Sir Richard Hadlee: New Zealand's finest relishes role as champion of the game

The Brian Viner interview
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As one of the finest bowlers of his or anyone else's generation, and no mean wielder of the bat either, Sir Richard Hadlee specialised in hitting targets. Targets both physical and statistical. Few cricketers ever set such store by records, whether establishing his own or chasing others'. He took 431 Test wickets, scored over 3,000 Test runs, and still talks with a gleam in his eye about his 9 for 52 against Australia in Brisbane in 1985. And even when he wasn't taking wickets, his line and length rarely erred.

As one of the finest bowlers of his or anyone else's generation, and no mean wielder of the bat either, Sir Richard Hadlee specialised in hitting targets. Targets both physical and statistical. Few cricketers ever set such store by records, whether establishing his own or chasing others'. He took 431 Test wickets, scored over 3,000 Test runs, and still talks with a gleam in his eye about his 9 for 52 against Australia in Brisbane in 1985. And even when he wasn't taking wickets, his line and length rarely erred.

As New Zealand's selection manager, he is similarly direct. Last week's first Test match at Lord's "had everything... the weather, the pitch, the crowd, the twists, the turns, it deserved more than a seven-wicket victory. But there it is. New Zealand lost and when you lose there are always areas of concern. We gave away far too many extras. In the second Test our bowling needs more grunt, and more consistency."

The finest Kiwi cricketer of them all never lacked grunt. He is as tall, trim and faintly vulpine as ever. The thin Basil Rathbone moustache is still there, but grey now. We are talking in a function room at Trent Bridge, the ground where he is considered by many to be the greatest overseas cricketer ever to have served Nottinghamshire. That's some accolade when you think that the list includes another knight, Garfield Sobers. Yet the respect in England for this one New Zealander does not, he thinks, extend to the nation. Not as far as cricket is concerned.

"We always come to England in the first part of the season, and we would love to do the second part. I've only known a four-Test series once in my time, and that was 1983. Other than that they've all been three-Test series.

"The only time we played five Tests was in the West Indies in the 70s, when Glenn Turner was playing. So we don't seem to warrant five matches, yet I believe we're good enough. I don't think there's much between England and New Zealand."

By the evidence of the first Test, he's right. And should the tourists prevail at Headingley, then the series will be decided at his beloved Trent Bridge. It was there, in 1980, that he refined the shortened run-up that so extended his career.

"I went back to New Zealand, played a couple of Tests off the shortened run, got heavily criticised for it, and bowled like that for the next 10 years.

"There are three phases you go through as a fast bowler. When you're 21, you charge in and bowl as fast as you can. Then you go through more of a rhythmic phase. And then you enter that final phase of using your head, when you realise you don't need to run in hard off 25 yards. I've seen lots of big strong fellas, with a front-on action, muscling the ball. But the smaller fellas who come in rhythmically, they're often more effective."

Such knowledge, gleaned from a lifetime of cricket (his father Wally captained New Zealand in England in 1949), was put to good use during Hadlee's tenure as chairman of selectors. Selection manager is slightly different in that he no longer has the final say; that right has passed to the coach, John Bracewell.

But Hadlee is fully supportive of a change of direction in picking the side, one which now demands the selection of the best possible performer in every role. It sounds like a no-brainer, but in cricket, other factors come into play. That is why the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, dropped Chris Read, the country's finest wicketkeeper, and installed Geraint Jones, a lesser keeper but a better batsman. The decision has reportedly infuriated the Academy chief, Rodney Marsh. And reading between the lines, Hadlee's on the side of his fellow Antipodean.

"I can't comment on England's selection policy but we would pick our best keeper first," he says. "In fact, the keeper's always the first guy I would pick, because he's so influential, not just in terms of catching and stumping, but also seeing the angles, helping the bowler and the captain, reading the pitch conditions, looking at the batsmen, giving advice on line and length, geeing up the fielders. If the keeper is dropped because of a lack of runs it means those at the top of the order haven't done their job.

"Our philosophy now is that everyone's a specialist, and everyone's accountable. Time will tell whether it's effective."

Defeat in the first Test match notwithstanding, time already seems to have delivered a favourable verdict on New Zealand's new order. The home series against South Africa was won, the most recent series in Australia drawn. And in the process, Stephen Fleming grew into the most resourceful captain in world cricket, at least as Hadlee sees it.

"The way he intimidated [Graeme] Smith of South Africa was very interesting. Basically, he thought back to when he was in Smith's position, as captain of New Zealand at 22, 23 years of age, when Steve Waugh was the bloke. He remembered how Waugh had intimidated him, chipping away on the field, that sort of thing. And Fleming did just that to Smith.

"You can call it gamesmanship, but I don't see anything wrong with that. It's all about trying to gain the initiative. And there was an infectious result on the team. The South Africans were rated second [in the world] in Test and one-day cricket, but our boys stood tall. 'Hey, you're in our country now' was the attitude. It was good to see. And in Australia we should have won the series. We had them under huge pressure at Perth."

I ask Hadlee whether he and his compatriots consider a Test series in Australia more significant than one in England?

"We certainly view an Australian series as something very important," he says, "but England is the tour of tours. All cricketers around the world want to tour England. It's a dream for anyone to play a Test match at Lord's."

Scoring a hundred in each innings at Lord's must therefore be the stuff of fantasy, and but for a dodgy umpiring decision, that would have been Mark Richardson's achievement. Hadlee is too restrained a character to show anything resembling glee, but glee is what he felt seeing Richardson score 101 in the second innings, after being given out lbw on 93 in the first, following an inside edge that regrettably escaped umpire Darrell Hair's detection.

"It was a magnificent performance and it showed the character of the man," he says. "To do it all again like that, and to do it at Lord's, that was marvellous. But for England [Andrew] Strauss and [Nasser] Hussain were very impressive, too. And [Steve] Harmison has really developed. He poses a real threat now."

Harmison should value the endorsement. Hadlee, as perhaps befits the Bank of New Zealand's official goodwill ambassador, is economical with his compliments. Equally, he does not say anything unless he means it. Which is why I want to revisit a comment he made some years ago, when he suggested that ball-tampering, as long as no outside agencies were involved, should be legalised.

"That was a tongue-in-cheek comment," he says, slightly disingenuously. "I asked the question, does it really matter? If you can use saliva, why can't you use fingernails? It's still part of the body. It's just another skill for the bowler, and it's another skill for the batsman to combat it. But I'm not suggesting knives or bottle-tops.

"Years ago I saw Imran [Khan] on television, demonstrating with a bottle top what he and the other Pakistani bowlers used to do, and I thought 'hey, that's a big move, showing what and how'."

So, did he? "Did I what?"

Did he use his fingernails, or indeed things not connected to the body, to alter the seam?

A chuckle. "I'm not prepared to comment. Anyway, before the ball gets back to the bowler, it passes through the hands of a few fielders. Who knows what they do to it?"

Indeed. And even if, heaven forfend, Hadlee did resort to the odd underhand manoeuvre, nobody can challenge his stature as one of the all-time greats, a bowling all-rounder whose inspiration with the ball was Dennis Lillee. He shows me a little gold cricket bat on a chain, which he wears round his neck.

"Dennis gave me this in 1977, after Australia had won the last Test at Eden Park. Talking with him, I learnt more in half an hour than in a whole season, possibly my whole career. He shared lots of information. And one of the things he said was that I wouldn't be successful until I started training and eating properly. I used to eat Mars Bars, drink Coke. Dennis advised me to eat steak, build myself up. Then you become fitter, stronger, more rhythmic. And success comes.

"But having said that, you can have all the skills, all the fitness, but you need to have something in your head and a bit of a ticker as well. If you're missing any one of the head, heart, skill and fitness factors, then you're a quarter less of a player."

Hadlee needed all those ingredients in the 1980s, when he shone in what was a golden age for all-rounders.

"It was a fantastic time to be playing. The West Indies were dominant, you never play against a poor Australian side, England were very competitive, and we didn't lose a Test series at home. It doesn't seem the same today, certainly in terms of all-rounders. [Shaun] Pollock is a fine player. So is Chris Cairns, when he's fit. And Jacques Kallis. For England, Andrew Flintoff seems to have turned the corner. It's strange that Australia don't produce the all-rounder."

I could interject with the name of Adam Gilchrist, but unlike Mark Richardson after his first-innings dismissal at Lord's, I don't want to split hairs. "They don't need 'em, you see," Hadlee continues.

"The battles between Beefy [Ian Botham], Immy [Imran Khan], Kapil Dev and myself, those one-on-one confrontations, with all the expectancy from the other players as well as the crowd... that was fantastic."

It was Botham whose wicket he craved most, whose long-hop he most wanted to smash for six. "He came out to New Zealand in '78 having burst on to the scene with a bit of a reputation. In the second Test England were bowled out for 64 in the second innings, and he was out for 0. But then he got a magnificent hundred at Lancaster Park. Our rivalry grew from there and continued for 12 years, in county cricket as well. At the time, I was not a great one for having a beer after the game. But when you're out of it, when the careers are gone, when there's nothing to prove any more, the camaraderie is greater.

"I love seeing Beefy now, and the same with Lillee. It grows."

If he lives as long as his father, there may come a time when there's nobody around to share the camaraderie. Wally Hadlee is 89, and still has the diaries in which, as a trained accountant preoccupied with figures and statistics, he calculated at the start of each season exactly what contributions he needed from all his players. His fourth son inherited the same enjoyment of statistics, and four of his five sons inherited his cricketing skills. The oldest, Barry, played one-day cricket for New Zealand; the second, Martin, was said by Wally to be the most talented ball-player of them all; the third, Dale, played 80-odd Tests; and we know all about number four.

But the youngest, Christopher, had no interest in cricket.

"I destroyed it for him," Hadlee says. "I was the next oldest and so when we played Test matches in the back yard, I bowled at him with a hard ball and he got battered and bruised. He still had to come down to the cricket ground when dad and his brothers were playing, but he'd just sit there with a sketch pad, drawing things. And you know what, he's now an extremely successful architect." I can't say I'm at all surprised.

The second Test is live on Sky Sports 1, starting on Thursday


By Christine Henry

1951 Born 3 July, Christchurch, New Zealand.

1970 Becomes trainee manager for Woolworths.

1971 Begins playing for Canterbury.

1972 Begins an 18-year stint playing for New Zealand.

1973 First Test wicket, against Pakistan.

1978 Signs for Nottinghamshire, for whom he plays for 10 years.

1980, 1986 New Zealand Sportsman of the Year.

1981 Awarded MBE for services to New Zealand sport.

1984 Achieved the English county double, scoring 1,000 runs and taking 100 wickets in the same season.

1987 New Zealand Sportsperson of the Decade and Sportsperson for the last 25 years, sharing the accolade with the athlete John Walker.

1988 Becomes the world record wicket-taker with his 374th, against India.

1990 Knighted for services to cricket.

1990 Last ball bowled in Test cricket, against England.

2004 Currently manager of New Zealand selectors.