CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1977

Mike Brearley

Mike Brearley has not only proved the most durable of that high-quality crop of Cambridge batsmen from the early sixties, but saved the peak of his remarkable career until Lewis, Craig, Griffith, White and Hutton had all retired. To play for England and captain the Champions are the game's highest rewards, and Brearley did both in 1976.

To Fenner's spectators during Brearley's four seasons there, it would have seemed inconceivable that a dozen years would pass before such a talented batsmen was capped. Brearley, however, decided that cricket would be secondary to academic development and so has actually had three cricket careers - orthodox progress from school prodigy to the heights of the first class game, a more-or-less fallow spell, then successful return to full-time play. It is a measure of his talents that, like an old-fashioned scholar-sportsman, he has climbed such peaks, despite the sterner, modern approach.

Born in harrow on April 28, 1942, JOHN MICHAEL BREARLEY had cause for filial pride at an ideal time in his cricketing education when his father who had appeared once for Yorkshire against Middlesex at Sheffield in 1937, played for Middlesex at Swansea and Bath in 1949. Horace Brearley thus had the distinction of playing first-class cricket for three matches, but another summoned to Bath on that occasion in a crisis caused by Test calls was a young off-spinner named Titmus, who, 27 years later, played a key part in Mike Brearley's title-winning team.

Young Brearley played for the City of London School XI at barely 14, when he first aired his now-familiar assured strokes. He explains: "My father a Yorkshireman, believed that batting techniques should be securely based. Accordingly, I learned with a firm stranglehold on the bottom of the handle. It was Reg Routledge, the Middlesex all-rounder, who encouraged me to stand upright and play with a free swing".

In his last four years at school Brearley topped the averages by wide margins, sunny 1959 bringing 1,015 runs, five centuries and an average of 84.58. In his final two years his progress was influenced by Jim Sims, who was in charge of the Young Amateurs, and he also appeared for Middlesex 2nd XI in 1960.

At Cambridge in 1961 he kept wicket and batted number eight in early games, but 76 against Loader, Lock and Alec Bedser on his first class debut, followed by further mature batting against Yorkshire and the Australians, lifted him permanently among the batsmen. In his second year he made a cherished century against Oxford. Captain for his last two years - the first to lead the side in successive seasons since F. S. Jackson in 1892/93 - he made another hundred at Lord's in 1964, reaching a record Cambridge aggregate of 4,068.

These glittering accomplishments might seem enough for one University career, but simultaneously Brearley successfully pursued the highest academic goals, achieving a first in Classics, and two-one in Moral Sciences - "not quite a century in each innings, more like a hundred in the first and seventy in the second," is his analogy. He also came joint op in the civil service examination.

His cricket career expanded predictably on leaving Cambridge, for, after making his Middlesex debut, he toured with the last M. C. C. team to visit South Africa, having been named young cricketer of 1964. In competition with Boycott, Barber, Dexter, Barrington, Smith and Parfitt it was hardly surprising that he came nowhere near the Test team. He began the tour promisingly, but, batting all over the order and often playing at short notice, he later experienced a run of failures. A significant episode occurred after the tour, for he remained there, "visiting the real South Africa, seeing places where cricketers seldom go". This interlude helped to form opinions which he expressed when the d'Oliviera-South Africa controversy raged between 1968 and 1970. In particular, he spoke for David Sheppard's resolutions critical of the committee at M.C.C.'S special meeting in Church House on December 5,1968.

In 1965 Brearley played a full county season, but in the next five years books largely supplanted bats. He researched philosophy at his old college, St John's s and taught at the university of California and Newcastle University. In 1966 he appeared for Cambridgeshire, when keeping wicket to Johnny Wardle proved a fascinating pastime. One of the many unusual intervals in his life occurred in that year, for he played twice for the university, despite having graduated, taking a century off Yorkshire. So he was in good enough form to lead the under-25 team on their Pakistan tour that winter, as he showed with a phenomenal burst of scoring which included a triple and a double century.

From 1968-70 he reappeared for Middlesex after the Newcastle term. During the sixties the Middlesex dressing-room was not the most harmonious place in county cricket. Titmus and Parfitt, both gifted players, failed to induce the best from their colleagues, though reasonable results were maintained through the individual abilities of a side containing, sometimes, six Test players.

Brearley promised the AGM in April, 1971, as he took up the captaincy, "purposeful cricket". Impressive words were swiftly followed by impressive deeds fulfilling the pledge. Under Brearley, Middlesex pursued batting points with unaccustomed urgency, led the table after nine games and finally finished ten places higher at sixth. In subsequent years the bowling and, when Parfitt and Russell had retired by 1973, the batting, were not powerful enough to sustain a title challenge. A hint of glory came in 1975 when, uniquely, Middlesex reached both one-day finals in the same year.

Brearley moved to number three, replacing Parfitt, in 1973 and filled a mysterious gap in his record by scoring his first Championship century. In 1975 he opened, no adequate successor having been found for Russell. He reflects: "I was glad to bat higher in the order, but was reluctant to open as I doubtful about my new-ball technique". These doubts were exaggerated. In his first three years back his average was in the thirties .By 1974 his figure had reached 42.70 and he was playing as commandingly as a decade earlier. In 1975 he surpassed his previous achievements, scoring 1656 runs at 53.41, only Boycott, among Englishmen, finishing above him. This constant improvement as a batsman is a source of satisfaction to Brearley.

"Before last season began," he says, "it was only Middlesex that filled the horizon for most players. It must have been 1,000-1 against Selvey, Barlow and me playing for England". But two important events occurred before the Championship was properly under way. Showing inspired judgement, Brearley was influential in bringing Allan Jones to Lord's and then Brearley, the batsman, made two big hundreds in April. Jones's arrival gave Middlesex a much-needed dependable pace attack and Brearley's runs brought him into the M.C.C.'s team to play West Indies, though as a late deputy. He withstood the fearsome Holding and Roberts so resourcefully that he made the Test side. At Nottingham it was Julien's gentler pace that dismissed him for a duck, but he batted composedly in the next three innings before being dropped.

He found ample consolation in guiding Middlesex gloriously through the burning summer to the title with perceptive captaincy and important runs. And, though out of sight, he was still in the selectors' minds when they chose their tour party.

The Middlesex players, committee and supporters owe much to their captain, especially when they contrast his term as leader with the dark days. Brearley acknowledges his own debts. "Mike Smith and Clive Radley are tremendously helpful. We have an affinity being around the same age. Also Fred Titmus's tactical guidance has proved valuable, but everyone is entitles to his opinion," a view not shared by all county captains and certainly not one prevalent at Lord's in the recent past.

Leading Middlesex has not prevented Brearley from remaining the many-sided person of his twenties. He has taught at adult education classes and helped at a clinic for disturbed adolescents. He also served on the Cricketers' Association committee, believing that, in financially difficult days, cricketers must fight to make their voices heard.

For the future Brearley relishes the thought that the Middlesex he moulded, "should be a good side for the next five years". When he finishes he intends "either to play very little or to find some league cricket. I like to enjoy the game, but I must play it competitively". - T.C

© John Wisden & Co