In Tom Campbell's pleasing novel Fold there's a character who is fond of the aspirational sporting slogan most often attributed to Gary Player: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” It is one of the more dispiriting slogans of our times (and indeed, the character who lives by it is a most unpleasant person); we also have Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, whose core message is that the more work you put into something, the more successful you'll be. This may sound like a statement of the obvious. But there is more to success than hard work and application, and we should be grateful to Ed Smith for pointing it out in this brief but elegant and resonant book.
Smith's first career was as a cricketer; he applied himself, we learn here, to becoming the best. It was as if he had inhaled Gladwell's book before it had even been written. From the age of four, by his account, he would spend hours in front of the television, watching his hero, Geoffrey Boycott. For those who know little or nothing of cricket, Boycott was an unlikely hero for a child: a batsman who would devote himself single-mindedly to amassing his own score through the application of dry and rigorous technique. Smith could spend hours studying his technique because Boycott stayed in for hours, often to the exasperation even of his team-mates. No bars at cricket grounds ever emptied when the news went round that Boycott had arrived at the crease. He was the archetypal sporting figure who refused to believe in luck. It was all down to technique. Smith's technique was good enough for him to get picked for England. But after a promising start, he never flourished, and was dropped after only a few games, his final innings closing thanks to a poor umpiring decision. Five years later, he broke his ankle in a freak accident (his physios didn't realise it was broken for some time, and the punishing regime of exercise they imposed makes for uncomfortable reading) and had time to think about the luck he had hitherto disdained.