(Reuters) - Australian bowler Rodney Hogg quipped that Mike Brearley had a “degree in people” - an apt description for a limited batsman who became one of England’s finest captains and penned arguably the best treatise on the subject.
For someone who averaged under 23 with the bat in his 66 test innings and could not manage a century, Brearley was clearly not an automatic choice for the team.
Yet he still captained England in 31 of his 39 tests with an 18-4 win-loss record, which spoke volumes for the leadership qualities of a player blessed with legendary man-management skills.
To preside over a dressing room containing, among others, a mercurial Ian Botham or a pugnacious Geoffrey Boycott would have tested any captain but Brearley knew how to blend individuals into a successful group.
The scholarly Middlesex captain studied Classical and Moral Sciences at Cambridge and brought a distinct, cerebral approach to the job.
Though not everybody was convinced of his leadership credentials.
One of his predecessors, Ray Illingworth, branded Brearley: “England’s luckiest captain”.
There were others too who felt he was fortunate to have the likes of all-rounder Botham, batsman David Gower and bowler Bob Willis simultaneously at their peak.
After his belated test debut at the age of 34, Brearley was shoehorned into the captaincy in 1977, following Tony Greig’s removal due to his involvement in the rebel World Cricket Series.
Under Brearley, England won the Ashes series at home in 1977 and 1981, and also triumphed in Australia.
Critics pointed out that quite a few of Brearley’s wins came against sides weakened by defection to the rebel series and that he never led England in a test series against the all-conquering West Indies side.
Brearley made his lasting impression in his final series in 1981, taking over the captaincy reins from Botham who resigned two matches into the Ashes series with England trailing 1-0.
Under Brearley, a remarkable turnaround unfolded with Botham as the catalyst.
With the leadership burden off his shoulders, Botham rediscovered his all-round mojo and England won three matches in a row to complete a memorable series victory.
The sight of Brearley, his collar upturned and his hair grey and tousled, marshalling his bowlers and manoeuvring the field suggested a kind of calm assuredness that few other captains conveyed.
A wicket-keeper in his early years, he was a safe catcher in the slip.
A psychoanalyst since retiring in 1983, Brearley offered deep insights into leadership in his seminal “The Art of Captaincy”.
“The good captain enables talents to flower,” he wrote.
“Like a gardener, he must not prune too hard; but nor can he leave all to nature.
“We should not forget too, that there are many pleasing styles of garden, from the formal symmetry of Fontainebleau to the happy wilderness that was, once, Highgate Cemetery.”
Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Toby Davis