Last summer Ben Stokes took over a failing England cricket team and went full-throttle in pursuit of a completely different way of playing.
It has been a dramatic turnaround and the new, hyper-attacking approach is like nothing seen before in the history of Test cricket. England have broken numerous records, have won 7 of their last 8 matches and the most recent win in Pakistan this week was hailed as one of England’s best-ever performances.
Stokes has turned conventional cricketing wisdom on its head with the risks he has taken and the freedom he has given his team. And this attitude has a higher purpose: to make Test cricket exciting, to bring back the crowds and to reignite passion in the game.
As ever, sport has lessons to teach us about life. And I think the boldness and bravery which has created this dramatic turnaround for the England cricket team is relevant for all of us.
Last week I gave a keynote talk at a national conference for charity CEOs and senior managers. I wanted to be bold and say something distinctive, but I also had to grapple with some anxiety about provoking disagreement and controversy. I was tempted to play it safe, to caveat everything and insulate myself from criticism or disagreement.
No one would admit to wanting group-think or echo chambers but why then are these cultures so common? Why are there so many anodyne events and boring conferences?
It’s because it is not easy to be distinctive and to challenge the accepted wisdom of the sector we work within. We crave the approval of our tribe and fear failure.
Facing up to these fears is vital. Often our fears are not to be trusted, they tell us lies, they reduce our confidence and mean we avoid saying what we really mean. Fears can easily constrain and imprison us.
And in doing so, we risk missing out on a whole heap of adventures, learning and transformation. Little is ventured and little is gained.
The key to being able to say what you mean is security in your identity and conviction about what you believe to be true. The more we stand on solid ground personally, the bolder our voice can be.
This is where the Christian faith should help us. The grace and truth of Jesus offers both the deepest affirmation and the biggest challenge. We are loved, accepted and forgiven. And believing this means offering this grace and truth to others. But we cannot do this without taking risks.
So facing fear is a central aspect of faith. This is why Jesus says so often to his followers ‘do not fear’, ‘do not be afraid’ and ‘do not worry’.
Honest and real
In the end, I did take the bolder route in the talk I gave. I tried to ‘go for it’ and say something which was challenging, honest and real. I used this diagram and talked about the need for us to get better at telling the truth:
Speaking from the heart, and saying what I really think, meant I shared something much more valuable than if I had played it safe. In seeking to speak more truth, I ventured into more choppy waters but also said something more meaningful and more potentially transformative.
Metaphor for life
Sport is a great metaphor for life because its deep meanings are wrapped up in meaninglessness. Hitting a leather ball with a piece of wood has no intrinsic worth. But the lessons that sport teaches – courage, handling pressure, leadership, teamwork and resilience – could not be more vital.
Perhaps the boldness of the new England cricket team can speak to all of us? Perhaps it’s time to take the hand-brake off, to step out more confidently and take greater risks for what we believe in?