Monday, October 15, 2012

The Art of Captaincy - Mike Brearley

I searched high and low for this book for a long time and finally found it on Infibeam. 'The Art of Captaincy' (Channel 4 Books, 279 pages, Rs. 399) comes with high recommendations and from one of the players who was acknowledged by one and all as a great captain. In fact they say that Brearley, a practising psychoanalyst, did not really find a place in the English XI at times on his batting alone but played for England because of his captaincy skills. I do believe that the captain can make a 30-40% difference to the team's outcome and wanted to know what Brearley had to say.

Written in a nice, very English way, with several anecdotes that provide insights into how the cricketing world and players function at the highest level, Brearley's book is a thought provoking book with great content. It is not an easy read mind you, and for the non-cricketer may appear confusing because he deals with several technical issues such as pitches, rules, weather, field placements etc. But for the aspiring cricket captain it is simply superb stuff. Though much has changed in the game from the time that Brearley wrote the book, it has enough to take away.

Broadly Brearley mulls over captaincy in action, choosing a captain, picking ends, selection issues, pitches and other conditions to understand on the morning of the match, batting order, field placements, strategies and tactics, aggression and team work. There are many references to the England team which he captained with distinction - players like Botham, Willis, Greig, Chappell, Lillee, Thomson and other contemporaries - and several other Middlesex players that included Gatting, Roland Butcher, Wayne Daniel and others.

I will quote some lines that I found highly interesting in the book.

On the leader - "A leader has to be able and willing to take in and think about the anxiety of those who work in the team. Sometimes it is a mater of getting to the bottom of the anxiety that has already been covered over. It has then to be conveyed often subtly, to those in the team that their predicament and anxieties are bearable.'

A Captain and his players - 'The captain....should be interested in what makes people tick.' 

And '...It's up to the captain and the coach to help players with self-defeating attitudes that arise individually or collectively as a result of their anxieties..should respond to a player.'

Take the pressure - 'The captain has to take on the pressures of the team collectively or individually, be shrewd, be tenacious and have tactical flexibility'

Common task or goal orientation  - '...must have the capacity to bring people together in a common task so people come to take pleasure in their joint and individual work.'

Paradoxical Qualities of the ideal captain - '...ingenious, energetic, careful, full of stamina and presence of mind...loving and tough, straightforward and crafty, ready to gamble everything and willing to have everything, generous and greedy, trusting and suspicious...'

On getting the best out of people  - '...Must know how to deploy whatever skills the players have at their disposal... must enable them to widen their range, to have the confidence  to short he must get the best out of his team by helping them play together without suppressing flair...'

On believing his players - 'A captain is more likely to bring the best out of a player if he believes in that player.'

The team and the captain - ' members are entitled to expect from the captain a respect for their ability, and even more, a respect and consideration for them as people.'

'Never ask of another what the captain is not prepared to do himself.'

Getting the best out of Bowlers - 'To remind and teach bowlers that they have more resources than they give themselves credit for.'

'...can never please all his bowlers all the time.Must know his bowlers. Bowler should feel he will dictate to the batsmen and not vice versa.'

On the field - 'Constantly keep thinking of alternatives. Must encourage all the team to think about the game from a tactical point of view.'

Team work - '...insist that each member of his side plays a part in encouraging and motivating others.'

Willis would ask if his hand was behind the ball in delivery, whether he was falling away, and whether he was moving in too fast or too slow.

On strategy - Brearley starts with a fine story of a lion keeper in England who never lost a lion. When asked how he said - no two are alike.
On strategy - 'Captains must have a strategy in place but approach each situation afresh. Needs a plan.'

On tactics for bowlers and fields - 'Be flexible about pitches. Bowl all bowlers on unpredictable wickets. Field placings depending on bounce on wicket.'

On tactics against batsmen - 'Pressurise the batsman. deny runs, get into their minds.The captain should continuously try to figure out what the batsman would least like of the available possibilities.'

For example Dennis Lillee said he '...bowls bouncers to hit the batsmen and thus intimidate them. Make the batsmen apprehensive and less confident.' Roberts bowled two bouncers in succession - one slower and the second faster.

More interestingly Brearley says how the English batsmen were '...secretly unnerved by the image of Australian toughness.'

Fight till the end - 'The team and the captain in particular, must never give up.'

On intuition - 'Do not mistrust your intuition.'

Captain to express - 'Certain amount of heat is required from the captain. Aloofness is not a quality that goes down well with the average cricket team.'

Player mentalities and fear of success - 'Some players are afraid of prominent success.If one sets one's standards high, one has to live up to it.' 

Brearley himself found it difficult to motivate himself and constantly undervalued himself.

On ruthlessness - 'Don't let the opposition off the hook. Don't take pity on the bowlers.'

Dealing with different players - 'The most crucial part of captaincy is in treating individuals differently.' - K. Fletcher

'Different players need different treatment. Some rise to the big occasion. Some wrap up the tail. Some need needling. Some need carrots and encouraging words.'

Team and the individual - 'Team success is indeed the product of personal successes.'

Discipline and humour - 'Discipline and creativity. Take it easy a little. Don't be too anxious.'

'A cricket captain is engaged in a co-op physical endeavour with the rest of the players and he is likely to get the best out of them by being to a considerable degree spontaneous and direct himself.'

Set high standards - 'A good captain will set high standards for everyone. A captain who settles for too little - the team subsides into mediocrity.'

Hallmark of good teams - 'Good teams have very few sessions where everything falls apart and they are resolute in putting the situation back together at the next opportunity.'

It is a book that must be read again and again and revisited every now and then to grasp it fully. Wonderfully written and with lots of content that makes for great man-management and leadership insights. For all cricketing minds, a must read. But even for those looking to get the best out of the team it has tonnes of value. Definitely recommended.


Rajendra said...

Some of these are universal- like the right man for the right job. And that everyone is unique, might need different handling. Aggression or assertiveness is needed at times, but usually a softer approach will work..etc..

Harimohan said...

Yes, I totally agree that a softer approach will work wonders many times. I am learning that the hard way though!