Resplendent in traditional Indian headwear and a silk jacket delivered by his friend Roger Bhatnagar, Hadlee beamed as he sat atop his cricketing Everest in Bangalore.
It was November 12, 1988, and the world record was finally his, having passed Ian Botham’s haul of 373 test wickets. He would remain on that lofty perch until 1994, nearly four years after his retirement when Kapil Dev topped his final tally of 431.
“To be a pacesetter, and a New Zealander to do it which was unheard of, and to manage to hang onto it for another five or so years… To be the one for others to chase was significant in my career,” Hadlee recalled.
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It was only part one of the story of a remarkable cricket test. Unable to field 11 players when the whole team except Ian Smith were flattened by illness after an official function, they summoned radio commentator and former skipper Jeremy Coney and TV reporter Ken Nicholson to don the whites. Hadlee and Chris Kuggeleijn, catcher of the world record wicket of Arun Lal, were barely able to stand but they played on.
Thirty years on, Stuff talked to some key figures in Hadlee’s test.
TWO FALSE STARTS – NOW THE RECORD
He’s felt a lot better, Sir Richard, but remains sharp and upbeat on the phone from his Christchurch home.
Having been through two cancer surgeries this year and still undergoing chemotherapy, our greatest cricketer prefers not to discuss his health but accepts an invitation to walk down memory lane to Bangalore.
In 1988 expectation had built to fever pitch. Hadlee took his 373rd wicket, Australian Tony Dodemaide, the previous December before batting bunny Mike Whitney denied New Zealand a test victory, and Hadlee his 374th, in an epic Boxing Day test at the MCG.
Then England, with Hadlee’s Nottinghamshire team-mates Tim Robinson and Chris Broad potential record victims, toured in February and a big home crowd at Lancaster Park was silenced. Hadlee hobbled off just before tea on day one of the first test, wicketless, after suffering a calf strain, his series over. He felt he’d failed.
Hadlee also vowed never to return to India after a horror first visit in 1976. He says now: “Regrettable comments to make. When you’re on your first tour and you find it difficult and you’re sick for half the tour you think it’s not a place you want to return to. With time attitudes change.”
After toiling through a Christchurch winter to regain full fitness, Hadlee was on the plane under captain John Wright and coach Bob Cunis.
It started well: Hadlee tore through West Zone at Rajkot and took 9-55, eerily close to those magical test figures of 9-52 from Brisbane three years earlier.
“John Bracewell got the other one. There were a fair number of lbw decisions in my favour which was a surprise. The umpire was PD Reporter and in the test series I don’t think I got one out of him.”
‘THE ROLLS ROYCE OF FAST BOWLERS’
Hadlee had never been to Chinnaswamy Stadium but found photographs and visualised Indian opener Kris Srikkanth in his crouched stance, wearing a blue helmet, going after him and edging behind to Smith for the record.
“We practiced there and I got used to the surroundings, a big stadium, a lovely ground. We lost the toss and bowled first, and all my visualisation and dreams were shattered when Srikkanth walked out to bat in a white helmet which upset me a bit.
“There was another batsman walking out who I’d hardly heard of, Arun Lal, a diminutive fellow, and I bowled an untidy first over.”
Hadlee was, and still is, revered in India and a big crowd was in, with thousands more outside reacting to roars they heard from inside.
Smith told him to pitch the ball up more and in Hadlee’s third over the English Dukes ball found Lal’s edge at comfortable knee height to test debutant Kuggeleijn at third slip.
Back in New Zealand there was no live TV coverage and Bryan Waddle’s radio commentary down a crackly line captured the moment. “The Rolls Royce of fast bowlers opens a new page in cricket history,” is the line that stands out for Hadlee.
He’d done it. Hadlee waved to the crowd and skittled Srikkanth soon afterwards for No 375. India were 243-3 at stumps and the dressing room celebrations began.
“It was sheer delight and relief. This wicket had been contemplated for so long, it was there for the taking and all of a sudden it became a reality. All the players gathered around and congratulated me, my wife at the time, Karen, was there at the ground.
“I got tied up in the euphoria of the whole thing but the key point was it was done quickly and we got on with the game. But we got beaten.”
And they got ill. Very ill.
‘IT WAS COMING OUT EITHER END, AT SPEED’
Chris Kuggeleijn was 32 and surprised to be picked in the test squad for India.
“I was more a one-day player and I’d gone OK, but if they were picking a test side I probably wouldn’t have got in it. Martin Crowe was crook so I ended up playing test cricket which I didn’t think I was going to.”
A key member of the social committee, and a good fielder, Kuggeleijn quipped those two factors sealed his spot.
So he crouched at third slip on a brilliantly fine Bangalore day, completing a cordon of Smith, Mark Greatbatch and Bracewell, wondering who would be part of the great fast bowler’s milestone.
“I wasn’t sitting there thinking ‘I hope he nicks it to me’, I was just hoping like hell that if something came near me I’d catch it,” Kuggeleijn said.
“It came at a nice height and a nice speed and most third graders would have caught it.”
But the more vivid memories for Kuggeleijn are of what happened next.
On the night before the rest day the team were invited to a banquet, as Wright later described it: “the chance to meet a thousand or so local cricket administrators in a room the size of a lift”.
At 2am, Kuggeleijn woke in an awful state. It got worse and he says he lost 7kg in four days.
“Richard and I just couldn’t go to the ground. Honestly, I was just in the bath because it was coming out either end at speed. Some little Indian man was ramming needles into me trying to stop it.
“We had to go out and bat so we got in a tuk-tuk and I was described as ‘the ghostly Kuggeleijn’. My first ball in test cricket I just remember Kapil Dev running in and I tried to hit it, it hit me on the pad and that was me gone. It was back to the hutch and back to sleep.”
Kuggeleijn batted below Ewen Chatfield at No 11 then Hadlee, who’d been not out overnight, returned to the crease with New Zealand still two runs short of avoiding the follow-on.
Said Hadlee: “I didn’t know where I was; I didn’t even walk to the crease, I walked more to where the umpire was standing. I was so far off course. It might have been Kapil who helped me get to the right place to take guard.
“Charlie Chatfield squirted one down to third man and ran all the way to my end and I was on my haunches, he ran all the way back and ran two for nothing. He was pretty annoyed because runs to him were like hens’ teeth.
“We were three or four runs short and Kapil bowled to me and I slashed at one which went for four and we got across the line. We did what we had to.”
‘WHO IS THE LITTLE FAT MAN AT COVER’
Ken Nicholson was a handy seamer who played 20 years for Southland, and one first-class match for Otago, as he began a media career.
He struck up a friendship with Cunis playing Hawke Cup cricket and when he was sent to India to cover Hadlee’s impending record for TVNZ, the coach told Nicholson to bring his boots as a net bowler. On day four in Bangalore he was required for more than net bowling.
“Cuni rang me up about 6am and said ‘you know those boots, could you bring them to the ground’,” Nicholson recalled.
“I walked along to see Cuni in the hotel we were staying and there were big crosses on the doors not to enter the rooms. There were probably six or seven.”
It was only a year after Coney’s test retirement so he was a sound replacement. Nicholson was in his early 40s, ready and willing. He borrowed some whites from 12th man Danny Morrison and had some warmup catches with Coney. Somehow New Zealand scrambled enough fielders for India’s second innings with an opening attack of Chatfield and Evan Gray, then Bracewell at first change.
Said Nicholson: “They decided so I wouldn’t get involved that they’d bowl leg stump to a 7-2 on-side field. I was in the covers and Paddy Greatbatch at long-off, so I had about 120 yards of boundary to cover and all they did was step outside leg stump and smash it through the covers.
“Wrighty was walking across the pitch and he burst out laughing. One of the batsmen, Sidhu, had stopped him and said ‘I know who Mr Coney is, but who is the little fat man in the covers?’. That annoyed me a bit because I’d lost a stone and a half because I was crook too.”
India rattled up 141-1 declared and even the usually stoic Chatfield was struggling.
“Chats had quite a long run-up for the speed he was. First ball after lunch he ran past the umpire, down the track, past the batsman with the ball still in his hand and out the gate,” Nicholson said.
“Wrighty was white as a ghost. I looked at him and said ‘you’ve got go off’, and he said ‘I can’t, there’s no one else, and I’m captain’. It was like Horatius at the bridge.”
Wright dug in for a gutsy 58 in the second innings but New Zealand were dismissed for 164. Test over.
MEMORABILIA OF A WORLD RECORD
Nicholson’s day one report included pictures of Hadlee’s record wicket from a local TV station which they filed home at 1am.
“It was a great relief and the crowd went berserk. It was a big occasion for cricket.
“I don’t think I would have been on that tour unless it was a big milestone. I only went for the one test then I was ordered to get back to work.”
There was just one photograph of the moment when Kuggeleijn grasped the catch and Hadlee following through, taken by K Gopinathan of the Indian Express. He later wrote how he was mocked by other photographers for his 400mm lens and for snapping every ball Hadlee delivered, having to wind the film after each click.
Hadlee signed a copy for Gopinathan and the picture featured in his book, Rhythm and Swing. Kuggeleijn got a copy too.
“Richard signed it and gave it me, ‘many thanks for sharing a special moment’, and I got it framed and now it’s up at the Lone Star in Hamilton.”
Kuggeleijn, who still teaches and coaches the first XI at Hamilton Boys’ High School, scored a century in the next warmup game at Goa but was dropped for the second test which New Zealand won via Hadlee and Bracewell. He was recalled for the third, and ultimately his last test.
Hadlee still has the ball and everlasting friendships from that match. “It’s mounted and has 374 written on it and was signed by Arun Lal and myself. It’s a pretty shoddy looking ball, scarred and out of shape with no seam on it.
“I saw him [Lal] many years later when he came over to do commentary and we were in studios working together. A lovely fella and in many ways he was part of history the same as [Sanjay] Manjrekar was with the 400 [In Christchurch]. The three of us worked together in New Zealand and we got a photograph of us.”