The Art of Captaincy

Leading, by the book

Brearley's book stands apart from the few others on the subject for its authority, simplicity and range of personal examples

Suresh Menon

March 15, 2008

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Surprisingly for a game where the captain is king, there are very few intelligent books on captaincy. Those who led by instinct probably didn't have the equipment needed to write it all down, while those who led by the book thought there was nothing to add to the canon. The great modern captains - Don Bradman, Richie Benaud, Frank Worrell, MAK Pataudi, Ian Chappell, Imran Khan, Steve Waugh, Nasser Hussain - have all written articles on captaincy or revealed a tip or two in their books, but none has penned a whole volume devoted to the art.

Brearley's book stands apart from the few on the subject for its authority, its simplicity, and for the range of personal examples the writer quotes. It is history, autobiography, portraiture, and a compendium of anecdotes about the game, its players and its captains. Most books on cricket are written for the layman - the idea being to allow the average fan an entry into the often arcane world of the sport. The Art of Captaincy, like books by scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould, both popularises what is already known about the subject, and adds original contributions by the author.

Brearley, to repeat the cliché about him, "is a man with a degree in people", and brings to his task technical sophistication without once slipping into the esoteric or pretending that the sport is a science. It is this acknowledgment of the human qualities that sportsmen bring to their calling that makes the book special. You could criticise it for focusing on the highest level of the game - after all, how many of us are likely to lead our national or state teams? - but it is a wonderful read, and not merely as an instruction manual.

From the book Unlike a rowing eight, a cricket eleven works only by dint of differentiation. The skills, like the shapes and sizes of their owners, are diverse. I have always felt it to be one of the charms of the game that it accommodates the vast Colin Milburn and the svelte Michael Holding, the towering Joel Garner and the tiny Gundappa Vishwanath ...

[...]

The captain must know how to deploy whatever skills his players have at their disposal. He must enable them to widen their own range, to have the confidence to experiment. In short, the captain must get the best out of his team by helping them to play together without suppressing flair and uniqueness.

The Art of Captaincy
by Mike Brearley

Hodder and Stoughton, 1985

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore

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Suresh Menon Suresh Menon went from being a promising cricketer to a has-been, without the intervening period of a major career. He played league cricket in three cities with a group of overgrown enthusiasts who had the reverse of amnesia - they could remember things that never happened. For example, taking incredible catches at slip, or scoring centuries. Somehow Menon found the time to be the sports editor of the Pioneer and the Indian Express in New Delhi, Gulf News in Dubai, and the editor of the New Indian Express in Chennai. Currently he is a columnist with publications in India and abroad, and is beginning to think he might never play for India.
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