'Captains shouldn't settle for defensive cricket too readily'
Interview/ John Michael Brearley
London: John Michael Brearley, a highly-celebrated captain of England and author of the much-revered The Art of Captaincy, which remains the most definitive book on the subject, took questions from The Telegraph at Lord's on Thursday.
Q Well, how many roles does a captain play, or how many could he play?
A I have no idea what the criteria of counting might be. Perhaps, one could speak of a mentor, counsellor, an instructor, tactician, a psychologist of an informal kind... A captain has to be a good judge, a person capable of getting into the mind of his own team and, of course, that of the opposition.
Q To what extent can a captain groom or nurse a player?
A Grooming has had a bad press recently, and I mean other sport and generally too. But nurture, yes... Bringing someone on, giving him a good number of chances to develop, saying the right things at the right time, getting the player to think better about the game... All of what I've just said can be done.
Q David Gower, one of the England captains after you, remains grateful for the advice you gave at the start of his international career. How did you handle someone obviously so gifted?
A Look, David had a touch of genius. A lot of my captaincy was about letting him play. However, generalisations on such issues tend to become banal.
Q From the quiet Gower to someone at the other end of the spectrum, Sir Ian Botham. How did you handle him?
A A mixture of tremendous encouragement and moments of confrontation. But, then, that too is a general truth. To be a leader, one has to elicit someone's support and also stand opposed to their bad habits or tendencies. Tough love?
Q So, do you need a different yardstick for dealing with different individuals?
A Naturally, one does (deal differently)... There is a need to balance fairness with an acknowledgement of differences... David had to practise with everyone, but there was no point requiring him to go on long runs. Botham would need to have a work out at nets, but not if he'd bowled, say, 70 overs over the last three days.
Q Since you've mentioned a captain also having to play the role of an informal psychologist, is there a need for a full-time mental conditioning coach/psychologist with international teams?
A I would be doubtful about that.
Q Is too much made about captains having to lead from the front?
A It's very nice if you can be the best batsman/bowler or score the most runs or take the highest number of wickets... But, I suppose, another way of leading from the front is to be up for the challenge and not duck... Leading from the front is also about taking responsibility, being frank about saying sorry at times, and not hiding behind others. It's important too to be able to let people lead and have ideas from time to time.
Q Captains shouldn't, therefore, be judged on the basis of the runs they score or the wickets they take?
A Clearly not. But runs/wickets do help.
Q Should any conclusion then largely be on results or on team-building?
A Assessing captains is very hard and there is no absolute measure to do so. A team may be so good that a captain would have to be terrible to not win!
Q You were hailed for being such an inspirational and tactically brilliant captain. However, insensitive comments were, at times, also made about your contribution with the bat. Did that hurt?
A Could have... But you had to be able to take it. As well as the inappropriate blame, there could be inappropriate praise too.
Q In the context of leading from the front, where would you place Virat Kohli's 149 in the first innings at Edgbaston?
A Would rate it highly not only for the runs Virat scored, but the gutsy way he fought and fought. It showed character. I have, as I told you last December, been an admirer of Virat.
Q Stage set for a Virat vs Joe Root 'showdown'...
A Yes, Virat starts the second Test well ahead of Root.
Q Some words on the batting and captaincy of Virat and Root...
A One converts 50s and the other doesn't... Perhaps, Virat has total commitment even when away from the game... Fitness, questioning his technique... Virat is also more hawk-eyed than Root, which is not necessarily a good thing in that it's not the only requirement of a captain. A captain has to be both in the present and keen-eyed, but should also be able to think in a more detached way. Virat has the edge over Root.
Q Your take on Eoin Morgan, England's ODI and T20I captain?
A Morgan is a very charming, likeable and intelligent young man. I suspect he has built a good atmosphere in the limited overs teams. I am sorry Morgan hasn't quite learned to be a Test batsman.
Q Briefly, what would be your advice to the captains of this era?
A Nothing very different from what I'd tell the captains of the earlier era. I'd just add: Be more attacking... Don't settle for defensive cricket too readily.
Q Can pressure be put aside or it necessarily has to be embraced?
A I don't know about the embracing part... You have to get stuck in.
Q Is the end near for Alastair Cook, England's numero uno run-scorer in Test cricket?
A Hard to say... One had that feeling last winter, but Cook scored an unbeaten 244 at the MCG, in the Ashes.
Q The last one... How is your latest book, On Form, doing?
A (Smiles) It's doing fine and is now out in paperback. Like our children, books have to make their own way in the world.