Brearley rated Kohli as the best batsman in world cricket and his success is largely due to his “ruthless streak”.
Mike Brearley knows a thing or two about captaincy. He led England in 31 Tests, building a reputation as one of the sharpest minds in the game, a man who brought the best out of his players (including, famously, a previously-downcast Ian Botham in the 1981 Ashes Test at Headingley).
At Edgbaston, Brearley is full of admiration for Virat Kohli — a batsman he describes as the best in the world for his ruthlessness, ahead of Joe Root — even if his efforts ultimately could not help India win the first Test.
Kohli’s leadership divides opinion but Brearley is happy with what he sees. “I quite like it.
“Everyone has a different style but he is very good in his own style. He is keen, hawk-eyed. It’s wonderful [for Test cricket],” he says.
“There is an intensity about his cricket. On occasion, it can make people nervous — I daresay — but on the whole, it animates them and dynamises people.”
Brearley believes Kohli’s phenomenal batting will help his leadership, but wonders if he might grow to become too powerful for the team’s good at some point.
“[The runs in England] will be very nice for him, make it a lot easier. The one thing you wonder about Kohli is… is he going to become too dominant a figure in Indian cricket?
“With great respect shown to great Indian cricketers — and at the moment he is a deity in India, like the 3000th deity — will that be good for him and Indian cricket in the long run?”
There is a suggestion that Kohli’s aggressive behaviour on the field could be making some of his teammates uncomfortable, but Brearley will not be drawn into commenting on it.
“I don’t know because for that you have to know the dressing room and how people react.
“It’s possible. That was said of Ian Chappell because he was very aggressive and not short of a word or two in the batsman’s ear. And I think some of the team didn’t feel that they enjoyed the same, and felt a bit on the outside. So it may be true but I have no idea if it is true.”
Perhaps, the greatest criticism Kohli’s captaincy has drawn has been for his team-selection. In the 36 Tests he has led the side in, India has never fielded the same XI in successive matches. ‘Gut feel’ is what Kohli likes to call it. Brearley is not so sure that always delivers the best results.
“It is a balance,” he says. “It is a matter of personality and judgement, and sometimes it is gut feeling. But the question is how right is one’s gut feeling.
“On the one hand you can keep the same side going and it makes people complacent and doesn’t give other people a chance.
“And on the other hand you could go in the other direction and chop and change too much. I don’t know the answer to that.”
He would have chosen Cheteshwar Pujara at No. 3 ahead of K.L. Rahul for the first Test, says Brearley. “[Pujara is] somebody who averages 50 and has played county cricket in England this year.
“I know he has struggled but I would have liked him to come in at No. 3. Especially since he is likely to play a steady innings, blunt Anderson and Broad, and enable Kohli to come a bit later when it is not moving a lot.
“This chopping and changing goes against my gut feeling. You can have gut feelings of all sorts and you can be completely right or completely wrong.
“So gut feeling is neither here nor there. But he is right too, you have to think about it and reflect on it and go with it because that’s how we make decisions in life anyway.”