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John Arlott once beautifully and creatively said that “The batsman's technique was like an old lady poking her umbrella at a wasp's nest.”

What do the following people have in common: John Arlott (the famous cricket commentator with a poetic touch in his voice), Thomas Hardy, (the celebrated author and poet of the late 19th and early 20th century) and Graeme Souness (the Scottish midfield soccer player, who had little poetic touch in his tackles and plenty of gruffness in his voice)?

Not a lot, might be our initial and understandable reaction!

John Arlott once beautifully and creatively said that “The batsman's technique was like an old lady poking her umbrella at a wasp's nest.”

 We get the picture, certainly! He also described another batter’s shot as being “A stroke of a man knocking a thistle top with a walking stick” – wonderful!

He was also extremely perceptive, as seen when he stated that “Cricket is a most precarious profession; it is called a team game but, in fact, no one is so lonely as a batsman facing a bowler supported by ten fieldsmen and observed by two umpires to ensure that his error does not go unpunished.”

Thomas Hardy was a favourite author of John Arlott and the latter once described how intense his own sense of loneliness was after finishing reading Hardy’s novel ‘Jude The Obscure’ while being on tour commentating on a cricket Test match – he felt so down and depressed that he had to go out to be with people.

 Of course, Arlott is not the only person to have found Hardy’s novels tragic and sad, where the central characters always seem to make the wrong choice with disastrous consequences. Many critics have consequently long latched onto the line in one of Hardy’s poems, ‘In Tenebris II’, which reads "If a way to the better there be it exacts a full look at the worst".

It is a line that Dan Abrahams, a sports psychologist and podcaster, picked up on when he interestingly in one of his posts described Thomas Hardy as “one of England's greatest novelists...and possibly one of sports finest futurologists!” He reasoned that because “champion competitors don't experience romantic days, every day.

In fact, the days of glory are sparse and sparing”; he argued that Hardy “wrote about the everyday challenges that life can present...the drudgery, the difficulties!” All of that can indeed be applied to sport.

And here (eventually!) we may come to Graeme Souness who, in a YouTube video entitled ‘Football’s Greatest – Souness’, commented that if someone is going to improve he must play against people better than himself; in other words, we might argue using Hardy’s logic, playing against people better than us may mean we lose (initially) but it is important that we accept the difficulties (and drudgery) in our playing if we are going to improve and progress.

Souness once described an English centre-forward as “God has given him an attitude that he can deal with anything football throws at him”. So, we must not be afraid to lose, to struggle.

When we do lose, (the worst scenario) we must look honestly at the reasons why we have lost and not hide behind excuses and blaming others. It is only when we do lose that we can understand better the feeling of winning.

After all, we are not going to win every match, every tournament; there is no harm in that.

So, where does that leave us? Parents, when we choose a school for our child and their sporting development is a key factor in our choice, it may well be better to send him to a school that is weaker (not one that wins all the time) as then he will play against stronger opposition all the time and improve far more as a result (plus he may not get into the stronger school’s team anyway!).

Coaches, when we look for fixtures for our teams, it will be better for our team to play against stronger teams not weaker ones; it may harm our win ratio but that is a short-term selfish view.

Schools, when we offer places to children, we do not always need to choose the best in order to enhance our reputation; there is nothing in our Vision statement that says we must take the best. How about developing weaker players? We must be prepared to look at (and take) the worst.

Do we have in common the same perceptiveness and attitude as Arlott, Hardy and Souness? If we are going to improve, we must make the right choices, sure, obscure as they may appear.

Let us face tough hurdles; there is no tragedy in that. We are not alone in such thinking. The better batter may be the one who works the worst. And there is nothing precarious about that.

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