Richard Hadlee: The Greatest Ever Bowling Performance

James MortimerAnalyst IJanuary 13, 2009

Goosebumps—a tingling sensation, a shiver of cold.

These feelings occur whenever I think of the greatest cricketer New Zealand has ever produced, Richard Hadlee, the strike bowler who inspired the Kiwis to be world beaters while he graced the team.

I watched Paddles play many a great Test match, and he was the greatest sportsman of our time, beyond any of the All Blacks. 

His formulate years were almost unspectacular, but this only gave momentum to when he came of age.

In 1980 the awesome power of the West Indians came to New Zealand to smash them.  The New Zealanders, giant outsiders, won the first Test in part due to Paddles' 11 wickets. 

In the second Test the magnificent man scored his maiden Test century to defeat the West Indies for the first time in a series, and to start a 12-year unbeaten run on home soil for the New Zealanders.

But the ultimate day of wonder came in 1985. It was at this time that Hadlee was beginning to win not only games but entire series based on his brilliance with the ball, and reliability with the bat.

New Zealand came to Australia—a team not yet at their breathtaking best, but still immensely strong with the likes of Allan Border, Greg Matthews, Kepler Wessels and David Boon. 

The location was Brisbane, the first Test, and God himself had prepared the conditions.  He had kept the heavens low, with suppressing heat. And as he had ages past, the impeccable figure of Hadlee prepared to make cricketing folklore.

Hadlee began his spell with a 10-pace run up, far shorter than the steamrolling runs of the West Indian speed merchants.  Five balls in, Andrew Hilditch was completely fooled into playing a terrible hook shot and was caught for a duck.  Australia was caught unaware, and were 1-1.

The Baggy Greens, led by the ever stoic figure of Allan Border, fought back, reaching 70 runs for just the one loss.  They had found it demanding, as Hadlee had bowled numerous maidens – and tried to break the shackles. 

Boon, Border and Greg Ritchie then fell in a murderous burst, where Hadlee took 3-12 just after the lunch break.  Wessels and Wayne Phillips provided the customary Australian grit, inching to 4 for 164 before bad light ended the day's play.

On the second day Hadlee began like a man possessed, picking up an incredible five for 17 in the first hour and a half.  Once the nightwatchman had gone, Hadlee ripped through the Australian tail. 

Towards the end of the innings, Hadlee had the top eight men—and was thinking about a full house before Geoff Lawson almost purposely smashed a careless shot off Vaughan Brown to midwicket.  With hands as safe as a house—none other than the man himself, Haddles Paddles took the catch.

Hadlee finished the innings with nine for 52.  At the time, only two men in cricketing history had recorded better bowling figures, Jim Laker and George Lohmann.  His bowling figures were recorded in 23.4 overs, with four maidens at less than two runs per over.  Not a single extra was bowled.  Wisden later record the legends feat as a display the justified the use of that overworked adjective “great.”

After skittling the Australians for 179, the New Zealanders came into bat.  But the reputable pace attack of the home team could do nothing with the ball that Hadlee had done.

Martin Crowe and John Reid scored centuries to take the Kiwis to 553.  Hadlee, the Messiah himself came in at number eight and hit a brutal 54, smashing four fours and three sixes.

Australia came in needing to score over 350 to avoid defeat. At this point even the grim fighting spirit of the Baggy Greens couldn’t prevent them collapsing to five for 67.  At this stage Paddles had only claimed two wickets – and this was a victory itself.  Greg Matthews and Allan Border both scored fighting centuries, Border's 152 coming in nearly 500 balls.

Sir Richard then came in to mop up the tail, and duly did so, taking six for 52 in the second innings.  He finished with the match figures of 15 for 123.

The loss came hard to the Australians with reporters saying that it was among the worst of that time, especially coming from 'such modest opposition.'

Border offered to resign at the end of the series, which the Kiwis won 2-1. Hadlee, the greatest New Zealand player—if not New Zealander—claimed 33 wickets in the series and an implausible average of 12.15.  Over a quarter of his overs bowled were maidens, and in six innings bowled, he claimed five-wicket hauls five times.

The nine for 52 was the greatest performance of the superstar.  He was also the first man to take beyond 400 Test wickets, and his mark of 431 at an average of 22.29 was a world record at the time.  He is still seventh on the all time list, and the 86 Tests it took him to achieve this is still a mark not broken. 

To truly put the great man in perspective, he took 1490 first-class wickets in his career.  Not even Shane Warne or Muttiah Muralitharan, the two top Test wicket takers in the game, has taken so many. 

With two centuries and a batting average of over 30, he is in my mind still the greatest player the game has ever seen.