. Hadlee had no hesitation in voting Dennis Lillee, as the best ever pace bowler.
Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist who has extensively researched cricket



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