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Lyth, I.M. (1986). Psychoanalysis in non-clinical contexts: on The Art of Captaincy. Free Associations, 1(5):65-78.

(1986). Free Associations, 1(5):65-78

Psychoanalysis in non-clinical contexts: on The Art of Captaincy

Isabel Menzies Lyth

I was surprised at my temerity in undertaking to write a commentary on Mike Brearley's book The Art of Captaincy, since I was notably ignorant about the finer points of cricket. The book helped me overcome that. Brearley's rich, lucid commentary on cricket, his enthusiasm and his knowledge will make the reader view the game with a new and more sophisticated eye. I will enjoy watching cricket more in future and be more thoughtful about it.

But that is by no means all the book does. It is about captaincy and it is not incidental that it is about cricket captaincy, since it discusses many points that are idiosyncratic to cricket. However, to think of it as only about cricket captaincy would be to do the book an injustice. Captaincy in first-class cricket is a difficult and demanding management task. The book reflects this and discusses management in a thoughtful and informed way. It is highly relevant to the tasks and problems of management in general. It is a manual for present and future cricket captains but could well be recommended reading for any manager who wishes to increase his knowledge, insights and skills.

Brearley is right to talk about ‘art’. In cricket captaincy, as in any professional or artistic work, supreme performances are highly artistic. ‘Flair’ matters. But one should not be misled into thinking that is all that there is to it. ‘Art’ here, like genius, is backed by an infinite capacity for taking pains and by extensive knowledge of great cricketers and great captains, of the development of the game, of the changing interactions between cricket and its environment, of the way individuals and groups function. Thoughtfulness about technical matters, tactics and strategy is also impressive. Evidence of all this is amply provided in the lively accounts of cricketing situations.

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