Hadlee remembers Lillee, Imran and Kapil

Sir Richard Hadlee with Kapil Dev

By Kersi Meher-Homji

New Zealand’s cricket legend Sir Richard Hadlee was the Chief Guest at a function jointly held by the Cricketers’ Club of NSW and the LBW Trust which collects money for the underprivileged cricketers in India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe. It was a pleasure chatting with him.
He spoke freely and frankly for the Rhythm and Swing Dinner function at the Parliament House, Sydney.
Along with discussing serious aspects of cricket, flashes of humour coloured his talk with the attractive compére Stephanie Brantz.
According to him England’s eccentric Derek Randall was the greatest character he had played against. Randall batted well but his running between the wickets was chaotic. “It was said of him that he could bat like Wally Hammond but ran between wickets like Charlie Chaplin!” [Loud laughter].
Richard turned 60 last week and it took me a few seconds to recognise him as his jet black long hair had turned greyish and almost crew-cut.
He narrated an amusing story. “A boy knocked on the door the other day and I opened it. He asked me whether Richard Hadlee stays here. When I said yes, he asked me whether I was his father!”
But soon the topic turned serious. “What do you think of Twenty20 cricket?”, asked Stephanie.
“Test cricket is the ultimate and every youngster aspires to play it one day”, he said. “Twenty20 is not real cricket. It’s mostly about money.”
He added that T20 cricket is entertaining for spectators but it is a threat to Test and first-class cricket is real.
Hadlee was one of the greatest all-rounders in the game’s history.
In 86 Tests from 1972 to 1990 he scored 3124 runs at 27.16 with two centuries (highest 151 not out) and took 431 wickets — then a Test record — at 22.29 with 36 five-wickets per innings hauls (best 9-52 against Australia in the 1985 Brisbane Test).
As a bowler with rhythm and swing, he studied weaknesses in batsmen’s technique in the manner of a surgeon studying x-rays before performing an operation.
He recalled taking a wicket off the last ball in his Test career. “I remember the date. It was 9 July 1990 when I bowled my last ball and dismissed Devon Malcolm for a duck.”
Perfect swan song! He was the first cricketer to be knighted when still playing. And according to his biographer Dick Brittenden, Richard’s father Walter ”“ also a Test cricketer ”“ could not stop smiling for a week!
When asked about the best all-rounder of his era, Richard placed Imran Khan above Ian Botham, Kapil Dev and himself. “Imran was charismatic and a match-winner with both bat and ball. Kapil was a wonderful out-swing bowler and a big hitter.
“But on figures South Africa’s Jacques Kallis is the best ever all-rounder, even above the great Sir Garry Sobers.”
Hadlee came back to T20 cricket. “Cricketers these days tend to retire from Test cricket early to play T20. You can’t blame them but you have to have balance between playing for your country or for money.
“I enjoyed playing in the 1980s and would not like to change anything from the 1980s.”
Test cricket in that period attracted crowds with contrasting batsmen like Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar, Allan Border, David Gower, Greg Chappell who provided batsmanship of different shades of magnificence and Dennis Lillee, his hero and inspiration, as arguably the greatest bowler of any era.
“Lillee had real presence. I looked up to him and learnt so much from him by watching him and later facing him.”
Hadlee’s favourite Test was in Brisbane in November 1985. He took the first nine wickets to fall and accepted a catch of the last man, Geoff Lawson, off Vaughan Brown.
Hadlee scored 54 runs and captured 6 for 71 in the second innings as the Kiwis won by an innings. He had match figures of 15 for 123 which flattened Australia.
Was Hadlee disappointed in missing out on the ultimate achievement of taking all 10 wickets in a Test innings, I asked after his formal address. “No. That was, I suppose, as near-perfect a performance one hopes to achieve and one in which the whole team shared”, he replied.
It was a night to savour.

Pic courtesy: Lady Dianne Hadlee

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