Mike Brearley is universally accepted as one of the best cricket Captains ever. His book, “On Form” was launched recently in Mumbai by Dilip Vengsarkar in the presence of former Indian test cricketer Madhav Apte.
The “Colonel” applauded the choice of the book’s name. He said that going off form was something which every sportsman goes through including for instance even all time greats Viv Richards and Sunny Gavaskar in certain phases of their career. Vengsarkar remembered his interactions with Brearley on the cricket field and said Brearley was always a great captain and it was admirable the way he wonderfully captained two diametrically different personalities, Ian Botham and Geoffery Boycott.
Leading sports journalist Ayaz Memon popularly called “Cricketwallah” had an interactive conversation with Brearley followed by a question-answer session with the audience.
Some of the issues/topics on which Brearley offered his views are as follows;
Captaincy is an aggregation of small things. Brearley said that small things are very important. For instance the Captain should not fiddle around with the field placings too much. The same slip fielders in the same order are advisable as they develop a sense of comfort and calm while standing to each other. Similarly, more or less one should not tinker around with the batting order except once in a while maybe as a shock strategy.
On Form linked to “moving on”. As per Brearley, often one tends to brood on what has happened rather than moving on. He gave the example of Jonathon Trott who averaged 90 versus Australia but had an ordinary “Nets day” and got beaten a couple of times. He started thinking about it so much that it was the beginning of what ultimately let to mental disintegration, a term used by Steve Waugh for the 1st time. Brearley gave the contrary example of the much criticised Dean Elgar who was beaten maybe 20-25 times in the 2nd innings of the recent Johannesburg Test but with dogged determination was unruffled, as it was in his and his teams interest that he stayed on and he did, scoring a remarkable ( even if ugly) 86 not out, which was more valuable than a bigger score in easier conditions.
On thinking too much According to Brearley this too was to be avoided as it is counter-productive. He gave his own example of one day being overnight at stumps and then thinking a lot about how he would bat the next day. As he could not sleep he then read a book “Zen and Archery” in which the author had said that the best archers were those who did not shoot, but let the arrow shoot for them. Brearley thought to himself, “Well thats great, so tomorrow i will let my bat get runs for me”. He was out 2nd ball the next day.
On Bradman and Federer. Brearley agreed with Vengsarkar that remaining On Form was something not easy and said that the only two sportspersons he knew of who were always on form were Don Bradman and Roger Federer. In fact he had asked the Don about lack of form who had replied ” I dont know what it is to be out of form and i was never out of form”.
Brearley clarified that Out of form is different from getting out early and stated with a chuckle that Don Bradman had more ducks than him in Test cricket though Bradman was the best batsman of all time while he was a very ordinary test batsman. Whats important is not to think about the duck but to move on and play the next innings with a clear mind. He said Federer too had this ability and the rare matches which he lost early in a tournament that did not bother him at all and he was already preparing for the next tournament.
On Kohli– Brearley praised Kohli for giving the team pride and aggression. He said that he admired him a lot as he was always attentive, keen eyed, shrewd and a wonderful batsman. He gave the example of the 3rd Test of the recent South African Series where it would have been easy to give up with the South Africans at 140/1 chasing 260 however the Indians led by Kohli hung on, as they knew that if they took one or two wickets anything was possible. Indeed once Amla was out the floodgates opened and India had a morale boosting win.
Advice for Kohli. Brearley opined that Kohli needs to have people who will tell him when he is going wrong and he should listen to them. He said that a captain of a cricket team is like the leader of a country who needs people to guide him and gave the example of John F Kennedy who used to have a group of people whose job was to criticise his policies which was certainly very healthy.
On Kohli Flopping in England. Mike said that in English conditions , with wickets suiting quality bowlers like Anderson and Broad, one is bound to get out sometimes. In his opinion they would always be after the best batsmen and they will sometimes make the best batsmen look modest. He said that Kohli came through later and is now scoring runs everywhere and there was no reason why he would not do well in England.
Advice for Indian Batsmen in England. Thanking Dilip Vengsarkar for launching his book, Mike asked the current Indian batsmen to have several sessions with the colonel who had 3 consecutive tons at Lords, and said that Dilip was a very good example of how to play swing. He said that the key to success in England would be focus, balance and concentration.
On 3 captains he admired. Brearley straightaway took the name of Ray Illingworth who according to him was super strategically and used bowlers according to how the state of the pitch was and also in how to set fields for his bowlers so as to make life difficult for the batsman. He said that once Ray played 4 spinners for Leicetershire and all 4 bowled differently with different actions and the skipper used them differently. The 2nd captain he named was Ian Chappell who according to him was very aggressive and a good reader of the game. Brearley said that sometimes he did go over the top somethimes with his aggression and Dilip Vengsarkar would probably know a lot about that as well but Ian was a very good student of the game and always wanted people to do their best, be resilient and try new things. He praised Ian Chappell as an excellent commentator as well who always comes up with good insights.
As regards the 3rd, with a chuckle, Brearley said “I like the look of Kohli”.
Overall it was an extremely interactive and enjoyable evening with the Captain of Captains.