Good morning boys and welcome back. I hope you have all had a good summer, strange though it undoubtedly has been. It also seems strange to be starting online, no singing (a real shame) and with a whole new set of rules in place for the term ahead. I will talk more about those in a few minutes, but first may I extend a warm welcome to all newcomers to Bedford – I wish you all a very happy time with us – and I start with a message to you all of sorts. You will forgive me for picking on cricket again, I am sure, but it has been great to be able to watch some sport again and the last fortnight has seen one of the great sporting achievements of all time. Fred Trueman, one of England’s all-time greatest fast bowlers, was asked in 1964 when he reached 300 Test match wickets whether anybody would ever do it again; he replied that he didn’t know, but that if anybody did, they would be extremely tired. Well, Jimmy Anderson now has double that, the first fast bowler ever to reach 600 wickets in Test cricket, at the ripe old age of 38. Very few fast bowlers last that long because it is extremely hard work on the body to bowl at that speed consistently – and Anderson played his first test match in 2003, before most of you were even born. If you like cricket, savour him while you can. But it is not the cricket I am addressing today: it is the human being. What does it take to be that good?
Imagine the resilience. He was dropped from the team endlessly early in his career, and he was all over the press every time it happened; not only are you dropped as an international sportsman, but it is very public; yet still he kept going. He was pilloried in the newspapers over an odd bowling action and an unusual hairstyle; yet still he kept going; he had a stress fracture of the back early in his Test Match career, which is the worst possible injury for fast bowling; yet still he kept going. Indeed, he took six years to cement a place in the England team – and even now, he has to fight for his spot.
Imagine the perseverance. Fitness levels have to be amongst the best in the world, not just briefly but for 20 years; you can’t just do a few jogs round the park and lie in on rainy days if you don’t feel like it. There are endless runs and early mornings even when it is snowing in winter and a game of cricket is months away, endless gym sessions, even when you are feeling lethargic; endless pushing oneself to the limit, even when you are not sure anything will come of it. The personal sacrifices are amazing, too. A friend of mine who played for Zimbabwe in the 1990s told me that one year he spent 326 nights away from home on international duty – he had a wife and a small child and spent every one of those nights in a hotel with his teammates.
Imagine the drive and attention to detail: Anderson not only trains harder than anybody else, but seeks advice from others, sifts through endless information, makes his own judgments for his career. Apparently, he watches every wicket to fall in county games around the whole country every evening to pick up tips on how to get batsmen out; he works endlessly with analysts and coaches to improve; he is the cricketing equivalent of a Cambridge professor.
Then there is the importance of his relationship with others and his trust in them. He needs other people’s help – analysts, coaches, fitness trainers, catchers in the slips, teammates on bad days. Much you have to do on your own; but you absolutely can’t do it all on your own; you have to seek out people whom you can trust and stick with them; showing loyalty to the right people over time can make a huge difference.
Finally, there is also human frailty. Even at the height of his bowling powers, Jimmy Anderson was, and is, a hopeless batsman. He did once score 81 in a Test match against India – but amazingly, this remains his highest score ever in any form of cricket, including school and club games! Some of you, therefore, will have a better batting top score than he does. So there is an awareness of one’s own strength and weaknesses and a humility which goes with it. Jimmy Anderson seems a genuinely humble man, who has done the most amazing things,
You, too, can do that. It is extremely difficult: the year I played first class cricket for Cambridge, I made a New Year’s resolution to go for a run every day until the start of the season. It lasted until 9 January. But even if most of us mortals cannot do what Jimmy did, then we can at least learn from it. Nothing great comes easy. This is not just about cricket; you can see this in other sports (Andy Murray was in the papers again yesterday for another amazing comeback) but also with the best musicians, artists and academics – just look up George Godber OB, the name of our new temporary boarding house, when you get a moment, and you will find a whole career of intellectual curiosity and perseverance. Perseverance, self-sacrifice, attention to detail and the ability to relate to others are cornerstones of this top-end success. It doesn’t sound much fun, in fact – but not only is there definitely some fun along the way, there is also something about a sense of achievement in the long term which is far more satisfying than fun in the short term, so it is worth trying to harness some of those traits. This year, in particular, we may be needing them.