Spirit of Cricket

Published: 2020
Pages: 246
Author: Brearley, Mike
Publisher: Constable
Rating: 4 stars

Universally acknowledged as one of the very best of all England cricket captains Mike Brearley has also shown himself over the years to be a fine writer. There were contemporary accounts on the Ashes series of 1977, 1978/79 and 1981, and then four years later The Art of Captaincy, for many the classic treatise on that particular area of the game.

And then there was very little, until recently, and three more acclaimed books. On Form was the first, six years ago, which won a bevy of awards and is a book I really should read, drawing as it does on Brearley’s experience as a psychoanalyst as well as as a cricketer. Since then a collection of essays, On Cricket, appeared in 2019, before this effort from 2020, another collection albeit this time devoted to that single theme, the Spirit of Cricket.

The spirit of cricket has existed since the game begun but, until the turn of the 21st century, only as a concept which everyone who played the game knew about, but which did not exist in black and white. At that late stage, in a preamble to a 2000 edition of the laws, a summary was produced. As many as 417 words were taken up with the subject, later reduced to 163 in 2017. In his study of the subject Brearley ultimately suggests a further revision, this time reducing the word count to 39. On that it is difficult to disagree with Brearley, and ‘less is more’ does indeed seem to be the order of the day.

Talking about cricket is a source of immense pleasure to all lovers of the game, and memories of men and matches, whether observed from afar or based on active participation, are a frequent conversation. Slightly different is the question of the spirit of the game, and here discussions are not always so amicable. Issues such as sledging, Mankading*, spot fixing, batsman walking, altering the condition of a cricket ball and many others** having the ability to polarise opinions.

All of these examples are examined in considerable detail in the book, and although Brearley does not attempt to conceal his own views, he does try to look at the competing points of view and on occasion clarifies a few examples where all of the relevant facts are not always appreciated. By way of example I must confess to never having, prior to reading Spirit of Cricket, known exactly what happened during the infamous ‘Monkeygate’ incident involving Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh in 2008.

In reality the views of anyone who cares enough about cricket to express their opinions to others in forthright terms is going to have a position that, if not quite set in stone, is unlikely to be changed by being disagreed with even by someone as eminent as Brearley. In that sense it is all a little like politics, with only a limited part of Brearley’s audience likely to be prepared to consider changing their position however eloquently he might set out his stall.

Personally I found myself agreeing with Brearley with much greater frequency than I disagreed with him, but although the passage of time might take the edge of some of the hostility I find it difficult to imagine that too many of those who heckled Steve Smith and David Warner so mercilessly in 2019 will not do so again in the future.

But the fact that Brearley’s thoughts are unlikely to change too many minds does not in any way detract from the importance of them, given the experience, cricketing and otherwise, that he can bring to the debate. Even if he didn’t start a revolution he will certainly give all of his readers a good deal to think about and reflect on next time they are holding forth.

*I have much sympathy with those who object to this particular form of dismissal being referenced as a bowler Mankading a batsman, and indeed those who believe the more appropriate description as a batsman being Browned, but I use the great Indian all-rounder’s name here because, like it or loath it, all will know what I mean.

**But not, surprisingly and a little disappointingly, the use of aluminium bats.


Read Martin’s review for the Spirit of Cricket, but then ironically ended-up downloading On Form this morning. Thoroughly enjoying the book so far.

Comment by HookShot | 1:13am BST 4 April 2023

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