“You only remember Edmund Hillary for being the first man to climb Mount Everest,” says the man who Bishan Singh Bedi the previous evening had called “the greatest seam bowler of our time”.
Richard Hadlee was the first to climb the mountain of 400 Test wickets. It has assured him cricketing immortality though 10 bowlers have gone past him. The Sultan of swing was in Delhi where he surpassed Ian Botham’s world record tally 25 years ago. He spoke to Hindustan Times.
Excerpts form the interview:
You are still regarded as your nation’s greatest cricketer…
It’s always a good feeling to be a part of history. I’ll always remain the architect of my team’s first Test victory in England (Leeds 1983), first-ever series victories in Australia (1985-86) and England (1986), a rare Test win in Mumbai (1988-89), and so on. Those were the glory days, what we did was spectacular.
You never really had a permanent new ball partner. Were you happy being the primary force?
Australia had Thomson and Lillee, England had Willis and Botham, West Indies had a whole battery. We had good line-and-length bowlers who were ideal for our pitches. There was always a bit of uneven bounce in New Zealand and they got wickets by persisting. As time went on, I became the No 1. And that was an advantage. You pick the ball, pick the end, and bowl five-six overs for a start. You bowl a few before lunch, after lunch, take the second new ball, bowl the tail out.
If you have three wickets on the first day, there’s a good chance you will take a fifer. I had the maximum five-wicket hauls in Tests, and most 10s in a match. Of course, Murali has gone on to break those records.
You dropped pace at the end of your career. Was it the only way you could’ve played till 39?
I lost a bit of pace with the shorter run, but I had to make up for that with skill. I had to be straight, swing the ball, cut the ball, change the crease. Some new skills were developed. I was three times more effective with a shorter run-up.
There’s a feeling BCCI dominates other boards, in scheduling or business dealings...
The only thing I can comment on, and that’s a generalistion, is that it affects New Zealand’s game. In the years gone by, every country played three Tests, a few build-up games and a few ODIs. Now, with T20s added, schedules are a lot tighter.
The effect of all that on New Zealand cricket is that when we tour, we get one or two-Test series. That doesn’t help our Test game and it reflects in our ratings (No 9). We know we can get a three-match series against India at home because that was the original schedule. But India rejected that. They want two Tests. That’s not helping our game.
Over the next few years, India is scheduled to play the most Tests against Australia and England, but not so many against others.
You don’t want the top teams to be playing against each other all the time. Because sooner or later, like we’re seeing now with Australia, other teams too will take a dip. It’s going to take them three to four years to get back on top.
During such a time, some lesser-ranked side is going to make its way up. You have to be fair to everybody so that their game is strong enough to be competitive, and increases spectator interest. Everyone has an obligation to help each other. And India has the biggest responsibility.