Circa 1300AD, humans finally landed on New Zealand, the last significantly sized, habitable landmass on Earth to be discovered by humans. Because of its distance from the rest of the world and very late habitation, New Zealand has always had a small population. It was only in 1953 when the country reached 2 million people. Add to that the fact that rugby has always been the most popular sport in the country, and you have every other sport struggling to make it in the country, not least the second most popular sport there: cricket.
With a few small exceptions, New Zealand has always been a relatively weak cricket side, because it simply doesn’t have the population base to churn out entire elevens of über talented individuals. It’s because they don’t have that many super talented players that the few that are become more notable.
Born in 1951, Richard Hadlee pre-dated New Zealand becoming a 2 million plus country. The son of perhaps the most important cricketing figure in the country at the time, younger brother to two future ones and future husband to a future one, Hadlee could not have been a part of a more cricket family in this small country.
Hadlee began as more of an erratic, tearway bowler. He had the capacity to stun oppositions, as India found out when Hadlee took 7-23 and 11-58 against them, then New Zealand records. England also saw Hadlee’s deadly ability as he tore through them in 1978 with 6-26 to give New Zealand their first ever win over England on the 48th attempt. Hadlee played a crucial part in downing the West Indies 1-0 in a controversial series that would turn out to be West Indies’ last defeat anywhere for almost 15 years, taking 11-102 in the 1 wicket win at Dunedin, and scored his maiden test hundred against them. Earlier that year, Hadlee turned out for Nottinghamshire in county cricket. Because of a rule in the Sunday League games which restricted the length of the run up, Hadlee started bowling with a shorter run and saw that a long one was unnecessary. He could still generate extreme pace with his action, and the shorter run up allowed him to bowl with greater accuracy. The Hadlee legend was truly born here, at Trent Bridge.
Hadlee continued to go from strength to strength in the years that followed, effective on every kind of pitch everywhere, with the only outlier being Pakistan. His new look action and run up saw him able to bowl with great pace and swing, and at a tough length, which caused the batsmen to hesitate slightly over whether to go on the front or back foot. With the bat, he just went after almost every ball, and was a dangerous force at 7 or 8. His best and most memorable performance, however, came in 1985. His performance at the Gabba is one of the all-time great performances by a visitor in Australia, only matched by the likes of Ambrose, Nawaz and Cook. Remember how 7-23 and 11-58 were New Zealand records at the time? Those were broken by Hadlee here, as he took 9-52 and 15-123. Hadlee also took 11-155 in the win at Perth, giving New Zealand what remains, to this day, their only series win in Australia. The 33 wickets he took that series remain, the most ever by a bowler in a series of 3 or fewer matches since before the first World War, and the third most in a 3 match series ever.
There have been 25 ten wicket match hauls by New Zealand bowlers. Hadlee has taken 9 of them. Over the course of his career, Hadlee took 9 of the 12 ten wicket match hauls taken by his countrymen and 9 of the 51 overall. The next best was 6. He took 36 five wicket innings hauls. The next best was 27. Hadlee was the first bowler to take 400 test wickets, and for 12 years, the quickest to the mark by matches played. In terms of balls bowled, Hadlee was the quickest to 400 for 25 years. His mark of 431 wickets stood until 1994. His 36 five wicket hauls and 9 ten wicket hauls have only been equaled and surpassed by Warne and Murali. Among bowlers with 300 or more test wickets, only 5 have lower bowling averages, none come anywhere close to Hadlee with the bat. Among the 4 legendary all-rounders of the 1980s, Hadlee was easily the best and most complete bowler, and his batting wasn’t too far behind the other 3.
Hadlee carried the New Zealand team of the late 70s and 80s, which was perhaps the best New Zealand side ever. Lance Cairns, Ewen Chatfield and John Bracewell were the next best bowlers in Hadlee’s time, all of whom seemed to exist only to keep the runs down while Hadlee continued to rip through batting line ups. Hadlee almost single-handedly turned a limited team into world beaters just by being one of the best bowlers ever. For that reason, Hadlee just might be the greatest cricketer ever.