ICC WTC Finals: Richard Hadlee declares, ‘Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson world’s best, difficult to tell who will win World Test Championship’

ICC WTC Finals: Richard Hadlee declares, ‘Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson world’s best, difficult to tell who will win World Test Championship’
ICC WTC Finals: Richard Hadlee declares, ‘Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson world’s best, difficult to tell who will win World Test Championship’

ICC WTC Finals: New Zealand great Sir Richard Hadlee on the upcoming ICC World Test Championship Final, Kane Williamson’s batting and leadership, Jasprit Bumrah’s bowling action, and more.

1. At the outset, how is your health been like lately? For scores of Richard Hadlee fans, this question needs a detailed answer before we get to anything else

My health is very good at the moment. In 2015 I had a routine colonoscopy and was all clear of any potential health issues. I was booked in for another routine colonoscopy in 2018 and a cancer tumour was found. I was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer (bowel and liver). Two separate surgeries followed removing a third of the bowel and 15% of the liver – the gall bladder was also removed and then I had to deal with 5 months of chemotherapy which was an ugly experience and sapped all my energy – I also lost 10 kilos during that period. Today, I have regular checkups every 3 months (blood tests and scans if necessary). Fingers crossed for the future!

2. From Glenn Turner’s team in 1975 to the missed opportunity in 2015 to the 2019 heartbreak in England, New Zealand have come agonisingly close to an ICC world cup before letting it go. Do you see the World Test Championship final in the same bracket as winning a World Cup, or probably a notch higher, given the format? A chance for New Zealand to make up for all those lost opportunities.

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We have a proud record in 50 over world cups, Yes, those near misses were frustrating and disappointing but we were so close to winning in 2019 at Lord’s. I would go as far to say there were no winners and losers on that day – it was just by a technicality that England won! Both teams scored the same amount of runs in 50 overs and in the super over. The match was tied. In the old days, New Zealand would have won because they lost less wickets in their 50 overs. A fair result would have been both teams sharing the world cup honours or at the very least another super over until a true winner was determined.

The Test Championship is a one-off game. Yes, it is a final, but I don’t think either team will be too fazed about it. It is a neutral ground with no home team advantage. It is something to look forward to. Both teams deserve to be contesting the final because of their consistent playing performances over a set period of time. It all comes down as to who is better prepared and who adapts better to the English conditions the quickest. The weather may also play a part and if it is cold that will favour New Zealand. The Duke ball will suit both team’s fast bowlers especially the genuine swing bowlers and the Kiwis are well served in that department with Southee, Boult and Jamieson. If the ball seams around off the pitch, batsmen in both teams will be challenged. Both teams have high class batsmen so it will be an interesting game to watch. It is too difficult to call a winner at this stage.

3. India has time and again been bracketed as a country that is turned cricket a wee bit garish and money-making enterprise, thanks to the advent of the Indian Premier League (IPL). But, also at the same time, India has upheld its priorities towards Test cricket, and it shows in their consistency, the rankings and some recent big overseas accomplishments – such as the one in Australia. Your perspective on India’s contribution to Test cricket post the turn of the century?

There is no doubt India produces a lot of revenue for cricket especially through television rights, sponsorships, advertising, attracting big crowds and through tournaments like IPL etc. Without India, the face of world cricket would be very different, therefore cricket needs India.

India has made an outstanding contribution to Test cricket – in fact, all formats of the game. Their Test performances in Australia were outstanding even though they had that blip and were bowled out for 36. They bounced back superbly well, and Test cricket came alive again – it attracted a lot of interest and their performances in Australia was a remarkable achievement especially with so many youngsters having to come into the team and perform. India has a great depth of talented players in all formats of the game, waiting for their chances to be selected and show the world what they have to offer.

Personally, I am a great supporter of Test cricket. That’s all I knew when I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. Yes, one-day cricket gained momentum in the mid 70’s but there were not many games back then. In the 80’s one-day cricket really took-off. For me, Test cricket still remains the format to play. It is the foundation on which the game is based, and it must be protected and preserved at all costs. If we lose sight of or neglect Test cricket, we will lose it and not get it back. It is the responsibility of all countries and players alike to keep the Test game alive and cherish the moment when they are playing that format. Test cricket is a real test of a players mental, physical (fitness), technical, tactical, and skill set ability and attributes over 5 days in changing pitch and weather conditions and in different match situations that players need to adapt to. There is no other game like it.

There is room for all three formats of the game to co-exist and live together. Test cricket is real cricket. One-day cricket is and has been an ideal format for those who want another option. T20 cricket for me is not real cricket as we know it, but a form of cricket due to all the innovative skills a batsman and bowler requires – it is a high-risk game with many limitations and few opportunities for most players to excel in and perform. In fact, I think it is a frustrating game for many players, but the financial rewards are great that will off-set any disappointments. At least television and fans love T20 cricket and it is an exciting game to watch and enjoy.

4. What do you make of Kane Williamson? Martin Crowe had foretold that by the time Kane is done, he’ll be New Zealand’s greatest batsman ever. Williamson doesn’t look content at just being New Zealand’s best ever. He’s going way beyond that. Your view of the man and his cricket…

Martin Crowe was a great player and thinker of the game. He was the best New Zealand batsman in my time – a touch of class. Greatness is a word that is often misused or overused. No one becomes a great player in just a few years. Players need to perform and excel against the best opposition in different conditions all over the world over an extended period of time. There are many average players, some good players, some very good ones, but greatness is earned from your peers and astute judges of the game and is bestowed on only a few.

Martin’s assessment of Kane is absolutely right. Kane has earned his stripes to be recognized as a great player now and in all formats of the game. By the time he ends his career he will have all the New Zealand batting records for most runs scored, most hundreds and a world class batting average. Kane has worked on his game and handles pressure extremely well – his temperament is outstanding – he knows his limitations and thrives on his strengths. He keeps his batting game simple, and he has a proven method that is effective. He collects his runs and then he can use his power game by playing proper and at times innovative cricket shots. Through one-day cricket he has expanded his shot selection capabilities – there does not appear to be any obvious weaknesses in his game. His leadership has also grown – his body language suggests he is calm and in control of what he is doing, and his personality appears to be unflappable and consistent. He is a student of the game and has a very good understanding of how he can get the best out of himself and his players. As for any captain, tactics and strategies employed will evolve from game to game, format to format and what the match situation demands. He is doing a fine job in the leading New Zealand in that role.

5. Do you endorse Virat Kohli’s brand of cricket – the aggression, that in-your-face thing he brings to the field of play? He is such an antithesis to Williamson. And yet, they are competing neck and neck to be the world’s best. Your views on Virat…

All sports at the highest level, is about competing. It is finding a way to win a game and gain an advantage over one’s opponent. There will always been a fine line as to whether gamesmanship from a player or a team goes too far. Umpires and match referees will control this situation and penalties imposed if anything is unacceptable. I quite like seeing any player expressing themself towards the opposition by having a real presence – it is a form of intimidation that can be unsettling, and a tactic used by many sportspeople. Having said that, sportsmanship and fair play is still paramount, so it is finding that balance between doing what is right and expected from a player instead of going too far and bringing the game into disrepute.

I see Virat as being a very passionate and competitive cricketer with a strong desire for himself and the team to succeed. He is a proud man and a world class player – a delight to watch. The pressure and expectations on him to ‘win’ is enormous. There are millions of Indian fans who idolize him which puts great pressure on him. Virat is responsible for ensuring that Indian cricket remains competitive and be one of the best teams in the world. However, fans still need to understand that we are all human and champions will fail from time to time – any cricketer can score a duck or get no wickets which is deemed to be a failure, but when a player succeeds, everyone is happy, except perhaps the opposition!

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6. Other than Jacques Kallis, can you point out all-rounders post the turn of the century who have impressed you? Is the very idea of a quintessential allrounder still existent? We have not seen the likes of an Imran, Kapil, Botham, Hadlee happening to world cricket in close to 25 years now… (barring Kallis) …

The battle of the all-rounders in the 70’s and 80’s was a special time. We all competed against each other and there was a strong desire and determination to succeed – I did not want to get out to the others, and I wanted to secure their wicket as they did mine. My role in the team was to out-perform Imy, Beefy or Kaps with either the bat or ball or do both during the same match. Often the allrounder who had performed the better in the game affected the outcome of the match. Whilst there was tremendous rivalry between the four of us, there was also mutual respect for each other.

The allrounder has a unique ability to turn or win a game with a brilliant and inspired individual bowling or batting performance – if they can do both in the same game only one team is going to win. Therefore, the allrounder is a very important player in the team – someone who could bowl fast or be a reliable third seamer or be a good spin bowler and bat in the top 6 or 7 is deemed to be a valuable member of the team. Allrounders are generally given that title if their batting average is significantly higher than their bowling average. Depending on the allrounder’s strength, he could be termed a batting allrounder or a bowling allrounder. I was bowling allrounder with my bowling being my strength and my batting the weaker part of my game.

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The allrounder in Test cricket is vital to a team’s balance and plays a big role in the final selection of that team. In one-day cricket, there are allrounders often called ‘bits and pieces’ players who do a bit of bowling and a bit of batting. It would be a good debate to say whether they are genuine allrounders or not, but they still have a role to play in the team and contribute with the odd wicket or two and score some useful runs down the order, sometimes at crucial times to help win a game.

Jacques Kallis was an outstanding player – an all-rounder of high quality and hugely motivated. He was a wonderful batsman which was his great strength, and his bowling complimented the South African pace attack. Statistically, he is the best allrounder in the history of the game. There will be some strong debate as to who is the best allrounder of all time in the game? Sir Garfield Sobers may still have that title – a superb attacking batsman, left arm pace and swing bowler who could also bowl spin, outstanding fielder, and captain of the West Indies. He did it all and thrilled crowds all over the world – a legend of the game of cricket.

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Over the years players like Keith Miller, Tony Greig, Andrew Flintoff and Shaun Pollock have excited the world with their all-round skills. Today, when I look at allrounders, Ben Stokes stands out as the number one allrounder in the game – he is a competitor, a quality batsman and handy bowler who adds balance to the attack and to the team selection. He has certainly single-handedly won games for England. Ravindra Jadeja, Shakib Al Hasan, Colin de Grandhomme, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes and Jason Holder are all worthy allrounders in their own right. No doubt there are many more players who would like to call themselves allrounders!

7. What do you make of Jasprit Bumrah? With that kind of an action, does he have a long career ahead of him? Biomechanics have had a lot to say about him and whether he manages to prolong his career to the fullest with that action…

Being a fast bowler is a highly unnatural thing to do. Running in from 20 paces, gathering pace, taking off at delivery, bowling a ball at 140-150 kilometres, cartwheeling, twisting and turning, following through and then stopping, takes its toll on the body. Then the process is repeated time and time again.

Fast bowling is an explosive sequence of highly coordinated movements – it is about rhythm, timing, and co-ordination and not necessary about brute strength. All fast bowlers will have their own way of developing and fine tuning their actions to get the best result of delivering the ball to get to the batsman. Some bowlers have simple classical and effective actions, others will have unorthodox and unusual actions, and some will have short or long run ups.

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Jasprit fits into the unorthodox bowling category with virtually no run up to the crease. His technique in some ways defies belief but has proved to be a highly effective one. He is what I call a shoulder or strength bowler with all his power and pace coming from the final part of his action as he releases the ball. It would be very difficult to coach his technique to an aspiring fast bowler and I think a coach would refrain from doing from that because biomechanically it could cause problems with injury. However, I suspect some youngsters may try to imitate him. I believe you let aspiring young fast bowlers do it their way but help to fine tune some the skill sets and finer subtleties of bowling.

Jasprit’s longevity in the game is yet to be determined. I suspect he could be more vulnerable to injury problems than those fast bowlers with more classical and ‘pure’ actions or techniques. Some of his potential injuries could be severe because of the stresses and strains he places on his body. I hope any injuries he may incur will not be potentially career ending because he is a delight to watch, and he causes batsmen all sorts of problems with his unsuspecting pace, bounce, and ball movement in the air and off the pitch.

8. Both New Zealand and India enjoy a good pace attack. You see this WTC final turning out to be a bowler’s Test match? Also, there is a reserve day. Just like the good old days. A more guaranteed way to derive a result.

Yes, we had rest days in the 1970s. Sometimes I looked forward to a day off! Rest days were only good because it allowed especially bowlers an extra day to recover from a heavy workload. The disadvantage of rest days is that the momentum of the game can be lost. A team in control of the game would rather keep playing and finish the job off. Rest days can change the course of the match as everyone has a chance to freshen up and revisit strategies. Players also had to switch-on again and be mentally prepared to perform and this did not always happen in my time. Not so sure if rest days guarantees extra results. It appears today, we still get a lot of good results in 4 or 5 days play anyway.

9. New Zealand is a small country, with a population of 5.06m – around one-fourth of Mumbai alone. In that, not cricket but rugby has been the country’s top sport. To remain competitive year after year in cricket at the global level, with a lesser pool of potential manpower to choose from – what has been the key to New Zealand’s cricketing resolve?

As a small country, there are people who say we don’t have the numbers of people to choose from to be competitive on the international scene. I see our small population base as an advantage because the best sportspeople are spotted early and will come through the system and be given the resources they need. In bigger countries many talented sportspeople may not be seen or be overlooked and miss out on an opportunity, simply because there are too many people to choose from. Sportspeople in New Zealand are recognized and picked up very quickly. There is a saying in New Zealand that ‘we punch above our weight’ in international sport. The fact is, we have produced world record holders, world champions, Olympic gold medalists and we compete in many sports including rugby, cricket, hockey, sailing and yachting, motor racing, netball to name a few.

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Rugby is our national game and cricket is our summer game. In rugby we are highly regarded, respected and generally top ranked – we win a high percentage of games, more than any other country and secure many victories especially in the final 20 minutes of play with a power game where players impose themselves on the opposition. The aura of the ‘silver fern’ and black jersey is often intimidating and feared by the opposition which gives the All Blacks a mental advantage. The tradition and history of the game is part of our national culture. Expectations are high from our team.

Cricket has always held its own during the summer especially today. We compete in all formats. Players are full time professional players, and they gain added experience by playing in overseas tournaments such as IPL, BBL and on scheduled New Zealand tours to other countries. There are career paths available for young players to pursue through academies and High-Performance coaching support. There is support staff in specialized areas and with access to technology, it allows our cricketers to gain more knowledge and be better prepared than ever before to achieve at the highest level. Players get well looked after today. They sit in the front of planes whereas we sat in the back of planes – they are accommodated in 5-Star hotels or apartments whereas we were put in motel units. How times have changed!