Amazon are evil, right? They don’t pay their fair share of tax (lawyers, you’ll check we can say this, yeah?) and they’re responsible for the closure of independent book shops.
Nevertheless, we don’t mind Amazon. Indeed, we’re happy to give them a leg-up as they aim to capture a larger slice of the market – just remember us once you’ve made it, lads. This is because of one thing and one thing only: the Kindle. We once were blind, but now we see; previously nothing would match the sensory overdose of an old paperback book and frankly, the youth of today could stick their e-readers up their a-holes, but having been given a Kindle, it’s great. Literally, it’s like Donald Trump and tweeting, or Richard Keys and [removed by the 51allout legal team], we can’t stop. Unless it’s to watch Noel Edmonds’ new Channel 4 show, Cheap Cheap Cheap.
So, have Kindle, must read. A library’s worth of books, many of which are cheaper than the life of a contestant on a game show, which is how we came to finally read The Art of Captaincy. The sort of famed tome that would have been William Hill Sports Book of the Year, had Old Bill Hill been bothered to have founded the award back in 1985.
Is it worthy of its reputation? Most definitely. As someone once said, Mike Brearley had a degree in people. Admittedly this sounds like the kind of studying associated with the University of Luton, rather than Brearley’s actual alma mater Cambridge. Its insight into cricket is fascinating, and although some elements are dated (being more than 30 years old), it generally remains applicable today. Although perhaps not the revelation that in 1979/80 crowd trouble forced the Australians to impose a limit on the number of cans of beer that a spectator could bring into the ground; the chosen limit was 24. For example, Brearley comments on the perpetual debate about whether a ball has carried to a low-catch (and the foreshortening of the lens failing to clarify things): “almost always the fielder knows best.”
Other pertinent points include Brearley on selection, confirming that the cliche “never change a winning side” is bloody stupid; he notes that the one-day game is placing a premium on fitness, all-round skill, attacking batting and defensive bowling…” its proliferation has not made it easy for batsmen capable of building long innings.”
One thing we learned, is that just a year before Trevor Chappell almost started a war, Brearley himself bowled underarm in a first-class match (albeit lobs, rather than rolling along the floor). Perhaps less surprising, when you recall he also decided to place the spare helmet at mid-wicket, to try and entice the batsman to aim for it and procure a false shot. He may not have invented thinking outside the box, but he defined it.
Two names repeatedly stand out as being unusual characters back in the 70s and 80s, who continue to stand out today: Botham and Boycott. “Botham…overestimated his control, his speed and his ability to swing the ball; he bowled a series of leg-stump half-volleys with only two fielders on the leg side. India got off to a racing start…”, being one example. On the other hand, Brearley sympathises with Beefy as captain – he took all criticism way too personally and had the misfortune to play against the West Indies in nearly all his matches in charge. Boycott, meanwhile, was just bloody difficult.
The Art of Captaincy ‘s last paragraph quotes Xenophon, the Greek historian who wrote in 504BC that an elected general should be “ingenious, energetic, careful, full of stamina and presence of mind…loving and tough, straightforward and crafty, ready to gamble everything and wishing to have everything, generous and greedy, trusting and suspicious,” which is not something one could image Joe Root or Andrew Flintoff quoting in any of their books.
Overall, as noted in the afterword, this book is about taking the game seriously, but not taking oneself too seriously. But being serious for a moment, this book is genuinely brilliant, and lots of its points could be transferred to any sport, any profession, any industry (“one can scarcely over-communicate”). Save yourself from following Management Consultants on LinkedIn and just read this book.