“A fact that reinforces his dominance in his side was that before Hadlee arrived on the international circuit, New Zealand had played 102 Tests – losing 46 and winning just 7! 22 wins then, from Hadlee’s 86 Tests is no mean feat then, and it only emphasizes how very crucial he was in the scheme of things”.
To many, Richard Hadlee remains that cricketer who stamped his position utmost consistency and awe-inspiring performances in a New Zealand team that was lacking in quality match-winning bowlers. With his uncanny ability to move the ball both ways – both off the pitch and in the air, and with his ability to extract life even from the flattest tracks, Hadlee emerged as the leader of the Kiwi bowling attack in an era where the side did not have many backup options with the cherry.
Though he is remembered for his bowling, it would be foolish to sway away from his talent as a batsman and his numbers only reinforce his position amongst the top-4 all-rounders of his generation. The cricketer began his Test career in 1973 but with only 61 wickets in 17 wickets with a strike-rate of 61.2 and an average of 35.57, one would not have been blamed for dismissing Hadlee as anyone but extraordinary.
But when criticisms are swirling around, the best arrive on the grandest stage and Hadlee, from 1978 to 1988 hardly gave glimpses of the below-par bowler that he had been a few years earlier. In this decade, he averaged 5.5 wickets per Test match, with an average of 19.57. In 60 Tests, he picked up 330 wickets with 32 5-wicket hauls. Against each nation but the West Indies he averaged less than 24 and even in defeats, he averaged a respectable 21.71 in 18 games with 94 wickets in his tally.
From 1989, his prowess with the cherry did start declining but his average still stayed at 24.52. Such was his magnanimous presence that even when he was not at his best, he ended his Test career with a 5 for 53 in Edgbaston that took his total 5-wicket hauls to 36, which was a long standing record that was only recently surpassed by Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralidharan.
Though Hadlee started impressing one and all with his bowling skills, his batting never really took off for the first 40 Tests that he played. He averaged just 21.66 with one ton in 40 games but soon he realised that he had to take up the responsibility of batting lower down the order, which saw him improve his technique, his footwork and his concentration. In the last 46 games, one saw a massive increase in his batting average – from 21.66 it boomeranged to 33.16 and his improved batting stance saw him being named in the same league as Imran Khan, Sir Ian Botham and Kapil Dev.
It is said that the true hallmark of a great all-rounder is gauged from the difference in his batting and his bowling average (with the batting figures being higher), and Hadlee, between 1983 and 1990 averaged almost 33 with the bat and 19.64 with the ball, which meant that his average difference was 13.39. Only the great Imran Khan had a greater difference – that of 30.09, but then again, Imran was in a different league altogether.
In wins, the great Hadlee took a whopping 173 wickets in 22 games – almost 8 wickets per match! Fielding in a side that wasn’t considered as a world-beater back then never really troubled the great, who believed in himself to turn around the fortunes for New Zealand. He averaged 13.06 in wins, which is the most amongst bowlers who have at least 150 wickets in Test wins. In victories, he picked up 17 five-wicket hauls, with his career-best figures of 9 for 52 coming in the unforgettable win against Australia in Brisbane.
But while the other all-rounders in his era had the luxury of bowling with a comparatively strong bowling line-up, Hadlee often had to burden the responsibilities for his side – something that he did with great success. In the 86 games that he turned out for, New Zealand picked up 1207 wickets, with Hadlee scalping 431 of them. That is almost 35% of the team wickets! In victories, his numbers sky-rocket even further. 173 wickets out of 424 wickets that were taken in a New Zealand win fell to Hadlee; a whopping 40.8%!
A fact that reinforces his dominance in his side was that before Hadlee arrived on the international circuit, New Zealand had played 102 Tests – losing 46 and winning just 7! 22 wins then, from Hadlee’s 86 Tests is no mean feat then, and it only emphasizes how very crucial he was in the scheme of things.
For anyone questioning his records as a by-product of playing in friendly conditions of New Zealand needs to be reminded that the great only played 43 games in New Zealand and 43 elsewhere. At home, he picked up 201 wickets at an average of 22.96 and away, he managed 230 at 21.72. If there is one series that highlights the growing aura of Hadlee, it has to be the summer of 1988 in India, when the all-rounder from New Zealand transformed from a raw speedster into a sophisticated pacer even on the most unhelpful of tracks.
With Kapil Dev in the Indian team, the battle was pitted as one between the two greatest all-rounders, though the former, at 37 was unexpected to succeed in the mini-battle. Kapil, at 29 and in familiar conditions was expected to run havoc but what followed in the three Tests was puzzling and bewildering. The ball swayed and troubled the batsmen. It had pace and was bowled with aggression. The lines were more than accurate and the lengths, troubling. The batters were iffy – uncertain whether the ball would curl in or move early; unsure whether the short one would attack the body or swing away.
In spin-friendly conditions, where Dilip Vengsarkar had been adamant at getting all the grass removed from the tracks, Hadlee hardly cared. He ended the series with 18 wickets and an average of 14. He picked up 5 in Bangalore and a match-haul of 10 in Mumbai that led New Zealand to an unforgettable win. His average in Asia leapfrogged to 21.58, with five fifers in 13 Tests and by taking a bunch of inconsistent players towards success, Hadlee stamped his mark in New Zealand’s history.