The term "Legend" is much overused in sport these days - unless of course you're referring to someone with the sporting pedigree and track record of Mike Brearley that is.
In cricket, and Middlesex cricket especially, it could not be a more fitting description! As well-matched as gin and tonic, as well-paired as champagne and strawberries - Mike Brearley and the term legend could not be more perfect bedfellows.
John Michael 'Mike' Brearley, born in Harrow, Middlesex, in 1942, made his first-class debut for Middlesex against Derbyshire at Lord's in July 1961. He went on to make 292 first-class appearances for the club, scored over 15,000 first-class runs, and captained the county through the golden era, between 1971 and 1982, steering Middlesex to four County Championship titles in the period, before handing the captaincy reins onto Mike Gatting in 1983.
As a captain and leader of men, Brearley was one of the best, a natural, and his best-selling book, The Art of Captaincy, published in 1985, explores the many challenges that any cricket captain must overcome to achieve success in the game.
Today, Mike Brearley works as a psychoanalyst, and has written for both the Times and the Observer on the psychology of sport. His brand new book, On Form, is published today by Little, Brown, and in it Brearley examines many of the elements of being in and out of form across a number of different disciplines - not only in cricket and psychoanalysis but also in finance, music, philosophy, medicine, teaching, tree surgery and drama.
Drawing on his own experiences, both on and off the field, Brearley describes various states of mind, from the conscious determination involved in training and practice through to that almost spiritual state of being 'inspired'. To achieve any level of form requires us to be able to hold different tensions in mind, and to tolerate both ambivalence and ambiguity. Neither form nor creativity can be guaranteed - Brearley illustrates in depth the ways we frequently lose form - through understanding. In a full sense, enables us to make drastic loss of form less likely.
Perceptive and engaging, On Form, is an exploration of the benefits and risks of being on form and can help us reflect on the range of conditions that block or liberate us.
To coincide with the launch of his new book, Mike Brearley discusses the state of being 'in and out of form' - in life as much as in cricket - in conversation with All Out Cricket editor Phil Walker.
PW: In going through the book, I landed on one of the sub-heads of one of the chapters towards the end. It's entitled How do I know what I think until I read what I write? Is that why you felt compelled to write On Form in the first place?
MB: I think it's one of the main reasons, to try and articulate some thoughts on this very wide-ranging topic of being on or off form. Another is to bring together sport and everyday life, with a more psychoanalytic way of thinking. It's partly to articulate what I really think, and secondly to try and link up these different areas of my life.
PW: It's certainly the first book that's landed in our office to contain a Rembrandt self-portrait in its pages. The breadth of the subject elevates it away from cricket.
MB: I hope that's a strength of the book, but of course it could also be a weakness. It's such a slippery topic. Being 'on form' applies to almost every area of life, from being on form in rather routine ways, such as doing the same thing over and over again; to creativity, which lifts one to another level of thinking; and on the other hand, there's not only being off form and having a bad day at the office or at the crease, but the disruption of form completely, such as in the example of Othello falling to pieces.
PW: Cricket is still a kind of comedy of errors in many respects - and I should know because I still play club cricket. You write about Mr Doubt and Mr Fear, these two abstract characters who sit on our shoulders every time we walk out to bat.
MB: I think it's particularly true there, because of the simple fact that one slip and you're out. One mistake, one good ball, one bit of bad luck, and your activity's finished for the week. So, yes, they are always around. I suppose the question is: Can you be too immune to them in some cases? Or will you be mastered by them, and therefore reduced?
PW: It's a moot point in this corner.
MB: Well, it was for me too.
PW: Why is cricket in particular, more than any other game, so subservient to these tyrants, Mr Doubt and Mr Fear?
MB: Two things. One is it goes on for such a long time, even the traditional club match goes on for five hours, so you can achieve less by adrenalin and excitement. Also, it's an individual game in a team context. Each ball is a kind of drama - each ball can have a big effect on the whole outcome, both individually and the team. Cricketers are vulnerable to it.
PW: As a captain, were there players you found hard to inspire, players who remained a mystery to you?
MB: When I started to captain Middlesex, I don't think I was very good with the senior players who were older than me, more experienced than me, and had done much more in the game than me. I had come in partly from outside - I'd played on and off for Middlesex over the previous few years, but a lot of off as well as on. and so, here I was, this ex-university graduate, teacher of Philosophy at Newcastle University, going to captain them and, you know, they understandably had mixed feelings about that, as would I have had, if I'd been in their position.
PW: Were you self-conscious in the role to start with?
MB: I was a bit self-conscious. I don't think I tackled things as clearly and as confidently as I might have done. I tell you one thing that I've found difficult in my life, I still do, is if I feel as though someone is speaking with contempt towards me. And sometimes, if they do that, it's partly at least because they're not so confident as they give out. and it took me too long to realise that. A small example: I think I could react with Ian Botham pretty frankly more or less from the beginning. We're totally different personalities, but I think, you know, he could enliven me and take the mickey out of me and I could challenge him and encourage him in a mostly good way. And some part of that was to gee him up, and get people to stir him up. But when I did that with Bob Willis, I don't think I realised that he was more sensitive than I knew. For one or two periods of time that I played with him, he was unsure of himself, so calling him a "wounded camel", I don't think was helpful. One makes wrong judgments of that kind from time to time.
PW: You also wrote a fascinating passage about your own evolvement as a Test batsman and how you never felt quite at ease in Test cricket. You reference an India tour when you had a chance to make your mark, and it didn't quite happen for you. Do you harbour regrets from your career and if you do, are they an unavoidable consequence of the thinking mind, the reflective mind?
MB: I think they are. I think in finishing something, retiring from something, coming to the end of a passage of time - it might be a season or a year, a job, a relationship - there' s all the mourning for the good things that you've lost or missed or you won't have again, but there's also the regret about the things that you didn't achieve. I think regrets are a part of life, and I try to describe some of them in the early chapter Zen and the Art of Batting. I'm willing to talk about that in my batting life more easily than in my personal life. On all those occasions, about all those things I have regrets, about running myself out after getting into a stupid state of mind because somebody had slightly startled me with a short-pitched ball and I wanted to get down to the other end, and the other time about not giving up on that stupid party and going home to get a proper night's sleep. Now, those things I really regret.
PW: And now, when you watch cricket, are you still in thrall to it?
MB: I'm enthralled with the best things of it. In the South Africa-England Tests, I liked watching Anderson bowling to Amla. I liked watching that hundred that Dean Elgar scored. I liked watching Philander bowling to the top order of the England batting, including Alastair Cook. I liked watching Moeen Ali bowl when it turned. So, I like watching the best encounters. I perhaps get more easily bored than I once would've done, but those top-level contests I still find very gripping.
On Form by Mike Brearley, published by Little, Brown, is now available to buy in all good book stores or from Amazon HERE