sport news Legendary former England captain MIKE BREARLEY on how Ben Stokes has banished ... trends now
Sitting in his book-lined study in Chalk Farm, north London, Mike Brearley pauses as he considers the transformation of Ben Stokes’s Test team. ‘I’m astonished that it could happen so dramatically and so quickly,’ he says. ‘I’m full of admiration for him.’
Brearley is 81, a number that seems to follow him around: 1981 was the summer he replaced Ian Botham as England captain after two Tests against Australia, with results that still reverberate today. Now, as appetites are whetted for the latest Ashes chapter, it is Stokes who is performing the miracles — with Brearley a fascinated onlooker.
Can England beat Australia this summer? ‘Well, I hope so,’ he says. ‘They might well. There’s a lot of luck in these things, in the shortish run, as there is in anything. Talking of luck, 1981 was the most lucky of all. That’s just a fact of life.’ You sense the modesty isn’t fake.
Brearley, who won 18 of his 31 Tests as captain and lost only four, could hardly be a more different beast from Stokes, who has so far won 10 and lost three. As Brearley recounts in his new memoir, Turning Over the Pebbles, he would scribble Shakespearean sonnets on his hand or wrist before going out to field for Middlesex. Stokes prefers tattoos quoting the Canadian rapper Drake.
And yet the two men share an interest in what makes people tick — Brearley is still a practising psychoanalyst — and an understanding that different strokes may be required for different folks.
Legendary former England captain Mike Brearley spoke to Mail Sport about how Ben Stokes has transformed England's Test team and banished the fear of failure in his side
Brearley won 18 of his 31 Tests as captain, but is an extremely different character to Stokes
‘It’s the old thing about telling Ian Botham he’s an old camel and he’ll bristle up and bowl faster,’ he says. ‘If you told Bob Willis that, he’d half-believe it.’
Brearley can see Stokes has applied his own version of man-management to his team-mates. ‘What he seems to have done is release people to be freer to be themselves, in a relatively optimistic way, along the lines that Brendon McCullum has talked about — joining the boy or girl you were when you first started playing. You did it for love.
‘The second thing he’s done is make people less worried about losing. In fact, he’s almost defying anyone to ever concern himself with losing at all.
‘The third thing is, he’s won people round. He was asked how things had changed. The first thing he said was: Jimmy and Broady have come on board. And that’s been a big change, too.
‘I’ve always felt they wanted to stop people scoring runs rather than take wickets. They could have been even greater if they’d had just that little bit more edge of wanting to take wickets instead of worrying quite so much about run-rate. What Stokes has done is vital.’
But Brearley has doubts, too — ‘caveats’, he calls them. For all the success of England’s positive batting, he suggests: ‘You’ve also got to be able to be cautious, to reflect on your own performance. I hope it doesn’t mean there will never be another