In what is widely considered the definitive work on the subject, The Art Of Captaincy, Mike Brearley, a psychoanalyst by trade these days–but most famously the England cricket captain behind that dramatic 1981 Ashes victory–delivers his thesis on what makes a leader, on and off the pitch. In his five-year Test career Brearley, a long-standing county captain but never much better than a relatively modestly talented cricketer himself, led England 31 times–winning 18, drawing 9, losing only 4–and explores the key elements of his theories via candid reflections on those experiences.

Willis, who was to bowl the next over, was indignant with Botham. His main concern was that I shouldn’t let him bowl anymore … When I arrived at slip, Botham was fuming too. Meanwhile Lever was disgruntled at being taken off … and the umpires were threatening to report me [for allowing bouncers to be bowled at the tail-enders]. And we were in a winning position! To restore some sanity to the proceedings, I told Hendricks to get loose to bowl the next over.

A forthright, unapologetically intelligent analyst of the players he captained, and of his own influence, or lack of it, on those team’s successes and failures, Brearley brings top-flight cricket to life in a way that speaks to both the cognoscenti and the novice.

With sections on team selection, the captain’s role in the dressing room and on tour, as well as detailed consideration of tactics, Brearley’s scope is impressively broad, but it is his ability to dissect that great intangible of sport–the personality of the individual–that stamps his theorising with the hallmark of greatness. He is particularly fascinating on the future England captains he led in 1981–Ian Botham (“powerful, inventive, sound…he became highly sensitive to criticism”), Bob Willis (“blinkered as a captain and had an abstracted air”) and David Gower (“like Willis, he appeared to be bulldozed by Botham”).

Out of print for far too long, the 1985 text has been constructively updated for the 2001 Ashes Series–including new photographs and Brearley’s typically adept study of current England captain Nasser Hussain. This is a classic work: engrossing, informative, and as entertaining as it is intelligent. –Alex Hankin

The Art of Captaincy




  1. This book is brilliant. A classic guide to the ups and downs of sports management from someone who has been there. Suitable not only for cricket lovers but also anyone undertaking a team challenge or considering leadership themselves.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  2. Mike Brearly who is renowned for his strategic leadership of the English cricket team shares his knowledge and experience on practices, tactics and strategy for anyone desiring to be a successful cricket captain at any level. Most lessons are equally applicable to other team based sports as well to business. The numerous cricketing incidents and stories are a feast for the cricket enthusiast as well as a great learning resource for anyone looking for a greater understanding about cricket. The insightful nature of the narrative based on empirical knowledge, the masterly handling of language and the easy, reader friendly style adds to a remarkable reading experience which I savoured.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  3. E. L. Wisty says:

    I purchased this on the basis of many reviews which assert that it is useful for gaining insight into general leadership/man-management skills in all areas of life. Well let me assure you that this is simply not the case. This is definitely a book for cricket fans only and has no value outside that sphere. Even within cricket, which I’m not well up on, this seems a very outdated work with one foot, if not both, firmly planted in the gentleman amateur era. Remember that Brearley was playing in the sixties, seventies and very early eighties. Sportsmen have subsequently discovered some new-fangled thing called “sports psychology”…
    Rating: 3 / 5

  4. M. V. Clarke says:

    Mike Brearley’s book is a thorough insight into the pressures, challenges and pleasures of captaining a cricket team. Brearley’s reputation as captain is, of course, legendary, and although he played before my time, reading this book made it clear why he was such a gifted captain. His analytical skill is phenomenal; the anecdotes he recounts of obtaining wickets with unorthodox methods are a real testimony to his skill and the obvious effect he had on team members in persuading them to follow his plans. Reading this would improve anyone’s captaincy – the attitudes towards field placing, questioning so many of the conventions, how to manage bowling changes and how to react to the match situation reflect a highly professional approach. Brearley is candid about his own successes and failures, acknowledges the influence of other great captains, and provides many telling anecdotes. Well worth reading for any cricket lover.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  5. This seminal work on captaincy has never been matched. Brearley’s ideas on cricket captaincy show a huge understanding of the game and of the human mind.
    Overall a must for any cricketer old enough to read with a desire to captain a cricket side at whatever level.
    Rating: 5 / 5

Leave a Comment