Both test cricket and psychoanalysis are out of tune with a world that demands quick results. That's our loss, argues former England cricket captain Mike Brearley, now Britain's leading psychoanalystby Edward Marriott / July 4, 2009 / Leave a comment
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Twenty-eight years ago, a cricket match entered sporting folklore. That year, 1981, was an Ashes year and Australia, like this year, was expected to prevail. England lost the first test, drew the second, and found their talismanic all-rounder Ian Botham crippled by the burden of captaincy. Only after Botham failed with the bat in the second test did England make the bold and, as it turned out, inspired move to recall as captain a man whose batting was less than Bothamesque, but whose leadership was already legendary.
Mike Brearley had passed the role to Botham after a string of successes including taking England to the 1979 Cricket World Cup final. What he achieved upon his return was the more remarkable for being unexpected. The third test, at Headingley, began badly. Australia declared on 401, with England managing only 174 in reply and being made to follow on. The rest is legend. Botham scored a fearless 149 not out, aided by Graham Dilley’s 56; before Bob Willis and Botham tore through Australia, bowling them out for 111, and victory.
Key to this astonishing comeback was Brearley’s reinvigoration of Botham, using a combination of carrot and stick. Before the match Brearley said that Botham would score a century and take 12 wickets; then, when Botham was bowling hesitantly, Brearley withdrew him from the attack and dubbed him the “sidestep queen” to goad him into action. Then, when Botham went in to bat, Brearley told him to “go for it, enjoy yourself.” England went on to win the series; and Brearley quietly resigned the captaincy and retired. He’d represented England in 39 tests, with 18 victories as captain, and only four defeats. Having had previous stints as a lecturer in philosophy, he set about training as a psychoanalyst, a profession he has followed for the last 24 years.
It is an interesting change of career, but perhaps not an altogether surprising one. Cricket, particularly in its five-day form, requires intelligence, astuteness and an ability to withstand long periods where nothing much happens while keeping alert for the moment when action erupts—not unlike psychoanalysis itself. Certainly, despite its genteel reputation, few games are as psychologically arduous. On-field aggression is rife: former Australian captain Steve Waugh once described his sledging techniques as “mental disintegration”;…