In 1985 Mike Brearley published The Art of Captaincy, revealing how he steered Middlesex and England to victory with his team of first-class cricketers. He got the absolute best out of his players, inspiring Ian Botham to new heights against the Australians in 1981. Few cricketers have had a greater impact on the amateur game than these two. Every captain would love Brearley’s degree in people, as well as a hardhitting all-rounder like Botham. But theirs was a barely recognisable game from the one we play on often dishevelled grounds up and down the country with ragtag teams of ageing, deluded or hungover friends and acquaintances.
Now, Charlie Campbell offers us a New Testament to Brearley’s Old Testament, as he guides us through the realities of captaining an amateur team. Herding Cats picks its way through the minefield of an amateur’s season: from the excitement and hope of pre-season nets, to the desperate scramble to gather 11 players for a frosty game on a far-flung, desolate pitch; from decoding the casual phrase ‘I bat a bit’, to setting a field of players who can’t catch or throw; from handling the most delicate egos, to dealing with a case of the yips; from frequent moments of despair, to sudden and joyful glimpses of unexpected glory. For all those of us who recognise ourselves, our teammates, our friends and partners in the shambling joy of amateur cricket more than in the top-class international game, Campbell lights a path through a weekend world of play at the beating heart of the world’s second most popular sport.