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Sir Richard Hadlee

20 July 2023

Sir Richard Hadlee inspired a generation of budding cricketers to be fast bowlers. He was named New Zealand sportsperson of the decade in 1987 and when he retired in 1990, he held the world record for the most dismissals in test cricket. In 2009 he was inducted into the I.C.C. World Cricket Hall of Fame. Learn more about this local hero.


As a part of the Twelve Local Heroes collection, Sir Richard Hadlee's bust is situated near to the Ilam fields to represent his connection to sport in Canterbury. Sir Richard was involved in UC's Sport Coaching programme in 2015, lending his knowledge to our students.

He was the king of rhythm and swing in Canterbury and New Zealand from the mid-1970s until 1990 yet never played a musical note.

Sir Richard Hadlee inspired a generation of budding cricketers to be fast bowlers as they watched him orchestrating the downfall of international batsmen around the world. Although not captain, Hadlee effectively led the New Zealand cricket team with his bowling; when he retired in 1990 Hadlee held the world record for the most dismissals in test cricket (431); New Zealand, for so long a minor player on the world stage, had become a respected world power.

Hadlee developed from a tearaway young fast bowler who sprayed the ball about, to the consummate professional never wasting an ounce of energy as he embarked on searching examinations of opponents' technique and temperament. Through his rhythmic run-up and classical high arm action, Hadlee honed his art to perfection. He mastered the control of the ball having the ability to make it swing or seam almost on command.

It was hardly surprising that young Richard took to cricket when his father, Walter, had captained New Zealand and was immersed in the fame. It was probably inevitable that statistics were a motivating factor in Hadlee's cricket career given that his father was a prominent chartered accountant. Hadlee earned the nickname "Paddles" at intermediate school, because of his large feet. "Paddles" followed his four brothers through Christchurch Boys High School, a school renowned for its sporting pedigree. The quintet and Dad, when not on representative duty, had many backyard battles at their Fendalton home. And there was no prize for guessing the popular topic around the dinner table.

Hadlee advanced into the provincial arena making his Canterbury debut in 1972 and suffered the ignominy of having his first ball struck for four, a fate which also befell his first delivery at test level. Yet in just his third match he took a hat-trick (three wickets in as many balls) ear-marking him as a player of distinct promise.

Hadlee made his New Zealand debut in the 1972–73 season but for the first few years was more a fringe member of the side until 1976 when against India in Wellington he ran through the visitors' second innings bagging seven for 23 and a match analysis of 11 for 58 in leading New Zealand to victory.

His career gathered momentum from there but not just for his express bowling. Hadlee was a genuine all-rounder and his aggressive left-hand batting in the middle order destroyed many an attack.

He gained cult hero status in 1977 with his blazing bat and furious fast bowling against Australia in Auckland where the animated crowd struck up the chant "had-lee" as he charged into bowl.

Probably the biggest turning point in his life came when he turned fully professional in 1978, spending his New Zealand winter plying his trade at English county Nottinghamshire. "That decision reshaped my life," Hadlee said later. "I discovered the true meaning of the word professional and applied that lesson to my life outside the game as well as to how I approached it."

If anything Hadlee's sublime skills were more appreciated in England, the game's home. In the early 1980s Hadlee believed that if he was to have longevity in the sport he had to reduce his run-up to preserve his body, so he controversially cut it back which caused ructions in New Zealand with many fearing it would reduce his potency. Even New Zealand captain Geoff Howarth was among the detractors, but Hadlee proved the critics wrong by gaining greater accuracy, enhancing his performance three-fold and extending his career to 1990 retiring at the age of 39.

Hadlee's most compelling bowling performance came in 1985–86 when he took nine for 52 against Australia at Brisbane, the best figures by a New Zealander in its test history, and had a hand in the tenth, claiming the catch. In the second innings Hadlee grabbed six for 71 as New Zealand swept to a magnificent victory by an innings and 41 runs. Hadlee finished with 33 wickets at an average of 12 in just a three-test series and New Zealand had its first series triumph over its trans-Tasman rival.


Hadlee's career is studded with similar stellar moments almost at every turn. However, it was not all fame and fortune. The pressure of playing back-to-back seasons with massive expectations and being constantly in the public eye took its toll and in 1983 Hadlee experienced mental health issues.

These, allied to a virus he contracted, saw Hadlee taken from the field in a daze during an exhibition match at Rotorua. Hadlee cancelled all commitments for a fortnight and took a family holiday in Rarotonga. When be returned he met with Christchurch motivational expert Grahame Felton who helped get his life back on track. He returned to the game he loved and against England later that season led New Zealand to a home series victory taking 21 wickets and striking a match winning 99 in a low-scoring match at Christchurch.

As befitted a legendary figure, Hadlee finished his career on a high note in 1990. He was knighted for his service to the sport that year and toured England with the New Zealand team, dismissing England's Devon Malcolm with the last ball he bowled at test level.

Although he occasionally ruffled his teammates with his single-minded focus, Hadlee invariably conducted himself with the dignity befitting a gentleman's game.

After he retired from competitive cricket Hadlee was taken ill in 1991 with an irregular heart beat and needed surgery to correct the complaint. He served the game in other capacities as an ambassador for the Bank of New Zealand from 1990–2008 and was a New Zealand selector for eight years from 2000.

His place as one of New Zealand's sporting giants in unquestioned and was reflected in his being named New Zealand sportsperson of the decade in 1987. In 2009 Sir Richard Hadlee was inducted into the I.C.C. World Cricket Hall of Fame.

By Geoff Longley (Copyright © March 2009 Local Heroes Trust)

Geoff Longley is a Christchurch cricket writer who charted Hadlee's glittering career from beginning to end. He wrote on the sport for the Christchurch Star from 1975 to 1991 and then for The Press from 1992.

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