Jeremy Wells

Jeremy Wells on cricket

Jeremy Wells: Golden era of Hadlee fooled us into believing we're a cricket force

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Richard Hadlee in his golden era. Photo / File
Richard Hadlee in his golden era. Photo / File

A lot of people will be asking why I'm writing a cricket column.

What qualifies me to discuss our summer sport in print?

How many test wickets have I taken ... or have I even played cricket at all?

The answer to those questions is: Not really sure, Richard Hadlee - The New Zealand Story, 0, and yes.

While it's true I haven't played first-class cricket I'm the proud owner of Richard Hadlee's patriotically titled cricket video.

It's through this televisual treasure that my obsession with the game flourished.

(I've also got half shares in a digi-beta copy of the extended highlights of his 9-52 at Brisbane in 1985 - but that's another column).

The VHS begins with the immortal words "I was born on the 3rd of July, 1951", and finishes with a slow-motion homage of Hadlee's rhythmical run-up and delivery set to a soundtrack of experimental electronic library music.

The fact I can recite the entire video by heart, including commentary, says something of the importance that this piece of plastic holds in my life.

For 81 magic minutes the viewer is taken on a spiritual and historical journey back in time. A time when spectators invaded pitches to congratulate batsmen and have their photo taken when they'd scored a century, bowlers' run-ups sometimes measured 40m and the word "recycle" meant collecting empty KB cans to re-use them as a chanting aid.

Hadlee's hagiography takes us back to 1973 where it all began for the young quick from Canterbury. And as we watch him develop from a raw rip-off of Dennis Keith Lillee to an abbreviated, calculated wicket-taking machine, it becomes clear the game has come a long way since we owned the best attacking bowling weapon in world cricket. The pitches and bats make batting easier and the umpires are less likely to favour the home team.

You hear a lot of talkback theories about why our current team is under-performing but history tells us we've always under-performed. We didn't win our first test match until 1956.

We have won just one test in the West Indies, never won a series in South Africa or India and we've only won one series apiece in Australia and Pakistan.

Fewer people in New Zealand play cricket than any country that sits above us on the test ladder.

So why do we expect our current crop of youngsters to beat everyone we play against?

Richard Hadlee - The New Zealand Story provides the answer. For those 10 or so years from 1980, when touring teams came here homesick and hungry off the back of torturous tours to Australia, they were fed a displeasing diet of Hadlee, slow green wickets and Fred Goodall. The result was akin to cricketing chlamydia. But we did create the illusion that we were an international force.

Those 10 years were a unique blip in our cricketing history. Sure, Martin Crowe was one of the most elegant players to pick up a slab of willow, but as a cricket nation we're generally hovering somewhere between sixth and eighth.

Do I sound apathetic? Maybe. Does anyone actually care what I think? Probably not. Do I hope that New Zealand win every time they play? Absokiwilutely. But just because we're New Zealanders and we punch above our weight in rowing and other water-based racing sports doesn't mean we'll win every time we take the cricket field.

It takes more than just guts and fitness to win tests. It takes oodles of skill and luck intertwined in such a complex way that it's sometimes hard to decipher which is which.

When we lose seven wickets in a session, as we've always been inclined to do, I just slip Richard Hadlee - The New Zealand Story into my Mitsubishi Black Diamond SR-735 VHS player and let the good times roll.

- NZ Herald

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