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The Brearleys

The irony of me, a Brit, having to come to Calcutta to meet acclaimed former England cricket captain Mike Brearley, matched his ironic observation that here cricket appears an Indian game, latterly adopted by the British. I have witnessed the fanaticism that revolves around the game here. As such, I was apprehensive that my cricketing knowledge would not be up to scratch as I made my way to The Oberoi Grand for Brearley’s Tiger Pataudi Memorial Lecture, preceded by a deliberately English-styled ‘high tea’. 

TT Bureau   |   Published 16.03.16, 12:00 AM

Mike Brearley had always wanted to “introduce” his “Gujarati wife to Calcutta where she has never been before”. Mana Sarabhai cut an elegant picture in a sari on the evening of March 12 at the Tiger Pataudi Memorial Lecture, presented by SKODA, a joint initiative by The Bengal Club and The Telegraph in association with The Oberoi Grand and Royal Stag Barrel Select powered by Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals. Her eyes lit up when they fell upon this tribute platter which had Brearley’s quotes decked up with pralines and macarons at Tea Time Tales, organised before the lecture by The Oberoi Grand. “For me, leadership is when it brings out the best in people and brings them together. Mike Brearley also has a degree in people and we are really kicked to have him with us here at The Oberoi Grand. I, personally, am a huge fan and I’ve read all his books,” said general manager Varun Chhibber.

The irony of me, a Brit, having to come to Calcutta to meet acclaimed former England cricket captain Mike Brearley, matched his ironic observation that here cricket appears an Indian game, latterly adopted by the British. I have witnessed the fanaticism that revolves around the game here. As such, I was apprehensive that my cricketing knowledge would not be up to scratch as I made my way to The Oberoi Grand for Brearley’s Tiger Pataudi Memorial Lecture, preceded by a deliberately English-styled ‘high tea’.

Thankfully, my fears were unwarranted: our conversation bypassed cricket and somehow concluded with some of life’s great philosophical questions. ‘Do we have a past existence?’ was a question I had not anticipated that evening, nor was a quote from Wittgenstein. But it was territory I felt more familiar with.

Hand on heart: “I am struck by Bengalis. You strike me as vividly alive, argumentative, passionate, emotional and warm-blooded. We British are well known for our stiff upper lips, we are less volatile, less excitable, but also less warm and generous and intimate. I also think of Calcutta as a city of art and literature as well as fierce political debate and argument....” That was Mike Brearley’s idea of our city and us. And over a cup of Darjeeling tea, with a dash of lemon and half a pack of sugar, he told us how “nothing had changed” in New Market, with people still haranguing him and “tugging” at his shirt. 

Brearley graduated from St John’s, Cambridge, with a degree in Classics and Moral Sciences. Since retiring from the cricket field he has embarked on a career of psychoanalysis and writing. Famously described by Australian bowler, Rodney Hogg, as having “a degree in people”, I was interested to glean whether Brearley’s Cambridge education had left lasting impressions on him. He said it had, and his subsequent lecture answered in the affirmative for him.

Littered with references — from novelist EM Forster to snooker champ Ronnie O’Sullivan; politicians from JF Kennedy to Abraham Lincoln, Brearley described a game which I could finally understand. He described the ‘higher place’ that one needed to reach to ‘be in the zone’ as though he were referring to Plato’s higher plane of existence. He talked of the ‘sensory intuition’ needed of a captain in the Freudian language of children’s primal instincts. He spoke of the agony of decision-making with reference to America entering the Vietnam War. Psychoanalysis is clearly inseparable from the game in Brearley’s mind, and he told me that he saw psychoanalysis running parallel with philosophy in turn.
Mike Brearley shed a new light on cricket for me — one that dressed up philosophers in cricket whites. 

Clare Pleydell-Bouverie 

Vinith Shetty, marketing manager, SKODA AUTO India Pvt. Ltd with the Brearleys. “SKODA looks at innovative platforms that resonate with the brand’s image to connect with its audiences. We are delighted to introduce the New SKODA Superb at this premium event of Calcutta,” said Ashutosh Dixit, director, sales, service & marketing, SKODA Auto India. 



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