Wednesday, 23 November, 2022
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Richard Hadlee, the speedster who could cast a ‘spell’ even on slow, spinning Indian wickets

Richard Hadlee shares his birthday with his partner-in-crime Ewen John Chatfield. Together, they formed one of the greatest fast-bowling partnerships of all time.

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By the end of the 1980s, India had become a formidable test side at home. It had returned to its earlier forte of spin bowling. When New Zealand toured India in 1988, they had an uphill task of batting on spin-friendly wickets facing a determined Ravi Shastri, the mercurial Narendra Hirwani and the enigmatic Arshad Ayub. Narendra Hirwani had made the all-time great West Indian batting line up look ordinary, producing one of the finest spells of leg spin bowling ever. During the second test at Wankhede, not much was expected from the fast bowlers, not even from the great Kapil Dev. It was assumed that India’s three spinners would share the spoils. The Kiwis batted first and as expected, the Indian spinners took eight out of the 10 wickets. New Zealand were bundled out for 236 and fans hoped India would take a substantial first innings lead.

But the son of Walter Hadlee—Sir Richard Hadlee—had other plans.

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Hadlee in subcontinent

On a spin-friendly Wankhede wicket where even the great Kapil Dev could manage just two wickets, Hadlee showed his genius. India opened with Arun Lal and Kris Srikanth. Hadlee had Kris caught and then had Arun Lal leg before. His third victim was Kapil whom he clean bowled. Wicket keeper Kiran More, a decent batsman, met with the same fate as Kapil. As for tail-enders, Hadlee had no problem in cleaning them up — Arshad Ayub and Rashid Patel. In 21 overs, Hadlee picked two wickets each from the top, middle and lower order.

In the New Zealand second innings, nine wickets fell to Indian spinners. But Hadlee knew how to use a turning track to a fast bowler’s advantage. Repeating his first innings performance, he took four in the second innings, once again accounting for both the Indian openers. As for middle order batsmen, he took the crucial wicket of RJ Shastri to end up with a match figures of 10 for 88. New Zealand won the test by 136 runs. Hadlee had made the two Indian openers their bunny in the ’88 series. In the Bengaluru test, the Kiwi again got Arun Lal and Kris Srikanth, plus captain Dilip Vengsarkar and batting wizard M Azharuddin to end up with a five-wicket haul.

In the entire series, Hadlee, a fast bowler, had excelled on the slow turning wickets of India. For those who had followed Hadlee’s career, this did not come as a surprise. Four years ago, when the Kiwis had toured Sri Lanka, the wickets at Colombo and Kandy were even more spin-friendly. Richard took 10 wickets at Colombo and eight at Kandy. Just like Wankhede, Hadlee again accounted for both openers in both innings of the test. Sidath Wettimuny and Sanath were clean bowled in the first innings and caught in the slips in the second at Colombo. New Zealand won the Colombo test by an innings and 61 runs. At Kandy, Hadlee got eight wickets.

Dismissing subcontinent openers cheaply was an art Hadlee had mastered long ago. In a test match in 1976, at Lahore, he dismissed the majestic Majid Khan whom he had caught behind along with Sadiq Mohammad. In the middle order, Hadlee then clean bowled the Pakistan captain Mushtaq Mohammad and had Imran Khan caught. Very early in his career, Richard Hadlee had a five-wicket haul on a subcontinent pitch. In the Karachi test in the same series, Hadlee got brothers Sadiq and Mushtaq, Asif Iqbal and Imran Khan—all four 4 quality wickets on a dead pitch that offered nothing to fast bowlers.

Richard Walter Hadlee was one of the greatest fast bowlers on subcontinent pitches. His mastery over every aspect of fast bowling was total. During the first half of his career, he was the tearaway fast bowler that put fear in the batsmen. In the middle of his career, he became the graceful rhythm bowler bowling from a short run up. And in the twilight of his career, he used his skill, guile and experience to bamboozle batsmen all over the world.

In first class cricket (including tests), Richard Hadlee got five-wicket haul more than a 100 times. He demonstrated that fast bowling is all about technique. Most fast bowlers end their careers by early 30s but Hadlee shortened his run up and became even more dangerous towards the end of his career.

Hadlee never sledged in his career and considers his off field feat — of publishing The Skippers Diary, an account of his father’s day-to-day experiences of the New Zealand tour to England in 1949 — as his best achievement in life.

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His partner-in-crime

Sir Richard Hadlee turns 71 today. Few would know that he shares his birthday with his partner-in-crime Ewen John Chatfield. Also born on the 3rd of July, Chatfield almost died on debut in his very first test match when he was hit by the English bowler Peter Lever. He was saved by the rival team’s physio by mouth to mouth resuscitation. For ten years, Chatfield formed a formidable bowling partnership with his more illustrious bowling mate. When Richard got five wickets in the 3rd Test at Colombo in 1984, Chatfield got five too. It’s a rare feat for opening fast bowlers to take all 10 wickets in an innings in the Indian subcontinent.

In the first test at Port of Spain in 1985, both bowlers ran through a West Indian side comprising of Greenidge, Haynes, Richie Richardson and Viv Richards. In the second innings, Chatfield got six wickets. If longevity was the hallmark of Richard Hadlee, then Chatfield matched him in this aspect too. He quit club cricket at the age of 68! July 3 is the day to remember one of the greatest fast bowling partnerships of all time. One half consisted of a living legend Sir Richard Hadlee and the other of a workaholic bowler who on his day had the skills to match even the former.

Kush Singh @singhkb is founder, The Cricket Curry Tour Company. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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