He may be on the wrong side of the 70s, but Mike Brearley--an astute brain on the cricket field almost four decades ago--still continues to be clear in his thought-process and concise when it comes to expressing it.
On the sidelines of a panel discussion during the Tata LitFest, the former England captain, Brearley, spared a few minutes to dissect the two most-talked about topics ahead of India’s gruelling tour to Australia, elite honesty and, well, Kohli’s captaincy.
Did you ever imagine that you will hear the term “elite honesty” in cricket, that too in the context of Australian cricket?
Elite honesty! What does it mean? That’s what Australian cricket is supposed to be, elitely honest. That's expecting a lot. You do want straightforwardness in honesty but let’s not be elite about it. Let’s just say ordinary honesty will be good and straightforwardness. I mean it’s not a wick rich tea party, a cricket match, you don't expect to not say anything for the whole day.
Do you think the Australian cricket fraternity over-reacted to the sandpaper-gate?
It was made much bigger because of the reaction of the Australian public. The Australian public was disillusioned with their team, not just over that, that was the last straw. They were disillusioned because they thought that the Australian team was not elitely honest, but they weren't ordinarily honest.
Having played against Australia for so long, did that surprise you?
Australian cricketers are blunt, they are straightforward, they have a strong moral code of their own. I have had a story in the book where Ian Chappell was given out twice in a Test match when he was not out on both occasions--caught off thigh pad in a Test match against England at Melbourne of all the places, and getting out of the ground without knowing he had been badly given out out. They were bad decisions, one time he got 50 and the other time he got 60 or something, so he was expected to get a big hundred. So I mean, it's honourable. I am impressed by that. Most people would drag back and make it known they were bad decisions. They have got their own integrity but it's very tough. Occasionally like other people go over the mark. But I think it's also possible at times for teams to get into bad habits.
There is a school of thought that feels David Warner and Steven Smith should take the field again even before serving their suspension. Do you agree with it?
I know there have been talks, that’s because people were so outraged when it happened and they were very angry and wanted punitive action. Once they saw these people were distraught by it and that it was not quite such a big thing that they felt. I think they then felt bad about it and didn't want to be so tough. I think that's true about many situations in life. I think they probably should serve their time. Once the decision has been made , you should do it but then they should be allowed back and given a fresh start. That’s what I think.
You had mentioned during India’s tour to England that Virat Kohli’s attitude as captain may hurt the team...
I said basically his attitude on the field is terrific but like everything else, if it goes too far, it must become difficult. If he expects too much of people and if he shows his disappointment in them too strongly, then it might put people off and they won't be such good members of the team. They might be more anxious, more intense, more uptight. So I have a lot of admiration for him.
Do you think the role of captain is not as important now as used to be the case during the 1970s and the 1980s?
Not quite with the analysts and the coaches around but they still have a big role. On the field, they are still in charge of what happens, for better or for worse.
Do you agree with Kohli tweaking the winning combination continuously during his Test captaincy tenure?
Look, you can't really generalise about these things. From a distance, sounds to me as though that he and the Indian selectors have gone a long way in that direction. Sometimes you need to settle a team down. But of course he is right. You have to have lots of people who are capable of playing for India. You have to be willing to change if you think you can improve them. Sometimes you change because of horse for course, sometimes change because somebody is exhausted, sometimes you change because somebody is carrying a niggling injury and you don't want to disclose that, so it’s hard to say. I think there are two eras. One is changing all the time, which maybe he risks. And the other is the era of never-changing, you know you are too complacent, you give people too much of security and you don't bring in new people often enough, so there's no simple answer.
How difficult is it for a modern-day cricketer, especially from the sub-continent, to present an honest account while writing an autobiography?
It’s always been the case. It’s like respecting confidentiality. You don’t give out things that are private to the team. On the other hand, you have to be willing to be as frank as you can be within that constraint. Provided that there's generosity to the team and the others and provided you don't give out things that should not, you have to be as frank as you can be. In fact, that's a kind of rule for captains or leaders as well. You have to tell the truth as far as you can. Otherwise, it's ridiculous. You become a mockery because you don’t face the truth. But on the other hand, you don't tell the workload at large that you think someone was cowardly or someone was bad for the team. You try to do your deed and you should do that.
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