Richard Hadlee must be having sleepless nights these days. The peerless all rounder, one of the greatest cricketers of all time, did the most in lifting New Zealand from the cellar position in world cricket to a situation where they could not just challenge the best sides in the world but also defeat them.
In the seventies and eighties, New Zealand provided formidable opposition and were good enough to win matches everywhere and not just at home. He provided the inspiration for numerous young cricketers with the result that even after Hadlee retired in 1990, the new generation of players took over the baton and the Kiwis continued to be dangerous opponents.
Their record in Test cricket was impressive while their upward graph in limited overs cricket continued and this meant they were no longer the perennial bridesmaids but title contenders and this was driven home by their triumph in the ICC Champions Trophy in Nairobi in 2000.
Even during the formative years when they were the whipping boys of international cricket, New Zealand were not without their great cricketers. Names such as Martin Donnelly, Charlie Dempster, Bert Sutcliffe, John Reid, Graham Dowling, Bevan Congdon and Dick Motz shone in losing causes.
There were the occasional victories but till Hadlee appeared on the scene New Zealand generally occupied the bottom place in the rankings. Glenn Turner through dedication and discipline transformed himself into a world class opening batsman good enough to carry his bat twice in Tests. But he was not the kind who could win matches for his team.
Through sheer dynamism first with ball and then with bat, Hadlee saw to it that New Zealand cricket went through a metamorphosis and proved that one man could uplift the entire team by instilling in the players a sense of confidence that they were as good as anyone else in the cricketing world. Much the same could be said about Imran Khan in Pakistan and Sunil Gavaskar in India who appeared on the scene around the same time.
Through the 70s and 80s thanks mainly to Hadlee and then through the 90s and into the first decade of the new millennium thanks to his successors for whom he had been the icon, New Zealand’s upward surge continued. As with most other teams they were particularly difficult to beat at home.
They were in fact the last side to defeat West Indies in a Test series (in 1980) and the Caribbean side remained unbeaten thereafter till 1995 when Australia finally dethroned them. India for one came to know how hard it is to win in New Zealand for when they finally won a Test series there in 2009, it was for the first time in 41 years that they emerged triumphant. And one of the worst debacles in the history of Indian cricket occurred in New Zealand in 2002-03. Not only were both Tests lost but India went down in three days each time.
But of course too much must not be made of New Zealand’s supremacy at home. As I said they have won matches all round the cricketing world including Test rubbers in England, Australia, West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka besides sharing contests in India and South Africa.
Their most notable feat was getting the better of Australia twice in the same season (1985-86) winning both at home and away. Over the last two decades New Zealand have produced worthy successors to Hadlee in Graeme Wright, Nathan Astle, Chris Cairns, Martin Crowe, Stephen Fleming, Daniel Vettori, Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum.
Such thoughts come to mind after seeing New Zealand being beaten black and blue by South Africa in the just concluded two Test series. That’s why I mentioned at the start that Hadlee must be having sleepless nights. Not only were both matches lost but the Kiwis went down without a fight, by an innings each time, once in three days while the second Test was over before lunch on the fourth day.
The nadir was being bowled out for 45 in the first Test. All this might have been acceptable in the bad old days but not when New Zealand have studiously built up their reputation both as fighters and entertainers. In the latter category they don’t come any better than McCullum, the only man to hit two hundreds in T-20 internationals.
It must also not be forgotten that Astle holds the record for the fastest double hundred in Test match history – 153 balls against England. And when it comes to a fighter they don’t come any better than Vettori who after an ordinary start to his career has transformed himself into one of the most dependable players in international cricket.
Under the circumstances the capitulation to South Africa is a bit difficult to digest. South Africa are the No 1 ranked team in the game and they are a formidable all round unit. Also New Zealand were without Vettori, Taylor and Jesse Ryder. Yes, and events leading to the trip to South Africa were not exactly pleasant. Still this kind of debacle is unacceptable.
The setback in South Africa should drive home the lesson that New Zealand cricket will have to put their house in order if they want to compete successfully. At full strength the Kiwis have the team to stretch the best in the game and improve considerably on their Test ranking which at the moment is a lowly eighth.
The administrators and the players should sink their differences, Taylor should be reinstated as captain and Vettori and Ryder brought back. In an upbeat scenario New Zealand could well bring out their best as they have done so often since the heyday of Hadlee leaving the great man to have a blissful sleep at nights.