I could have gone for any of about a dozen West Indians. Or one of the Indian top six. Instead, I’ve gone for Paddles.
Hadlee for me is the bowler of the 80s. When the MCC gathered together the world’s best players for its Bicentennial Test in 1987, it was inevitable that when Marshall took the new ball from one end, Hadlee should be at the other.
There was a sense that he was a “made” player. Sure, he had abundant talent, but he seemed to extract every ounce from that talent by sheer hard work and dedication. There was something austere about him – sergeant-major moustache, sweat bands at his wrists – that seemed anachronistic in this louche decade. He was better suited to the fifties, when you could imagine his image – furrowed of brow and short-sleever slung over his shoulder – being among the more collectible of cigarette cards.
His bowling, in those 83 and 86 series in England, was efficiency personified. Gone was the galloping long-distance run up of his youth. He glided in off twelve paces, an action as honed as there has ever been, to deliver those snapping, spitting leg-cutters. He wasted nothing – a delivery, an ounce of energy, or words in the batsman’s direction.
His batting was a decadent counterpoint to the metronomic bowling – he was as wildly exuberant with the bat as he was disciplined with the ball. He only averaged 27 with the bat in Tests with two hundreds – a poor return for such prodigious talent. I remember thunderous back foot drives and savage pulls over mid-wicket.
He was a model 80s international, too, in his dedication to the county game. Like Marshall at Hampshire, Hadlee gave his adopted county his all. He was as Nottingham as DH Lawrence – in whose novels he might well have made a fleeting guest appearance, perhaps as a police constable investigating odd goings-on amongst the mining folk, raising a sceptical eyebrow and jotting it all down in his notebook
He did the double in 1984, studiously ticking off the runs and wickets in a foolscap notebook at the close of every game. He left nothing to chance. No wonder he and Botham didn’t get on.
He recently criticised Brett Lee for his MCG mauling of the hapless Piers Morgan. It wasn’t cricket, and might put the youngsters off. Entirely appropriate. If the game needed a guardian for its nobler values, or a lad in Mumbai or Manchester a role model, none fits the bill better than Sir Richard Hadlee.
So the Kiwi takes the crown for me. Who would your cricketer of the 80s be?