I love cricket. This winter’s success by the English cricket team in South Africa (the first Test series win there for 40 years) has bought great pleasures to all us cricket supporters. Someone I am sure will write a book about the series and I hope they will write it with some insight into the importance of leadership in making the Tour so successful.
Last year the best book I read on any subject was about our summer game but I believe it would also enthral non-cricketing enthusiasts. Ed Smith’s “On and Off the Field” is his diary of the 2003 cricket season and a memoir which speaks far more of life than it does sport. His turn of phrase betrays a sense of place and a wonderful wisdom belying his 27 years and I must confess that his enviable way with words has already had me squirreling away some of his best phrases and ideas for future reference!
One of the reasons I recommend this book is the fact that I have long been fascinated by the attributes of success and failure whether in the world of sport, or my own trade, politics. How is it that so many young sport stars suddenly burn out in their early twenties? Similarly, how can it be that some of the most gifted youthful performers can be commercially successful one day and then be unable to reproduce this success ever again?
Another important factor in the consideration is the comparison between individual success in a team sport such as cricket versus individual activities such as golf and tennis. The similarities with political life are very easy to see. An individual politician struggling to become a member of parliament can often be very much on his or her own. But having made it to the House of Commons it is clear which politicians are here for a team sport and those which are here to be maverick showmen (or women).
To arrive at the very top in sport it has become vital to have advisers, coaches and managers who will all look to improve an individual’s performance. In a team game the captain becomes a critical asset, not only to a team’s performance but also to different individual’s performances within the team. From the outside this has been one of the strengths of Michael Vaughan, the English cricket captain. What is also clear is that the manager of the team, Duncan Fletcher, has proved a tremendous guiding force for the team. Managers in cricket were almost unknown, marginal figures until recent years. Now it is key that they form a strong beneficial relationship with the captain for team success to follow. The question now must be whether they can build on this success or will the recent results be the equivalent of shooting stars, very bright but also very swift to disappear.
Team success can build confidence and fuel further success, both within the team but also in many of the individual’s within the team. Some sportsmen and women survive in a team performing poorly because they can live happily in a mediocre level but once a team reaches higher success levels then either such players increase their own personal performances or wither on the vine.
The analogy with political life is also clear to see. Many politicians can begin their parliamentary life in a blaze of glory and then fade away very quickly, whilst others emerge more slowly but appear to have real staying power. The importance of having good mentors early on for parliamentarians is also valuable as is the ability to serve an apprenticeship at the lower levels of political activity such as in local associations and councils.
But nothing is more important in a team game than the leadership which the team receives. In cricket Michael Vaughan’s team has given this country something to rejoice in during this year’s damp, dreary and grey winter and has been an example to us all of the importance of leadership.