I started 2013’s cricket season having read over the winter Malcolm Gladwell’s brilliant (and, in my humble opinion, entirely incorrect) Outliers, his thesis on luck versus hard work.
Gladwell, an American academic and a brilliant writer, reckons that anyone can become world class at anything if they do it for 10,000 hours.
Such vibrancy has his writing that I was convinced – while I was actually reading – that his argument was strong and true. The minute I put the book down I realised it was so much nonsense.
How can I say so with such confidence?
Because I did the same thing that all weekend cricketers will do if they too read the book. As soon as I got to the meat of Gladwell’s arugment and understood the 10,000 hours principle, I totted up the number of hours I reckon I’ve spent playing cricket.
For me it’s been 23 years.
That’s 23 years of batting in nets, in the middle, on the outfield and for hours, upon hours, upon days down the snicket out the back of our house with my little brother bowling at me (quick, left arm over).
I should be bloody brilliant.
A single ton in my career testifies that I’m not useless, but I’m no Javed Miandad. I’m not even Javid Iqbal (remember that name – we’ll come back to him).
That’s why I know Gladwell’s entertainingly written Outliers is wrong and the 10,000 hours principle, erroneous. I’ve done at least 10,000 hours, by my reckoning. Once the season got underway, I read Bounce by British former table tennis champion Matthew Syed, an even more convincing and accessible discussion of the 10,000 hour principle.
It is also, like Gladwell’s book, based on a notion that is entirely wrong.
Finally I read Luck by Ed Smith, pictured, and found a book that reflected my own thoughts (that’s what we do, by the by. Look for literary evidence that re-inforces the world view we already have. Ask anyone with religious leanings, they’ll explain why ‘their’ book is the one with the ‘right’ way to live your life).
Smith is more likely than most to believe in luck, having been the victim of a cruel injury that cut short his professional cricketing career – and it was sheer bad luck.
I know whereof he speaks.
It’s all luck.
This is always a very odd time of year for me.
It is a strange time for all club cricketers, but I might respectfully suggest it holds greater significance for me.
It’s my birthday quite soon and, while I am not the sort that takes life particularly seriously (you’ve read the columns) I tend to get quite maudlin and introspective when my birthday comes round. It’s because, I think, for me my birthday always marks that the closing of the cricket season is imminent, which means a time is just around the corner when I will look back on the season and reflect on how the fortunes of the cricketer are as changing as the tides.
I started my season with a five-for and 71. That sounds like bragging, but the great thing about the game we love is that we can simply relate figures and let them speak for themselves.
More of those 71 runs came via the edge of my bat than I am willing to admit in print. Had I not already believed in luck when that innings began, I was a believer when it finished.
Really, had second slip been just that bit wider, I’d have probably been out for a duck. Mind you, had mid-off been deeper last weekend, then I would have escaped being out for a duck.
It’s all luck, I tell you.
This season I have had my belief in luck underlined and reinforced by meeting an exceptional bunch of men.
Early in the season I was commissioned to work with photographer Jonny Walton on a project called Runs on the Board. This is the arts programme of a competition called The Grey Fox Trophy. Run by imove and sponsored by Yorkshire Building Society, the GFT is a competition open to amateur cricketers over the age of 50. Jonny and I were to watch the group stages of the game and reflect on what we found.
I’ll tell you what I found.
I don’t know if I’m maturing (unlikely) or what, but spending time with weekend cricketers over the age of 50, you realise something.
Luck is a constant. Form will come and go and sometimes you’ll hit runs for fun and sometimes you’ll wonder when you’re next going to hit a ball off the square, but at some point you’ll edge a lucky four and you’ll be away – other times you’ll be in the form of your life and be unluckily given out caught behind when all the ball has done is hit your pad, and your season from there on in will be ruined.
While on assignment for Runs on the Board, I met a number of wonderful men.
Of course they were wonderful, they were weekend cricketers.
One of these men was Javid Iqbal. Javid plays for the Bradford Buddhays, a ridiculously talented team of cricketers who hit the ball far harder than they should be able at their age – don’t forget, rule number one of the GFT is that a player must be over the age of 50. I was expecting a load of doddery old blokes playing a gentle form of the game.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
These men have put in their 10,000 hours and then some – and they are all pretty good. But the thing that really sticks in my mind is that men like Javid Iqbal, who got himself out and smiled and shook hands as he left the field, have done what Kipling suggested – they have met with Triumph and Disaster and they have treated those impostors just the same. And they have done so many times over.
They are an inspiration and it has been a pleasure to meet them. I only hope that, well, first of all I’m still capable of playing when I get to their age, but also that I have learnt to treat the luck we all experience with the same sanguine approach they demonstrate. And as we look to a season coming to a close – good luck to us all.
and another thing...
It’s Friday afternoon. Actually, it’s well after noon, it’s after 6pm and it is a reflection of a massive change in newspapers that a journalist is sitting here filing a column rather than emptying a pint glass (when I first became a proud, paid up member of the Fourth Estate, it was made clear that pubs were where you got all your best stories).
I was going to write about how we should probably start thinking about a DRS system for the DRS system and a spotlight should be shone on hot-spot.
Then the newsroom came to a jumping, whooping frenzy and I knew what I had to write this column about.
We all just stopped to watch Mo Farah win the 5000-metre final of the World Championships in Moscow. At the end of the race, Farah bowed in supplication on the racetrack, as his Muslim faith would have him.
And there was nothing odd about a contemporary British newsroom cheering and watching this man representing Great Britain, and performing an Islamic prayer at the end of a race.
And normally when newsrooms talk of Muslims, it is for nothing positive.
And the reaction just then was nothing but positive. And that’s worth writing about.