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Legends Month: The best of Richard Hadlee

As part of Legends Month on Cricket Network, look back on one of Richard Hadlee's greatest performances

It's revered as a virtuoso display of bowling genius the likes of which Test cricket in Australia has not witnessed before or since, but Sir Richard Hadlee's Gabba exhibition was the crowning glory atop some meticulous New Zealand planning that included, famously, a plastic garbage bin.

Hadlee's 9-52 in the first innings of 1985-86's opening international fixture remains the best bowling by any player – home-grown or visiting – in a Test played on Australia’s turf.

Complemented by 6-71 in the second dig, his match return stands similarly unsurpassed across 141 years of Tests in Australia, and when coupled with the sparkling half-century he contributed with the bat he is the only cricketer to claim 15 wickets and score 50-plus in a single match.

Throw in a couple of catches as garnish, and Hadlee’s domination of NZ's bigger, brasher neighbours is deservedly recalled as the defining feature of his nation's first Test win in Australia.

And with a return of 33 wickets at 12.15 (again, unrivalled in a three-Test series in Australia) he was the undisputed star of NZ's breakthrough 2-1 triumph, their one and only success on the far side of the Tasman in 12 campaigns to date.

Hadlee celebrates another wicket against the Aussies // Getty
Hadlee celebrates another wicket against the Aussies // Getty

However, the then 34-year-old's guile and grace as Jeremy Coney's team romped to victory by an innings and 41 runs was but one of the contributing factors to a result that endures among the most cherished in Black Caps' folklore.

To begin, there was the pre-Test scouting work undertaken by coach and former master batter Glenn Turner who, like Hadlee and a number of other members of that NZ outfit, boasted significant county cricket experience in the UK.

With Australia having endured a dismal 3-1 Ashes defeat in Britain just months earlier, Turner enlisted his former Worcestershire teammate Norman Gifford as well as England's current captain David Gower for cheat notes on the Australians' numerous frailties.

Among them was the observation that opener Andrew Hilditch was pathologically compelled to hook any delivery that rose above waist height, and NZ's fine leg fielder Ewen Chatfield claims he was fed a diet of "about 200" fly balls as preparatory training in the days leading into the Test.

Hadlee's teammates reckon he dropped only two short deliveries into his impeccable 52.3 overs in Brisbane, both of which were directed at Hilditch who unerringly skied catches to Chatfield.

Australia's selection panel, which the opener would later chair, deemed his Test career finished as a consequence.

Hadlee tormented Australia during his career // Getty
Hadlee tormented Australia during his career // Getty

But perhaps the most influential move came days prior to the Test starting, when Turner placed a plastic rubbish bin in the position an umpire would occupy when Hadlee was bowling in the Gabba nets.

The coach had noticed his strike bowler's increasing tendency to bowl from mid-way across the crease, which meant he was fruitlessly angling the into right-handers and away from the others.

And with Australia boasting four left-handers in their top seven, they could too readily let the ball pass already knowing its trajectory, a practice that was clearly trying Hadlee's patience.

With the bin in position, Hadlee settled on an approach that got him close to the stumps, allowed him to land the ball in the wicket-to-wicket corridor, and did not impinge on his unusual load-up that saw his right arm extend behind the umpire's back immediately before release.

The effect was remarkable as, one after the next, Australia’s batters – their minds already addled by recent traumas inflicted by the West Indies' brutal speed and England's baleful swing, and with their personnel diminished by the rebels' tour to South Africa – succumbed to their newest master.

Sir Richard Hadlee, New Zealand's greatest cricketer // Getty
Sir Richard Hadlee, New Zealand's greatest cricketer // Getty

Allan Border, Kepler Wessels and Greg Matthews were all undone by Hadlee's relentless attack on or about the left-handers' off stumps, while Wayne Phillips was known to play expansive strokes with feet planted and was twice castled via the bottom edge of his angled bat.

With each wicket Hadlee claimed, the look of helplessness and uncertainty became more apparent on the faces of the Australians until shots like Geoff Lawson's ambitious leg-side heave resulted.

The catch that Hadlee claimed running back in pursuit of Lawson's top edge meant a maiden Test wicket for his fellow Cantabrian Vaughan Brown, but robbed him of the chance to snare all 10 first innings scalps.

A statistical dot point that was forgotten as Coney's men celebrated their win in rare style, with baked barramundi provided to the winners' rooms where it was accompanied by a suitably plentiful supply of champagne and beer.

Though not by Hadlee, whose distaste for fizz and froth meant he toasted his most memorable individual outing with his preferred soft drink.