Former Nottinghamshire captain Paul Johnson has described Sir Richard Hadlee as the “Rolls Royce” of bowlers after the New Zealand legend was voted the county’s best player of all-time in a fan poll this week.
Hadlee claimed the honour, as part of the ECB’s ongoing series asking fans to determine each county’s greatest player, with 39 per cent of the votes cast ahead of Chris Read (34%), Harold Larwood (17%) and Clive Rice (9%).
And while Johnson admitted he had opted for his former skipper Rice in the vote, he had no doubt Hadlee was fully deserved of the fans’ recognition following a phenomenal Notts career that saw him score 5,854 runs and take 622 wickets – at a stunning average of just 14.51 – during 148 first-class matches between 1978 and 1987.
Such was Hadlee’s dominance during that time that he won the Professional Cricketers’ Association Player of the Year award three times.
He helped Notts to the 1981 and 1987 County Championship titles and was man of the match as they defeated Northamptonshire in the 1987 National Westminster Bank Trophy final at Lord’s.
Asked if he was surprised that Hadlee had been given this accolade, Johnson replied: “No, not at all. But I have to be honest and say I voted for Clive Rice!
“I’m a little biased, he was my captain and I learnt more about cricket from him than from anyone else.
“But I fully understand how the public feel about Richard. For about 12 years running he was in the top five wicket-takers in the country and he was number one in many of them.
“He was the Rolls Royce of bowlers but Ricey knew how to use him. He was a genius at putting him on at the right time against the right players.
“It worked; Richard would get a high percentage of his wickets against the opposition’s top order.
“He could be ruthless when he wanted to be. On his worst days he was thoroughly professional and economical, on his best he was devastating.”
Hadlee’s all-round statistical overview is hard to match, with his Notts first-class runs coming at an average of 38.76.
His top score of 210 not out came against Middlesex at Lord’s in 1984, while his best match haul of wickets was eight for 41 against Lancashire at Trent Bridge in 1985.
He also played in 160 one-day matches for Notts – culminating in that Lord’s final win against Northants – and signed off his international career against England at Edgbaston in 1990 with five for 53 to finish with 431 Test victims.
But it was his fierce drive to be the best that set Hadlee apart.
Johnson spent six seasons alongside the Kiwi all-rounder and while he rarely indulged in mind games with opposition batsmen – his class with the ball meant it was hardly required – the former Notts skipper did recall him having a point to prove to West Indies batsmen one summer after a tour to the Caribbean.
“He had come back from a winter tour of the West Indies and clearly wasn’t happy about what had gone on,” he said.
“We had a lot of rain early on in the season and during that time he taught me how to play backgammon.
“As we sat there playing, I asked him about it. ‘I could have batted in shorts and flip-flops’, he said. ‘They tried to kill me’.
“He dished it out to Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding, and when we went to Tunbridge Wells he gave Eldine Baptiste a fearful working over."
Paul Johnson on Sir Richard Hadlee
“For the rest of that summer he tried to pick off any West Indies players one-by-one.
“Whenever they came out to bat he stepped it up a gear and bowled really quickly at them.
“He dished it out to (Malcolm) Marshall and (Michael) Holding and when we went to Tunbridge Wells he gave Eldine Baptiste a fearful working over.
“’Man, what have I done to you?’ said Eldine.
“Hadlee just replied, 'Your mates aren’t here now!'
“That was about as near as he’d get to sledging anyone. But he certainly got retribution against them that summer.”
Former wicketkeeper-batsman Read, who led Notts to the 2010 County Championship title and to one-day final wins at Lord’s in both 2013 and 2017, finished second in the poll behind Hadlee.
Larwood, the scourge of the Australian batting line-up during the 1932/33 Ashes series, took the bronze medal position.
The paceman, one of the quickest bowlers of his generation, took 1,247 first-class wickets for Notts from exactly 300 matches
Another title-winning captain, Rice, completed the top four. The South African all-rounder played alongside Hadlee during the county’s 1980s glory years.
Under Rice’s leadership Notts won two titles and two one-day finals.
Amongst other players to receive nominations but not make the final four were such county stalwarts as Derek Randall, Tim Robinson, Stuart Broad, Andre Adams, Samit Patel and Sir Garfield Sobers.
In topping the poll Hadlee becomes the latest name to be added to the ECB’s list of county greats.
Those nominated so far are: Wayne Madsen (Derbyshire), Paul Collingwood (Durham), Sir Alastair Cook (Essex), Robert Croft (Glamorgan), WG Grace (Gloucestershire), Malcolm Marshall (Hampshire), Colin Cowdrey (Kent), James Anderson (Lancashire), David Gower (Leicestershire), Denis Compton (Middlesex) and Allan Lamb (Northamptonshire).
Upcoming polls from the remaining county sides will appear on Twitter at @CountyChamp.