How you deal with Adversity

"Clearly broken, hurt and unable to comprehend what they’d let slip through their hands, it was what Langer did then which impressed me so much."

In 2019, Australia’s Ashes team (cricket) came to the UK and I was lucky enough to watch one of the tests. Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft had just come back from 12 month bans over ball tampering and were met with the harshest of ‘welcomes’ from the Barmy Army et al.

If you’re not a cricket fan I’d still encourage you to read on as this story is as relevant today in business/life as it is in Sport.

This last few years I’ve personally faced a fair bit of adversity. I’ve burnt out in my business, I’ve lost two babies, 12 months apart and I’ve faced a collapse of our business due to a global pandemic. Im still here though. I like to think that the way we face up to and deal with adversity is a huge part of our character and having been through all that, I feel I’m fairly well qualified to pass comment on this.

Anyway, back to cricket.

So Justin Langer, an Aussie legend in himself had taken over the manager role in 2018 following the ball tampering scandal. The Amazon Prime series ‘The Test’ follows his journey with a new team, through to one that retains the Ashes in 2019. Its an incredible behind the scenes series and even if you don’t really enjoy cricket, its still worth watching to see the ups and downs of a team who are hated by the rest of the world, including their own country, come back to retain the most coveted trophy in their sport.

I want to pay special attention to one episode however. Number 8.

The ashes are drawn 1 a piece. If Australia win this next Test they retain the urn and take it home. What happens next will be passed down in cricketing folklore. I remember vividly as my friends and I had gone to the local pub garden for a beer. It was too tense to miss so we listened in on the radio.

The Aussies start badly, very badly. They are bowled out for 179. England just need to put a decent score on the board and they’ll have this in the bag. What follows is a collapse of epic proportions. The entire team fall for 67 with Denly top scoring on 12! Australia score 246 in the 2nd innings and set a total chase of 359 for side that fell for just 67 in the previous innings. Not possible. At 267-7 with 98 runs to win, Ben Stokes did the unthinkable and navigated (with an amazing Jack Leach effort at last man in) England to victory in a heroic effort and one that will never be forgotten. He etched himself in the cricketing hall of fame that session and I was so pleased to have been listening in to witness that great day.

If you’re English, here’s what’s not talked about so much, after all, we won it doesn’t matter how! Australia threw that game (and potentially the Ashes) away. Not one or two times but multiple. Firstly Harris dropped Stokes. Then at 350-9 there was a call for LBW on Jack Leach and Tim Paine used their last review. It was easily not out. Nathan Lyon then fumbled an easy run out opportunity and the tension was palpable. Stokes was then given not out for LBW and the Aussies had no reviews left as they’d burnt their last one. Replays show Stokes would have been out! He went on to hit a four and seal one of the  most amazing victories we’ve seen in English cricket. 135 not out if you’re wondering.

The reason for all this background and context is what happened next. Clearly broken, hurt and unable to comprehend what they’d let slip through their hands, it was what Langer did then which impressed me so much. After a sleepless night he got the entire team together to watch the last 50 or so runs of that game. It was clearly painful, watching the players, as you heard the English commentary over the top adding to the insult of how they were already feeling. You could see that captain Tim Paine didn’t much like his poor decisions and players mistakes being shown up again. But this is where I believe Langer shone as the countries manager. He made them own their mistakes and learn from them. They discussed as a team what happened and how they could learn from them. You could literally feel the strength and bonding going on in that room as they did this.

They did go on and retain the Ashes in the next test despite what happened. Many would have crumbled but I believe it was Langer’s man management which bought about that outcome. It’s interesting as Langer’s management has been questioned a bit of late but the fact they are current Ashes holders and now the T20 World Champions as of Sunday calls that into question.

I won’t bore you with anymore cricket chat, if you’ve stuck with me til now and you don’t like the sport then I applaud you! What I’ll say is this. When shit hits the fan, which it will, do you own it, dissect it, learn from it? Or do you brush it under the carpet, maybe stick your head in the sand and hope it doesn’t happen again?

I like to think I’m pretty good at this anyway, but watching a powerful series like this really brings home how the ups and downs are managed at the pinnacle of sport. Next time things go wrong, we could all be a bit more Langer, I’m sure.

What do you do when things go wrong? Any tips for approaching difficult situations? How do you find the positive in negative situations?