Sir Richard Hadlee

(New Zealand 1973-1990)


Few players in the history of cricket have carried the fortunes of their team to quite the same extent as Richard Hadlee. – Andrew Miller.

Richard Hadlee is unquestionably the greatest cricketer to represent New Zealand and one of the finest all-rounders ever to have played Test cricket. His bowling action was technically near-perfect enabling him to combine swing and seam with phenomenal accuracy while, on its day, his aggressive lower-middle order batting was capable of destroying bowling attacks. Hadlee was the first bowler to reach 400 Test wickets and finished his career with 431 wickets (at the time a world record); you can see him in action here.

Incredibly determined and single-minded, he was almost solely responsible for helping New Zealand to a series of landmark Test victories during his career and was awarded an MBE for his services to New Zealand sport in 1981 and received a Knighthood in 1990 for services to cricket.

Statistical Overview

As a player who loved statistics, almost to an ‘unhealthy extreme’ according to some reports, it is no surprise that Hadlee’s career figures are extremely impressive. He played 86 Tests and 115 One-Day Internationals (ODI’s) for New Zealand and represented Canterbury (1971-90), Nottinghamshire (1978-87) and Tasmania (1979-80) over his first class career.

Test career – 3124 runs at an average of 27.16 and 431 wickets at an average of 22.29, one of only 6 players to have achieved the ‘All-Rounder’s Triple’ of 3000 runs and 300 wickets.

ODI career – 1751 runs at 21.61, 158 wickets at 21.56.

First Class career – 342 matches, 12052 runs at 31.71, 1490 wickets at 18.11. His record at Nottinghamshire was incredible (5854 runs at 38.76, 622 wickets at 14.51) including the rare achievement of scoring 1000 runs and taking 100 wickets in the same season in 1984 (he almost repeated the feat in 1987 but fell short by 3 wickets).

Born Into Cricket

Richard John Hadlee was born on July 3rd 1951 in Christchurch, New Zealand into a cricketing family. His father, Walter, was a former captain of New Zealand and two of his five brothers also represented their country (Dayle played 26 Tests and Barry played 2 ODI’s). The cricketing environment played a significant role in his development as a cricketer and Sir Richard has stated that Walter and Dayle are among the biggest influences on his career.

He attended Heaton Street Intermediate School and continued his education at Christchurch Boy’s High School. It was during his schooldays that, due to his large feet, his long-standing nickname of ‘Paddles‘ started.

Learning His Trade

Hadlee made his first class debut for Canterbury in 1971 and opened the bowling with his brother Dayle. In his early years he was a tearaway fast bowler relying on raw pace but slowly he started to realise the merits of the other weapons in a bowler’s armoury.

He was still far from the finished article when he made his Test debut in 1973 against Pakistan at Wellington. His first ball, a full toss, was hit for four and his match figures (2-112) were not enough to retain his place for the next match.

He was in and out of the national side until his breakthrough performance against India at Wellington in 1976. Hadlee destroyed the Indian batting, taking 7-23 (to finish with match figures of 11-58) as New Zealand won the Test and tied the series. This was the turning point according to Sir Richard and cemented his place in the side. He started to understand the skills required to take him to the next level – swing and seam took priority over speed and he became increasingly shrewd with the ball, working out batsmen’s weaknesses and bowling to a plan to exploit opponents’ shortcomings.

He hit the headlines once more in 1978 at Wellington, as he ripped through England’s line-up, taking 6-26 (10-100 in the match) to help New Zealand to their first ever victory over England. It could be argued that this was the turning point in his career as prior to this series Hadlee’s career bowling average was 35.57 and his performance gave him world wide coverage.

‘The Master of Rhythm and Swing’

Sir Richard was blessed with a wonderfully smooth, side-on action helping him to hit the seam consistently and swing the ball away from the right-handed batsmen. His economical run-up brought him close to the stumps making life even harder for batsman as it brought in nearly all of a fast bowler’s modes of dismissal (LBW, bowled and caught behind the wicket).

In 1980 the West Indies visited New Zealand and Hadlee took 11 wickets in the match (5/34 & 6/68) as the home team won a nail-biting Test by 1 wicket. In the following Test, he scored his maiden Test hundred (103 off 92 balls) to help draw the game. New Zealand held on to win the series 1-0, starting a 12 year unbeaten home record.

The improvement in his all-round game and continued excellence with the ball saw him awarded the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1982. Hadlee’s performances with the bat continued to improve and in 1983/84 at his home ground, Lancaster Park, Christchurch, he scored 99 (off 81 balls) and recorded match figures of 8-44 as England were bowled out for 82 and 93 in a humiliating defeat.

A few years later he produced arguably his most memorable moment – the 1985/86 tour of Australia brought out the best in him as he helped New Zealand to a historic series victory over their old rivals.

He tore through the Australian batting in the 1st Test taking 9-52 and 6-71 as New Zealand recorded their first ever Test victory on Australian soil by an innings and 41 runs. He almost took all 10 wickets in the 1st innings, missing out on the rare feat when he took the catch that saw the 9th wicket fall. You can see his amazing achievement here. A further 7 wickets in the 2nd Test loss and a match-winning 11-155 in the deciding Test took his total to 33 wickets in 3 Tests – culminating in New Zealand’s first series win in Australia.

Later that year he took 10 wickets (6-80 & 4-60) in the 2nd Test victory against England to lead New Zealand to a landmark 1-0 away series success.

As well as his remarkable performances for his country, Hadlee proved to be an inspired overseas signing for Nottinghamshire. He helped his adopted county to Championship titles in 1981 and 1987 as well as their first 1-day title ever, also in 1987.

Some of his performances for Nottinghamshire during his spell are unlikely ever to be matched again. Having briefly announced his retirement from county cricket in 1980 after three injury plagued seasons, he was persuaded to return in 1981 and his stunning season proved a major factor in their title success – he finished with 105 wickets at 14.89 and 745 runs at 32.39. He bettered this in 1984 finishing with 117 wickets at 14.05 and 1179 runs at 51.26.

Another stellar season in 1987 brought Nottinghamshire ‘the double’ and Hadlee remembers the 1-day Natwest Trophy victory as his most memorable game (shared with his performance at Brisbane 1985/86). He finished the 1987 season just 3 wickets short of repeating his 1984 feat – 97 wickets at 11.89 and 1075 runs at 53.75 (he missed three matches…).

Record Breaker

On 12th November 1988 in Bangalore, India, Hadlee dismissed Arun Lal to break the world record for most Test wickets, previously held by Ian Botham (373 wickets).

In his 80th Test, on 4th February 1990 he dismissed Sanjay Manjrekar at his home ground, Lancaster Park, to become the first player to reach 400 Test wickets. Others have passed this landmark but only Muttiah Muralitharan has done so in fewer matches.

His records are made more remarkable given that he carried a struggling New Zealand team for the majority of his career and had little support from other bowlers – Graham Gooch once described facing the New Zealand bowling attack as, “Richard Hadlee at one end, Ilford 2nds at the other."

Hadlee was a good lower-order batsman but it is his feats with the ball in hand that brought him legendary status. He was named one of Wisden’s 10 Greatest Cricketers of the 20th Century and, according to a statistical analysis by Wisden, the 2nd best Test bowler ever (behind Muralitharan).

Fittingly, Hadlee bowed out of Test cricket in style – a wicket with his last ball, Devon Malcolm becoming his 431st victim when he was LBW for 0, giving him a final 5 wicket haul (5-53).

The Battle of the All-Rounders

While Sir Garfield Sobers is widely acclaimed as the greatest all-rounder to have graced the game, the 1980’s were spoilt for all-round talent with Hadlee, Botham, Kapil Dev and Imran Khan producing astounding displays for their respective countries.

The question of who was the best of the four is often a source of great debate – statistics, match-winning performances, charisma, strength of the teams they played for etc… all come into account and a definitive case can be put forward for all of them but, without doubt, the fierce rivalry between them pushed them to greater feats in an attempt to outplay each other.

Hadlee’s bowling statistics put him ahead of his rivals in that department but his batting does not compare to Botham’s or Imran’s – however it should remembered that Hadlee played all his career in a side that without him would have, arguably, won nothing….

Post Career

Sir Richard was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, June 16th 1990, five days before his penultimate Test match – however he did not have it conferred until a few months after his retirement.

He has since spent time in the commentary box and is still heavily involved in New Zealand cricket as selection manager of the national side’s selection panel and has been involved as a bowling coach.

He also runs his own business, is involved in after-dinner and motivational speaking, acts as an Ambassador for the Bank of New Zealand and supports various charities including The Sir Richard Hadlee Sports Trust.