5 great England captains – including birthday boy Mike Brearley

By Rory Dollard, PA Cricket Correspondent
PA Media: Sport

Mike Brearley, one of the most celebrated captains in cricket history, was born on this day in 1942.

Brearley is widely credited as one of the best to lead England and even wrote a well respected book on the subject in 1985 – The Art of Captaincy.

Here the PA news agency considers him and a quartet of other skippers who could claim to be the best England have had in Test cricket.

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Douglas Jardine (captained 15, winning nine from 1931-34)

Douglas Jardine, captured in 1929 (PA Archive)
Douglas Jardine, captured in 1929 (PA Archive)

A relatively slender tenure in comparison to some who followed, Jardine’s impact and legacy on the wider game of cricket still resonate louder than most. His utilisation of Harold Larwood and William Voce on the Ashes tour of 1932/33 gave rise to the story of ‘bodyline’ and created a controversy that transcended the sport. As well as create a vast internal debate about the laws, the spirit and the morality of the game, it also yielded a 4-1 away win against a team containing Donald Bradman.

Ray Illingworth (captained 31, winning 12 between 1969-73)

Illingworth’s win percentage might look light but he was active in a period where draws were often more likely than results. More relevant then to look at defeats (just five) or series records (losing only two from nine). A forceful personality, who knew how to leverage and wield power in equal measure. It would cause problems during his time as a backroom general, but was a fine fit on the field of play.

Mike Brearley (captained 31, winning 18 between 1977-81)

The 1981 Ashes were Brearley’s career high (PA Archive)
The 1981 Ashes were Brearley’s career high (PA Archive)

Before ascending to international cricket Brearley built formidable academic background, working as a lecturer in philosophy, but it was the words of Rodney Hogg – who said he had “a degree in people” which best crystallised his value on the field. Brearley was a cerebral, considered decision maker and proved himself able to harness the best of the talent at his disposal.
Brearley’s finest hour came when he came back from the cold to reclaim the job from Ian Botham in the 1981 Ashes, helping facilitate the all-rounder’s career-best series.

Michael Vaughan (captained 51, winning 26 between 2003-08)

  • Won 26

  • Drew 14

  • Lost 11

Vaughan’s predecessor, Nasser Hussain, is worthy of his own mention among great captains having dragged the national side up from a dire state. It was his hard work that paved the way for a proud next chapter, with Vaughan the right man to pen it. A lighter presence and one who felt able to allow the likes of Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen to flourish in their own ways, he was the calm eye of the glorious 2005 Ashes storm. Nobody has led England to more Test victories than him.

Sir Andrew Strauss (captained 50, winning 24 between 2006-12)

England went to number one in the world under Strauss (Anthony Devlin/PA)
England went to number one in the world under Strauss (Anthony Devlin/PA)

In unison with director of cricket Andy Flower, Strauss fashioned a ruthlessly effective Test match unit that stormed their way to number one in the world rankings and hammered Australia on their own turf in a spectacularly successful trip Down Under in 2010/11. He started with defeat by an embarrassing margin in the West Indies and was worn down by his struggles with Pietersen by the end, but his body of work in between stands with the very best.

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