Thursday, May 03, 2007

Mike Brearley to be next MCC President

Congratulations to one of my cricketing heroes on his appointment, which begins on 1 October. Since his cricket career ended in 1981 he has been working as a psychotherapist.

When Brearley became England's captain in 1977 it was almost as though Jonathan Miller or Michael Frayn had been put in charge. Brearley was a representative of liberal North London in an age when cricket was still run by the Establishment. He was part of a more enlightened tendency within the game which embraced such figures as John Arlott and the Revd David Sheppard and had its finest hour when South Africa objected to the selection of Basil D'Olivera for England's 1968-9 tour.

Cricinfo describes Brearley's test career as follows:
His first spell leading England was between 1977 and 1979-80 when he won acclaim for his captaincy even though his batting was often criticised, and his Test average of 22.88 showed that he was not good enough to hold his own as a batsman. But after Ian Botham failed as his successor, he returned in 1981 with England trailing to Australia and guided his side to a remarkable 3-1 series win before retiring again.
This is a fair summary, but tells only half the story. Brearley was an outstanding young batsman and was selected to tour with England as early as 1964-5. He suffered a horrible loss of form and was not chosen for any of the tests in South Africa that winter.

After that he took up an academic career, lecturing in philosophy at Newcastle. He played for Middlesex only outside term time like an old-fashioned amateur.

I was studying philosophy at York during Brearley's first spell as England captain, and we were proud, if a little disappointed, to learn that he had once applied for a lectureship in our department and been turned down.

In the early 1970s Brearley devoted himself to cricket full time. He became Middlesex captain and forced his way into the England team as a batsman. Then Tony Greig's dalliance with Kerry Packer was revealed and he inherited the England captaincy.

I was at Trent Bridge for the second day of his debut test in 1976. We were playing the West Indies, but I was sitting next to two Australians. They asked me who the England fielder they did not recognise was.

"It's Mike Brearley," I said. It was a name no Australians would forget for years to come.

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