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Cricket is a mind game, says Mike Brearley

There has to be a balance 'between relaxation and concentration' in order to achieve the best result

Amit Roy London Published 07.09.23, 09:23 AM
Mike Brearley at his home in north London.  

Mike Brearley at his home in north London.   Amit Roy

Can Mike Brearley help the Indian cricket team which keeps fluffing finals, I ask the man who was the very successful England skipper from 1977 to 1980 and a professional psychoanalyst in London for the past 40 years.

“Cricket is a mind game,” he observes, when I drop in to see him at his home in Hampstead in north London to talk about his new book, Turning over the Pebbles: A Life in Cricket and in the Mind.


He talks about his Indian family connections (his wife Mana comes from the distinguished Sarabhai family in Ahmedabad), the Indian cricketers whom he admires or with whom he has been friendly (batsmen Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath and the bowlers B.S. Chandrasekhar, E.A.S. Prasanna and especially Bishan Singh Bedi, whom he describes as “the most beautiful slow bowler I think I’ve ever seen”) and his practice until recently of spending a couple of months of the year in India.

But, first, can he help the Indian cricket team, which looks so strong on paper, but lost to New Zealand in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship in Southampton in 2021; was beaten by Australia in the World Test Championship at the Oval in June; and upstaged last month by a relatively weak West Indian side in the deciding fifth and final Twenty20 in Florida?

“I suppose all games are (mind games),” he responds. “But cricket has certain extra features, partly because the traditional game goes on at a high level for such a long time. There’s plenty of time to gain confidence and to lose it. And there’s also this peculiarity of the game, that it’s a set of individual battles within a team context. So I think there’s always a balance to be struck between selfishness and properly looking after oneself on the one side, and looking after the team on the other side.”

Brearley, who has addressed groups of people on motivation and leadership, explains: “A side may tighten up on a big occasion if the expectation is too great. And then if one tightens up, one stops playing as well as one might.”

There has to be a balance “between relaxation and concentration” in order to achieve the best result.

He laughs as he reveals he once got into “Pseuds Corner” in the satirical magazine Private Eye for perceived pretentiousness. Facing the West Indian Michael Holding, the fastest bowler in the world who had been nicknamed “Whispering Death” by the umpire Dickie Bird, Brearley had sought to make himself less tense by humming “the opening of Beethoven’s Razumovsky Quartet, Op. 59, No. 1”. It sort of worked.

Brearley has used cricket, which has been a big part of his life, to look at the mind.

He also spoke about racism which has convulsed English cricket ever since the Pakistani-origin Azeem Rafiq spoke of how badly he was treated at Yorkshire.

He points out: “I think it’s important that we acknowledge that there are traces of it in all of us, which can come out unconsciously, like in institutional racism, and become part of a cultural set of attitudes.

“But, of course, there’s also inverted racism in my view, so there can be racism of blacks against whites, let’s say. But one has to give acknowledgment to the suffering that’s been rather the other way – the suffering under colonialism, the suffering under racism, under racial superiority for several hundred years largely to the detriment of black people or people of colour.”

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