Thursday, 23 May 2019

Mike Brearley on Cricket

I know you're not supposed to say it, but one of the most disappointing cricket books I've ever read (possibly one of the most disappointing books, full stop), is Mike Brearley's The Art Of Captaincy.

When I bought it, 15 years ago or so, I expected to find it full of all sorts of arcane insights into cricket leadership. Brearley, after all, is considered one of England's best-ever captains, the architect of three Ashes triumphs, including the miracle turnaround of 1981. He was tactically innovative and always thoughtful, and his man management skills were legendary. A trained psychologist, he was described by admiring Aussie fast bowler Rodney Hogg as "having a degree in people".

But I felt at the time that it simply stated the obvious. I came away from it with no more idea of how Brearley achieved what he did than I had at the start. Shorter articles on captaincy, from the likes of Ian Chappell, revealed far more.

But he's more than made up for it with On Cricket. It's wide-ranging and diverse, taking in controversial issues such as ball-tampering and the Basil D'Oliveira affair as well as Brearley's opinions on some of the greats of the game, and on his own career.

Above all, it's beautifully written. Packed with detail, yet clear, concise and very readable, and Brearley's own character comes through on every page. Not in the sense that he puts himself at the centre of things, just that he approaches every subject with the same inquisitive, open-minded, tolerant and thoughtful way.

And that, I realised, probably says a great deal more about the art of captaincy than anything. As a player, how could you not want to perform well for a captain like that? One who, you could be confident, would treat every team member fairly, and never put his own ambitions above the team's. Brearley may or may not be England's greatest ever captain, but he's certainly the most interesting thinker about cricket writing today.

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