There are a lot of cricketers in world cricket who have single-handedly put their nation on the global map but few can match the way Sir Richard Hadlee managed to do it for New Zealand. A fearsome fast bowler and a more than useful hard-hitting lower-order batsman, Hadlee was one of the leading allrounders of his generation alongside Ian Botham, Imran Khan and Kapil Dev.
The first cricketer to pick 400 Test wickets, by the time Hadlee retired, he had already been conferred a knighthood for his services to the game and was regarded as one the best fast bowlers and allrounders to ever play cricket. With a tall, wiry frame and a classical fast bowler’s action Hadlee could swing the ball on the most unresponsive of surfaces. He started off his career as a tearaway pacer but soon developed the art of swing and could move the ball both ways.
In a career spanning 86 Tests, Hadlee finished with 431 wickets striking every 50.8 balls and made 3124 runs at 27.16, including two centuries and 15 fifties. Born on this day, in 1951, Hadlee was always destined to play cricket. His father, Walter Hadlee, captained New Zealand while two of his brothers Barry Hadlee and Dayle Hadlee too represented New Zealand. In fact, Hadlee’s wife, Karen Hadlee too has represented New Zealand in a solitary ODI.
However, it was Richard Hadlee who stood head and shoulders amongst his peers. Yet his initial years in international cricket weren’t as fruitful. Hadlee made his Test debut in 1973 against Pakistan where he could only return figures of 2/84 and 0/28 in a match where weather played spoilsport. For the next three years or so, he wasn't able to cement a spot in the national side on a regular basis. Hadlee did show his prowess in a Test against India in 1976 when he ripped out the famed batting lineup picking up match figures of 11/58 in Wellington. But it still took him two more years to truly show his full potential.
However, once he did, there was no stopping Hadlee. He cut down on his pace, concentrated on swinging the ball and reaped the rewards. From the time he made his debut, in 1973 till December 1977, Hadlee played 17 Tests returning 61 wickets, averaging at a mere 35.60 runs per wicket and striking every 57.9 balls. That narrative changed in the next few years. From January 1978 to December 1983, Hadlee played 27 Tests where he picked up 139 wickets at an average of 21.9 and a strike-rate of 54.8.
Hadlee’s match-figures of 10/100 against England in February 1978 helped New Zealand beat England for the very first time in Test history and he was soon signed up by Nottinghamshire to play County cricket. He played for the Club from 1978 to 1987 and was a standout player for them all along. In 1984, he became only the second cricketer to complete the county 'double' – scoring 1000 runs and taking 100 wickets in the same County season.
Hadlee was at the peak of his powers between January 1984 to December 1988. In the five years, he played a total of 33 Tests in which he picked up 191 wickets averaging 18.1 runs per wicket and striking every 43.9 balls. In 1985, he outdid Australia in Australia when he picked up 33 wickets in a three-match Test series at 12.15. His efforts marked New Zealand's first-ever series win on Australian soil.
While the 1980s had a plethora of fast bowlers at their absolute peak, Hadlee was a step ahead of them. From January 1, 1978 to December 31, 1988, Hadlee picked up 330 wickets in 60 Tests at a mind-boggling average of 19.6 and a strike-rate of 48.5. Only England’s Ian Botham with 363 scalps was ahead of Hadlee during this time period in terms of wickets and he had played a staggering 32 Tests more than the New Zealander.
In November 1988, on the first morning of the Bangalore Test, Hadlee overtook Botham’s record of 373 wickets to become the highest wicket-taker in the history of Test cricket. Two years later once more against India, he became the first bowler in Tests to claim 400 wickets when he got rid of Sanjay Manjrekar, in Christchurch.
Another striking feature of Hadlee’s bowling was his ability to pick wickets in a cluster. In 86 Tests, he picked up 36 five-wicket hauls and 9 ten-wicket hauls. Only Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne have more 5-fers and 10-fers since the inception of Test cricket whereas Hadlee stands head and shoulders ahead of the pack as far as fast bowlers are concerned.
Hadlee called curtains on his Test career in July 1990 against England in Edgbaston. His last delivery in Test cricket fetched him the wicket of Devon Malcolm. It came as no surprise when Hadlee was conferred a knighthood in 1990.
While he was at his fiercest in the Test arena, Hadlee was equally effective on the one-day circuit too. In 115 ODIs, he picked up 158 wickets at 21.56. His economy of 3.30 was also excellent.
Hadlee was named by Wisden as the second greatest Test bowler of all-time in 2002 and was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame in April 2009.