The admiration was mixed with benevolent misgiving, perfectly understandable coming from the ultimate master of swing and cut. Richard Hadlee may be the brand ambassador for New Zealand's World Cup organisation and the airport in hometown Christchurch, on the road to recovery from last year's devastating earthquake, but the language has a universal flair when the subject is fast bowling.
The buzz around the World Twenty20 is just dying and talk has turned to the next show ready to roll — IPL. "Well, you can't call T20 cricket, cricket," he emphasises. "It's a form of cricket, but not cricket as we know." This Kiwi too climbed his Everest — first to 400 Test wickets — and it was clear which form of cricket he likes.
But once he acknowledges the reality, "the short form of the game subsidises the longer form", he explains how modern day fast bowlers are forced to find new ways to compete in the ultra-batting format — T20.
"I have got to say in general the players today are more skilful than yesteryear players because of the innovations… the bowlers today have three or four change-ups, out of their hand, back of their hand. We didn't do that in our days," says Hadlee, flexing the still iron wrists in demonstration.
What about his image as a past practitioner of perfection? The response is subtle. "I was a traditional bowler, ran in straight, side-arm action, close to the stumps ball release." He adds, "I didn't need to have the type of variations and skills the bowlers of today need to have." All those dismissed by him would vehemently disagree.
But Lasith Malinga deserves deeper appreciation. "Unusual skill set for the fact that he bowls so low," says Hadlee. "The variations batsmen and bowlers have today, you got to be able to implement them perfectly because if you miss, it is going to be very costly."
What makes the Sri Lankan perfect for the T20 game? "At the end of the day, a bowler needs to be unpredictable. And Malinga particularly is unpredictable. He not only has a pretty good fast yorker, he also has a pretty good slower ball. Dale Steyn is another one."
The tactics fast bowlers use in T20 though is fraught with drawbacks, says Hadlee. "Even in the one-day game, we bowled straight. If they missed, we hit. (Today) they bowl wide, wide half-volleys and sometimes they go wider, sometimes it costs them because of the runs they give away."
He adds, "But it can affect your technique and your confidence too. You can get out of form so quickly. A couple of low scores, couple decisions go against you and all of a sudden it will be difficult to get back into the game."
Although a player will now need a fine balance between Test cricket and T20, Hadlee feels the mushrooming leagues may not be too bad after all for players. "The IPL has been successful in generating wealth, for the players particularly… We'll still have elite leagues, which IPL is, and you might have them under a different category. And that is not necessarily a bad thing because it gives a lot of people a slice of the action."
Thus, a Bangladesh league may not match IPL in terms of money, but it will still make demands on the skill sets that in turn will help the national teams.