Hadlee was appointed MBE in 1980 and knighted in 1990 for services to cricket. He is currently the chairman of the New Zealand board of selectors. He is regarded as one of the greatest fast bowlers and all-rounders of all time.
A bowling all-rounder, in an 86-Test career he took 431 wickets (at the time the world record), and was the first bowler to pass 400 wickets, with an average of 22.29, and made 3124 Test runs at 27.16, including two centuries and 15 fifties.
Sir Richard is rated by many experts as the greatest exponent of bowling with the new ball. He was the master of (conventional) swing and was the original Sultan of Swing. Along with Malcolm "Macko" Marshall, Sir Richard was seen as the finest fast bowler of his time, despite the contemporaneous presence of Dennis Lillee, Imran Khan, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Wasim Akram among others.
As one of the four top all rounders of his time, the others being Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Ian Botham, Sir Richard was probably the best bowler of them all, but his batting was not in the same class as the others.
Born in Christchurch, Hadlee made his first class debut for Canterbury in 1971/72 and his test match debut in 1973 - on both occasions, his first delivery was dispatched to the boundary. Hadlee was an inconsistent performer at test level for several years; however a breakthrough performance against India in 1976 in which he took 11 wickets in a game resulting in a win by New Zealand cemented his place in the side. In 1978, Hadlee helped New Zealand to an historic first win over England by taking 6 for 26 in England's second innings, bowling the visitors out for 64 chasing a target of 137.
In 1980, New Zealand faced the West Indies in a home test series at a time when the West Indies were a formidable world cricket power. In the first test in Dunedin New Zealand achieved a shock 1-wicket win, thanks in no small part to Hadlee's 11 wickets in the game. In the second test of the series, Hadlee recorded his maiden test century, helping New Zealand draw the test and win the series 1-0. The result was the start of a 12 year unbeaten home record for New Zealand in test match series. He was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1980 Queen's Birthday Honours.
A tour to England in 1983 saw New Zealand register their first ever test win on English soil, at Headingley. The match was remarkable for Hadlee's match return of 0 for 89, a very unusual occurrence in a New Zealand victory during his career. England eventually won the 4 test series 3-1, however Hadlee topped both batting and bowling averages for New Zealand in the series, and took his 200th test wicket in the final test at Nottingham. In the return test series in New Zealand in 1984, New Zealand completed a remarkable 3 day innings victory (including one day lost to rain) over England at Christchurch, in which England were dismissed for less than 100 in both of their innings. The match was also notable for Hadlee's superb all round performance - he took 8 wickets in the match, and scored a rapid-fire 99 in New Zealand's only innings.
1985 brought on a period in which Hadlee developed from a very good fast bowler to a truly great one. In New Zealand's tour to Australia, an outstanding all-round performance helped destroy the home team in the first test at Brisbane, beginning with a personal test best 9 for 52 in Australia's first innings. A batting effort of 54 (to complement a fine 188 by Martin Crowe) combined with 6 more wickets in Australia's second innings, helped New Zealand to a crushing innings victory. Hadlee followed this up with 7 wickets in a loss in the second test, and 11 wickets in a New Zealand victory in the third test, giving his country their first series win on Australian soil and a personal haul of 33 wickets in 3 tests. In the first test of the return series in New Zealand, Hadlee took his 300th test wicket by trapping Australian captain Allan Border LBW. The series was eventually won 1-0 by New Zealand.
In 1986 Hadlee helped New Zealand to a 1-0 series win in England, their first over that country in England. Hadlee's outstanding personal performance in the second test at Nottingham (his county 'home') where he took 10 wickets and scored 68 in New Zealand's first innings powered his team to victory. Shortly after, New Zealand traveled to Sri Lanka where Hadlee recorded his second test century. His 151 not out in the first test helped New Zealand to save the game, however the tour was unfortunately cut short due to political trouble in Sri Lanka.
Hadlee's appetite for competition against Australia surfaced again in 1987, when in the third test of a 3 match series in Australia he captured 10 wickets and nearly inspired New Zealand to an unlikely series equaling victory. The test ended up resting on Australia's last wicket pair surviving the final over bowled by Hadlee, which they were successful in doing. A wicket in that over would have given New Zealand the victory, and Hadlee the world record for test wickets - a record held at the time by England's Ian Botham. In the following home series against England, the New Zealand public eagerly anticipated the wicket which would give Hadlee sole possession of the world record. However Hadlee broke down injured on the first day of the first test, and was forced to sit out the rest of the series.
The next opportunity for Hadlee to claim the test wicket world record was against India in India in 1988. After touring India in 1976 Hadlee had decided never to play cricket there again, however the opportunity to make history was too strong a lure to pass up. He duly captured the record, and his 374th test wicket, in the first test of the series. In the second test a 10 wicket haul helped New Zealand to a rare test win in India, however the series was eventually lost 2-1.
In a home series against India in 1990, Hadlee become the first bowler in history to take 400 test wickets when he dismissed Sanjay Manjrekar in the second innings of the first test. Shortly after helping New Zealand to another test victory over Australia at Wellington by taking his 100th first class 5 wicket haul in an innings, Hadlee announced that he would be retiring after the upcoming tour to England.
Shortly before the second test of the series in England at Lords, it was announced that Hadlee was to be knighted for his services to cricket. Hadlee did not have his knighthood conferred on him while still a test cricketer: Though the honour was announced in the Queen's Birthday Honours of 16 June 1990, it was only conferred on 4 October 1990, some months after his last test match on 10 July 1990. (Lt.-Col. Sir Maharajkumar Dr. Vijayananda Gajapathi Raju (better known as the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram or Vizzy) is the only person to have a knighthood conferred on him for services to cricket while an active test cricketer, in 1936. Unlike Hadlee however, Vizzy's knighthood was conferred for his administrative efforts, not his services to cricket as a player.) Hadlee celebrated the achievement by scoring 86 in New Zealand's first innings and winning the man of the match award. In the final test of the series, Hadlee ended his test career by taking 5 wickets in his final bowling performance, and taking a wicket with the final ball of his test career.
For Nottinghamshire, on often overgrassed Trent Bridge pitches, he gained some analyses that are remarkable in an era of covered pitches, notably his eight for 22 against Surrey in 1984. He represented Nottinghamshire between 1978 and 1987, but played only three full seasons due to injuries and Test calls. However, his bowling figures for those three seasons were quite remarkable:
Because of seasonal differences, Hadlee also played provincial cricket in New Zealand, representing Canterbury.
The north stand of AMI Stadium is named the Hadlee stand after both Richard Hadlee and other members of the Hadlee family who have made contributions to Canterbury and New Zealand cricket. The Chappell-Hadlee Trophy in which New Zealand and Australia regularly compete in one-day matches, is named after the Chappell family of Australia and the Hadlee family of New Zealand.
Hadlee has received many awards throughout his career, including:
Hadlee was a right-arm pace bowler. Initially extremely fast, as the years progressed he gained accuracy, movement off the wicket and in the air, and a reputation that probably gained him quite a few wickets on its own. Perhaps his most potent delivery was the often unplayable outswinger, which became his main weapon in the latter stages of his career.
Hadlee modelled his bowling action on the great Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee, whom he regarded as his bowling role model. It was common for Hadlee to think about how to dismiss batsmen by wondering 'what would Lillee do?'.
His economical action was notable for his close approach to the wicket at the bowler's end (to the point where he occasionally knocked the bails off in his approach), a line which meant he was able to trap many batsmen leg before wicket. He broke the Test-wicket taking record with his 374th wicket on 12 November, 1988. His 400th Test wicket was claimed on 4 February 1990, and with his last Test delivery, on 9 July, 1990, he dismissed Devon Malcolm for a duck.
His middle-order batting was usually aggressive and enterprising, and, oddly enough, left-handed. Though he often failed badly against top bowlers, he was extremely effective at punishing lesser attacks, enough to score 15 Test fifties and two Test centuries, and so much so that for Nottinghamshire in 1984, 1986 and 1987 he averaged over 50 (only W.G. Grace and George Herbert Hirst have come comparably close to heading both batting and bowling averages in a season).
In August of 1990, Hadlee established The Sir Richard Hadlee Sports Trust. It was opened to help sportsmen and women who were in situations of hardship to strive for success in their chosen sporting or cultural discipline. The criteria for the Sir Richard Hadlee Sports Trust are: the applicant must be under the age of 25, the applicant must be from the region of Canterbury New Zealand, the request for assistance is specifically for sporting or cultural purposes and applicant is disadvantaged, facing hardship or has special circumstances which prevent him or her from pursuing his or her sporting or cultural endeavors. The Sir Richard Hadlee Sports Trust relies on the generosity of the community, as well as its corporate sponsors; CTV, Lion Nathan, News Talk ZB, Pernod Ricard, Pope Print, PR South and Vbase.
Due to the enormous stress Hadlee was under, in 1983 he experienced a mental breakdown. This was due to his international cricket career, many public speaking engagements (up to 12 a week) and his responsibilities to the New Zealand Cricket Council coaching committee (Hadlee was required to do three weeks of fast bowling tuition) .
A study done by Maich in 2007 examines the change in behavior performed by athletes who are experiencing mental health problems due to his or her sport. Maich explains that the pressure for athletes to perform while he or she are in their peak performance commonly takes a toll on the athletes mental fitness. This can be linked to fear of failure and expectations of others (team mates, coaches, fans etc) .
All this, combined with a virus he contracted in Wellington in November, hit home when Hadlee was playing in an exhibition match in Rotorua. Hadlee had to be taken off the pitch in a daze, wondering where he was.
The thought of another cricket season around the corner was all too much for Hadlee. With the close support of his family, Hadlee canceled all his appointments for two weeks, and took a holiday to Raratonga. After ten days of peace and quiet, Hadlee returned to New Zealand and had sessions with motivational expert Grahame Felton. After a week with Felton, Hadlee felt he was making great success. Hadlee returned to domestic cricket, scoring 90 runs and taking four wickets in his first match back. After this positive result Hadlee told the cricket council that he would be available for the up-coming England series, in which he did well. in the 4 innings Hadlee scored 144 runs with a high score of 99. Hadlee bowled 232 overs, with 65 maidens and took 21 wickets .