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