You could say England's 1st Ashes Test victory was the result of a great deal of luck; especially if you are Australian.
Ponting out caught off the pad, Hughes out caught just off the ground (where TV replays look dubious) and Katich out caught off a no-ball that wasn't given: A bad few days at the office.
It's not unusual. Ask cricketers at any level and you will find the most successful teams are usually the ones who get the rub of the green. The umpires always seem to give them the benefit of the doubt and the ball always goes to hand.
The natural reaction is to put it down to that mysterious force: Luck. The lucky teams will say otherwise. As the cliché says: The harder you work, the luckier you get. So is it more than coincidence?
Psychologist Richard Wiseman certainly thinks so. And he should know, he has dedicated over 10 years of research into what makes people lucky or unlucky. With the conclusions he wrote a book called The Luck Factor showing us how we can be lucky simply by changing our mindset.
Wiseman's studies found out that luck is not an external force that comes to some and avoids others. He found that lucky people behaved in certain ways that unlucky people did not. The same applies to cricket teams: The lucky sides do more, unconsciously, to be lucky.
The amazing thing is that you can increase your luck by changing how your team thinks and plays. To really understand how powerful that is I recommend you buy The Luck Factor, it's an easy read with some practical steps which I summarise here:
Make the most you your chances
During a cricket match we are presented with a great deal of opportunities to be lucky.
I recently played a game where I was batting against a young leg spinner. He packed the off side field, putting nobody behind square on the leg side. The pitch was bouncy and he had a loopy style meaning I quickly worked out that even good length balls would bounce over the stumps. Knowing this I could premeditate the pull shot even to length balls by getting right back in my crease. I hit the first couple of shots in the air but they were safe and went for boundaries. By the time deep backward square leg was in place I had found my timing.
Had I played 'properly' with a straight bat I would never have scored the runs: I made the most of the situation.
There are many more examples in every game. The luckier players notice them and take advantage. The unlucky ones don't realise the chance is there until it is gone.
The first key to being lucky, then, is to be able to spot these opportunities and respond to them. Unlucky people miss them because they are too tense and focused on something else. Wiseman's research is riddled with stories of people who do things like find money on the street just because they are open to the idea of it being there rather than driving on, head down and focusing on something else. So learn to relax on the field and you will get luckier too.
If you have ever been a captain for any period of time you will be very familiar with two feelings:
- Thinking about moving a fielder on a hunch, deciding against it and watching the ball pop up there right away. Disaster!
- Thinking about moving a fielder on a hunch, moving him there and watching the ball pop up there right away. Great captaincy!
Lucky captains have a habit of doing the latter more than the former. The key is to move the fielder based on common sense and to do it right away. You may not be 100% sure as to why you are making the change but something inside you thinks it's a good idea.
What is happening is that your subconscious mind is telling you something that your conscious mind has not quite worked out yet. This is not some kind of voodoo. Our subconscious is very good at reminding us of past experiences we may have consciously forgotten. This leads to something that feels like a hunch.
Perhaps you have played against this particular batsman before and last time he got out it was top edging a cut to third man. You can't really remember it, but a hunch tells you that fly slip would be handy now. How clever will you look if it goes to hand?
Again, the essential element is to be relaxed enough to let your subconscious do the work. Learn to clear your mind and get back to zero quickly then act on that hunch before it's too late.
Another common element of lucky people (and teams) is the confidence that they will be lucky, even with a slim chance of success. Amazingly, this increases the chance of being lucky by becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In an example given by Professor Wiseman, teachers were told certain (randomly selected) students were destined to go on to great things. Over the next few months the teachers unwittingly began to give these students more attention which ended up in them doing well.
To draw on the power of this, you need to set your expectations to success. The easiest way to do this is to set realistic but achievable goals for yourself and the team. As you achieve these small steps you will find yourself expecting success rather than fearing failure.
The final piece in the luck puzzle is the ability of lucky people to turn their bad luck around.
Take for example if your side finished second in your league. You could call it unlucky that you got so close to winning and failed. You could also call it lucky that the team who finished third couldn't catch you up: Same result, different perception.
You may even go so far as to say finishing second was better than first because everyone in the side will train a bit harder next year to go for the win.
However, it's not just a matter of looking on the bright side. Teams and players who experience bad luck are able to learn from it and put it aside quickly so it is less likely to happen next time. For example, if a star bowler got hit round the park on a flat batting track in one game (despite bowling good line and length) perhaps he will work on some variations to improve his ability on good wickets.
As Mike Brearley says, think how awful the alternative may have been.
To find out more about what luck is and how to turn around bad luck we recommend The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman.