Stripped of spectators and staged in bio-secure bubbles, international cricket has suffered during the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, the English Cricket Board declared a loss of £16.1m as it looked cautiously ahead to a summer season of sport that it may finally be able to share with fans.
While acknowledging that “considerable uncertainty” remains, the planned easing of social distancing would see 25% of capacity return at Lord’s for the first of a two-Test series against New Zealand on 2 June 2021. The matches against the top-ranked team in the world are seen by many as the start of a bumper home schedule including ODIs, T20s and Tests against Sri Lanka and India until mid-September – and a significant step back into the much-missed world of live sport.
As anticipation builds, Investec invited revered former England captain Sir Andrew Strauss OBE to join guests in a virtual discussion hosted by cricket World Cup winner and broadcaster Isa Guha.
Now CEO of leadership consultancy Mindflick, Strauss shared his thoughts on international cricket beyond the pandemic and what he’s learnt about resilience and high performance — both on and off the pitch and we are glad to share his insights in a three-part series.
When I look at the really good players that I played with, they all did one thing exceptionally well. They had an inquisitiveness that allowed them to learn very quickly.
Part one: Performance and predictions in a pandemic
When asked about his predictions for the upcoming summer of cricket, Strauss admits the context is critical.
“England's on-field prospects are very linked to England off-field prospects. Due to Covid-19, England players have been in this bubble continuously for the best part of 18 months now, often away from friends and family in a very rigid environment,” he says. “So I actually worry about the mental health of some of the England players at the moment.”
That said, he is cautiously optimistic about what fans can expect from the results. “In English conditions we should beat New Zealand, though I think that'll be a tough two match series,” Andrew predicts. “And India are phenomenal at home, but they are susceptible away from home.”
In Strauss’ view, there is a great deal to be learnt from sport about weathering uncertainty. Much of this comes down to being prepared to handle shifting environments – something which most sports players are well accustomed to.
“In sport every match is slightly different,” he says. “The conditions are different, the opposition are different and so on. Ultimately great sports people are able to adapt very quickly and almost be one step ahead of the opposition.”
In his role at Mindflick, he wants to support this approach in business too. “What we're finding is that the businesses and people that have been able to go, ‘this is a new situation, what opportunities might there be for me and how can I shift my thinking in order to take advantage of those opportunities?’ have been the ones that have really prospered.”
In sport every match is slightly different. The conditions are different, the opposition are different and so on. Ultimately great sports people are able to adapt very quickly and almost be one step ahead of the opposition.
Competing at the highest level
On or off the field, high performers tend to have a particular strength.
“For me, it was my ability to play the short ball,” Strauss explains. “That was something I had to remind myself of – it was my super strength, so to speak. It’s very easy to get sucked into working on your weaknesses all the time.”
Secondly, they have to be able to learn new skills. “When I look at the really good players that I played with, they all did one thing exceptionally well. They had an inquisitiveness that allowed them to learn very quickly. Whatever situation they were put in, they might not succeed the first time — but I'll tell you what, the next time they were put in that situation they would have found an answer.
“And then,” Strauss concludes, “it goes without saying: work ethic.”
The magic of it was, when I should have been absolutely petrified walking out to bat, I got to a stage where I thought, ‘I'm in terrible form and the chance of me getting 100 is zero. This is probably the last innings I'll ever play for England so I'm just going to let it go’. And that shift in mindset was staggering. I got 177 that day.
When things go wrong, a cool head is essential. While Strauss admits he never saw himself as mentally tough, he describes himself as calm and composed. “I don’t get easily flustered. When you’re opening the batting in a national test match, for instance, and emotions are running very high, it’s easy to let those emotions take control. Other people found it very hard to settle down and watch the ball. So I suppose that was a strength of mine.”
Mindset is everything. The ex-captain describes a period about a year into his career on the England cricket team when his usual composure started faltering under the growing weight of expectation.
“I suppose I had more to lose,” he says. “I found myself getting consumed by the idea that I might get dropped. So I got very hesitant... I didn't want to take any risks.
“In 2008 we were playing a series against New Zealand. Everyone was saying that if I didn’t get any runs in this series I was going to get dropped from the England team. I didn't get any runs in the first two test matches and in the third test match I got a duck in the first innings. So I was walking out to bat in the final innings knowing that my whole career was on the line.
“The magic of it was, when I should have been absolutely petrified walking out to bat, I got to a stage where I thought, ‘I'm in terrible form and the chance of me getting 100 is zero. This is probably the last innings I'll ever play for England so I'm just going to let it go’. And that shift in mindset was staggering. I got 177 that day.”
So what did Strauss learn from that experience? “I used that as a bit of a mantra for the rest of my career,” he says. “Sometimes we've got to accept that there is only so much we can do and give ourselves a bit of a break when we go out there to perform.”
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