Was he re­ally our great­est cap­tain?

The Cricket Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

Mike Brearley turns 75 on the 28th. To some, he re­mains one of Eng­land’s great­est-ever cap­tains; to oth­ers – such as Ray Illing­worth – one of the luck­i­est.

Brearley cap­tained against Test teams of­ten dec­i­mated by Packer de­fec­tions. A rare time when he took on a side out­side of the Packer era was for a three-test se­ries in Aus­tralia in 1979/80. He lost it 3-0. One more match, when Ian Botham scored a cen­tury and took 13 wick­ets in Eng­land’s, and Brearley’s, first vic­tory for seven Tests, and Brearley was gone.

Botham was left to lead Eng­land against the for­mi­da­ble West Indies in back-to-back se­ries.

The tim­ing of the cap­taincy han­dover, to his own favoured suc­ces­sor, was ex­plained as Brearley not be­ing avail­able to tour the fol­low­ing win­ter, as he would be de­vot­ing his win­ters to his ca­reer in psy­cho­anal­y­sis. But that need not have stopped him skip­per­ing Eng­land that sum­mer, just as it didn’t the fol­low­ing sea­son.

But by spring 1980 re­cent per­for­mances had taken the shine off Brearley’s cap­taincy. He wrote of that time that: “I still en­ter­tained the sneak­ing hope that I might be re-ap­pointed for the first two or three Tests”, but los­ing the cap­taincy was “nei­ther un­ex­pected nor en­tirely un­wel­come”.

The fol­low­ing sum­mer he took over an Eng­land side 1-0 down in an Ashes se­ries, and led them to a 3-1 vic­tory.Yet in the Head­in­g­ley Test that turned the tide Eng­land were 500-1 against win­ning at one point, which does sug­gest ev­ery­thing was not quite go­ing to plan.

That they did win re­lied on a pre­pos­ter­ous in­nings from Botham, and an in­spired spell from Bob Wil­lis, who had not been given the new ball, and orig­i­nally had been given the end which re­quired him to run in up­hill.

Only five of Brearley’s 31 Tests in charge were with­out Botham in the team (only one of th­ese five was won). The 1981 Ashes was the end of Botham as a great Test bowler. In that se­ries he took 34 wick­ets at 21; after that only twice did he re­turn se­ries bowl­ing av­er­ages un­der 30 – in 1982 against Pakistan (18 wick­ets at 27) and in 1985 against Aus­tralia (31 at 28).

Brearley cap­tained Botham 26 times, win­ning 17 of th­ese matches. Ex­clud­ing the 1978/9 Ashes, won 5-1, all bar one of his other vic­to­ries in­volved ei­ther Botham tak­ing five wick­ets in an in­nings or a cen­tury – and some­times both.

With the ex­cep­tion of a match against New Zealand in 1978 and that 1978/9

Ashes, there is not a Test be­tween Botham mak­ing his de­but in 1977 and the end of 1981 which Eng­land won with­out him ei­ther scor­ing a cen­tury or tak­ing five wick­ets in an in­nings.

Dur­ing this time, Eng­land were cap­tained by Brearley, Boy­cott (4 times) and Botham (12). Boy­cott’s one win, at Christchurch, was when Botham made 108 and took 5-73 in the first in­nings. Botham the cap­tain never won but he also nei­ther made a cen­tury or recorded a five-for dur­ing this time.

Brearley was a good first-class bats­man who failed to make the step up. His top score in 39 Tests was 91 and his av­er­age 23. But in 455 first-class games he av­er­aged 38 and made 45 cen­turies – only slightly in­fe­rior to David Gower’s first-class bat­ting record and far su­pe­rior to Botham’s.

He had been picked, aged 22, for the South Africa tour in 1964/65 but failed to get into the side for any of the five Tests. He cap­tained the U25 side to Pakistan in 1966/67, and made 312 not out against North Zone.

Dr Brearley’s early first-class cricket was mainly for Cam­bridge Univer­sity, who he rep­re­sented be­tween 1961 and 1968 (cap­tain­ing them from 1964), as a bats­man-keeper. He played oc­ca­sion­ally for Mid­dle­sex in the Six­ties, his ap­pear­ances re­stricted by academia – after leav­ing Cam­bridge he was a lec­turer at New­cas­tle Univer­sity. It was only after the of­fer of the Mid­dle­sex cap­taincy, in 1971, that he de­voted his sum­mers to cricket full-time.

He was to be Mid­dle­sex cap­tain for 12 years. In the early pe­riod, with an av­er­age side, noth­ing was won. But the qual­ity of player im­proved – in 1981 Mid­dle­sex be­came the first county to field an XI en­tirely of Test play­ers – and with Mid­dle­sex hav­ing a bowl­ing at­tack the envy of the county cir­cuit, Mid­dle­sex won four Cham­pi­onships and two Gil­lette Cups un­der him.

When Tony Greig was sacked for his Packer in­volve­ment, vice-cap­tain Brearley in­her­ited the Eng­land cap­taincy and a side with an ex­cel­lent team spirit. This had been the strength of Greig’s cap­taincy, rather than his tac­tics.

Wis­den wrote: “Brearley, a to­tally dif­fer­ent an­i­mal from the volatile Greig, led his men with quiet ef­fi­ciency. He han­dled his bowlers skil­fully and was clearly ahead of Greig in field plac­ing.”

Yet it is as a man-man­ager rather than tac­ti­cian where Brearley’s rep­u­ta­tion prin­ci­pally lies – in Rod­ney Hogg’s fa­mous phrase he had a “de­gree in peo­ple”.

Brearley had some sin­gu­lar men to skip­per. One of them was Ge­off Boy­cott, and their fail­ure to es­tab­lish a rap­port as cap­tain and vice-cap­tain was part of the reason Bob Wil­lis re­placed Boy­cott in this role.Yet the York­shire­man con­sid­ers this son of a York­shire­man “the best cap­tain I played un­der. Mike’s rep­u­ta­tion for man-man­age­ment is no myth. There was a nat­u­ral­ness about his ap­proach which made co-oper­a­tion log­i­cal. His praise was never ful­some and his crit­i­cism never mean. His at­ti­tude was bal­anced and hon­est and I don’t think you can ask for more.”

Wil­lis – who took 112 Test wick­ets at 24 for Brearley’s Eng­land sides – is a lit­tle more re­strained in his praise, de­scrib­ing Brearley as “one of the best cap­tains that I played un­der, but he did have at his com­mand an ex­tremely ca­pa­ble bowl­ing at­tack”.

Brearley has writ­ten of the events of 1981 that: “I was the luck­i­est man that sum­mer.” But luck should not be spurned in a cap­tain. An­other cel­e­brated in­ter­na­tional cap­tain, Richie Be­naud, opined of cap­taincy that it was “90 per cent luck and 10 per cent skill – but don’t try it with­out that 10 per cent”.

Brearley had that 10 per cent all right – but he also re­ceived a heck of a lot of that 90 per cent as well.

It is as a man-man­ager where Brearley’s rep­u­ta­tion prin­ci­pally lies – in Rod­ney Hogg’s words, he had ‘a de­gree in peo­ple’

Stand­ing tall: Mike Brearley is still recog­nised as Eng­land’s great­est Test skip­per

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

Char­ac­ters: Mike Brearley, right, with Ian Botham, left, and Bob Wil­lis

Strong leader: Tony Greig

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