Good morning boys and welcome back. I hope you have all had a very good break. We will begin with hymn number 150.
Those of you who know me will know that it will be hard for me not to start this term with a mention of Ben Stokes. If you do not like cricket, or do not follow cricket, do not despair, because this is not really about cricket at all – and I will explain. Ben Stokes was the man who bookended the summer holidays with arguably the greatest one-day innings played by an England player followed by, according to our own Alastair Cook, the greatest innings ever by an England player in the third test match against Australia. Both were played under intense pressure – the pressure of winning the World Cup for the first time, and from a losing position, and the pressure of losing the Ashes, which was almost certain at various stages during that innings in Yorkshire. After both innings, the newspapers and press went mad. People ran out of superlatives. “Stokes performs the impossible; Stokes becomes a superhero; Ben Stokes’ miracle innings; Ben Stokes the genius; Is Stokes superhuman?” All of these, and more, told the tale of the latest amazing innings. And they were amazing innings. However, only a few newspapers picked up on the fact that this is all that we, as paying spectators, see of Ben Stokes. To us, he may seem superhuman, but we do not see what goes into his preparation. A quick google search will show you some of his training sessions: sure enough, he trains longer, harder and with greater intensity than any other cricketer in the country. He is the one who never leaves the net until he is satisfied he has improved his game, will stay behind for extra catching when it is raining and all the others have gone home, is the fittest and strongest in the team because of the hours he puts into the gym. According to Tim Wigmore in the Telegraph, Eoin Morgan, the one-day captain, even had to tell him to train less hard last year, as he was worried that he would drive himself over the top. Alastair Cook wrote this weekend, “If I had to name one quality which I thought benefited my own international career most then I reckon it was my willingness to put in the hours in training. I took pride in my approach to my fitness being a step ahead of my contemporaries. In my last years with England, however, I noticed that Ben Stokes was taking strength and conditioning to another level.” What we see on television is the tip of a very large iceberg. When Ben Stokes plays a shot like the switch hit for six off Nathan Lyon under unbelievable pressure, it was not a fluke: this was the result of literally years of training. Indeed, it was those years of training that provided him with the confidence to play the shot at all.
It is obviously not just in cricket that this is the case. All so-called geniuses bear the same traits. Michelangelo was a paid artist by the age of 14; he had sculpted David by the age of 30; and when he was asked to paint the Sistine Chapel, something way out of his comfort zone as he considered himself a sculptor first and foremost, he actually enlarged upon his brief to create one of the most ambitious plans imaginable, one which took him four years to complete. Now, fresco painting requires real physical effort. Every day the artist has to mix up a batch of plaster and trowel it onto the wall, then hurry to finish his painting before the plaster dries. Painting a ceiling is doubly hard because everything has to be lifted, scribed, and painted above your head. Michelangelo, who virtually lived on that scaffolding for four years, stood on the wooden plank 60 feet in the air and worked looking up. Can you imagine how painful on the neck and back that must have been? The amazing work of art which we see now, the work surely of genius, tells only the briefest of its story: of the toil, pain and focussed ambition that went into it.
And perhaps on a more human basis, on a local front, and something which we can all relate to a little more closely, there was an obituary for an OB called George Felton in the holidays, after he died aged 98. This man was keen at school and university on Maths and Physics and ended up working on a PhD in Physics at Cambridge in 1948, near to the construction of the EDSAC, the world’s first practical electronic computer. Over time, he became fascinated in this computer, and in computer programming, never finished his Physics PhD, and went on, over the next 40 years, to become the UK’s foremost authority on computer software – something that barely existed when he set out on his career. In the early days, you see, manufacturers made hardware and the purchaser was responsible for the programming. Felton took the Pegasus in the early 1950s, the masterpiece of its time, and constructed the most complete and effective programming system of its era. Genius may be the word used; but just imagine the hours of work, late into the evening, all weekend, for years. You can read his full obituary in the Guardian online.
And now for one small extra piece of information about each of those three: Ben Stokes, only two years before his great innings, had been involved in a fracas outside a nightclub in Bristol, had gone to court and been banned from playing for the England team. In other words, he had made a huge mistake, and come back from it. He even attributed his innings partly to that mistake – and the desire it had built within him to pay back his teammates. Michelangelo initially refused to paint the Sistine Chapel, because he did not feel he was good enough to do it; in other words, he had a crisis of self-confidence and had to be forced to take on the painting. George Felton, OB, apparently did not enjoy much about school, I am sorry to say. In other words, he overcame a difficult start, one where perhaps he did not feel valued by others, to make his mark on the world. All of them used hard work to overcome what must have seemed like plenty of individual difficulty; may this be a lesson to us all. Never give up this year. Keep at it in the classroom; keep standards up outside the classroom; go the extra mile in your academic work. I leave the last word with Stokes: “You can never take anything for granted. If things don’t go well, I’m not going to look back and say ‘I didn’t try hard enough’.”