Tuesday, 17 December 2013
Ashes: When Things Go Wrong
I have just watched my beloved England lose the Ashes to Australia. I am very aware that it's only a game, it's 22 grown men chasing a little red ball and throwing it at some sticks, trying to hit it with a big stick. Yet I am pretty gutted right now, and I am sure lots of other archaeological cricket fans will be too.
There are lots of aspects of England's loss- and I think all of them have a message for those of us who work in other areas. As a New Year approaches, and the entire archaeological community of the UK heads off to TAG, I want to briefly think about why things go wrong, and what to take from England's loss and apply to archaeological practice.
Basically, I think four things contributed to the loss of the Ashes:
1) Over-training for the wrong things
I am convinced that England's downfall is at least partly due to an obsession that coaches, pundits and players have had with working on batting against spin. Tours in India, Dubai and Sri Lanka exposed a vulnerability- so quite rightly everyone worked hard to combat this. Only they forgot to work equally hard on pace and bounce- the bowling skills that have skuttled England down under. This happens in archaeology and academic life too- how many times have you spotted a flaw, then worked and worked on it, only to find that something you hadn't even noticed was more important? This happened to some extent in my Viva- I had been very worried about one aspect of the thesis in the days before, and had prepared hard for questions on that. Then when the examiners picked up on something else, I was surprised. When approaching a problem, and assessing your own performance, maybe it's important to look at the whole, and go for a balanced approach to training yourself to be a better archaeologist- one that focuses not just on what you're not great at, but at what you have been good at before. Don't let it slip, because it might just make the difference. Which brings me on to...
2) Complacency. A large amount of England's travails have been caused by a softly-softly victory last summer. The scoreline flattered England, and made them feel that the tour in Australia would be easier than it has been. No matter how much you bang on about taking every game as it comes, if you feel that you won easily, or did really well without trying, complacency has its foot firmly in the door. Then when things do go wrong, it's too late- you are smacked around the face (or on the helment by Mitchell Johnson at 90mph) with the reality that you aren't really up for this, because it's not as easy as you thought it would be. I've definitely done this- cruised along, thinking everything would be fine and my work was just great. It takes a kick up the arse to snap out of this, and I'm grateful to the various kickers over the years- and none of them have a terrifying moustache.
3) Exhaustion. Don't try and do too much. Even if you are feeling on top of the world. Back to back Ashes series, after a knackering winter in India last year (an incredible series win perhaps caused by that over-focus on spin I was banging on about earlier), was always going to be a tough ask. The complacency may have masked this for a while, but if you are physically and mentally tired, the cracks are going to start gaping open in your performance, whatever you do. You can't respond as promptly to pressure, you can't pull yourself out of a hole. Everyone needs rest- and I mean real rest, not fevered twitchy I-should-be-working rest. If you can't do this, you will end up with...
4) Injuries. A bad back (Alastair Cook). Calf and lower leg problems (Matt Prior). Burnout, seemingly endless colds and flu (archaeologists everywhere). You can't be good at what you do if you're sick as a dog or in constant pain. So don't try. Rest, recuperate, don't feel guilty, get better.
Four mistakes- England made them so that we don't have to. I hope- I will definitely do my best not to fall victim to any of these in 2014.
For now, I'm pretty happy that I managed to get cricket and archaeology mashed up on this blog- though I'm not sure you will be.