In today’s game is it imaginable that someone would play 39 Tests for England as a top order batsman, never score a Test century, average a mere 22.88 at Test level, yet still be revered as one of the best cricketers of his generation?
Mike Brearley was no slouch with the bat at county level – he scored 45 hundreds and 134 fifties – but it was his abilities as a captain which have made him legendary.
During his 12-year tenure, Middlesex won the County Championship four times plus two one-day trophies. He was picked for England not because of his batting ability but for his proven skills as a captain. He was probably the only captain to effectively manage Ian Botham, which did much to deliver the famous and improbable Ashes series victory in 1981.
Captaining a county cricket team has to be one of the most challenging managerial roles in sport. The captain does not see his staff for five months and in that period there has probably been a significant labour turnover.
He and his charges then live in each others’ pockets for the next six months, either in the confines of the dressing room or in hotels. The sheer amount of time spent together in the course of their work makes cricket teams different to most other professional units.
Off the field, the captain has the job of managing a range of personalities with differing agendas – the motivation of the ‘old pro’ being very different to that of the ‘young pretender’.
The captain in football or rugby leads through personality expressed in his own performance. To state the obvious, cricket captaincy is very different. The skipper makes decisions which determine the outcome of the game – which bowler to use, what field to set and keeping the team motivated at the same time.
The speed of decision-making also varies enormously from the stately, cerebral pace of four-day cricket to the near instantaneous demands of Twenty20. It takes a special person with good managerial skills to captain a county cricket team effectively.
Many organisations make the mistake of promoting people to managerial positions because they have been good at their own discipline. For example, the brilliant scientist who is made head of a research establishment but is clueless when it comes to managing people.
The text books have plenty to say about managing people. Although helpful, in my own experience it’s only when an individual is put in a managerial position that you discover if they have the basic management ‘gene’. If they don’t, no amount of training will make them a good manager.
Will Matthew Hoggard make a good captain of Leicestershire? He’s an intelligent man and an experienced cricketer but this is his first exposure to this type of responsibility. Responsibility changes people, but my instincts are that he has the management gene. Time will tell.
In today’s game, meanwhile, where does the England captain get exposure to captaincy? Usually as captain of England!
What business would put someone with no managerial experience in charge of their best and most important asset? Would Brearley have captained England in the modern era?
*This column has also appeared in the Leicester Mercury newspaper