Beware Milestones

When you want to make a key point to a senior leader, a story is often the secret sauce you will need for it to land. Last week I wrote about the effect of the environment people find themselves in based on their willingness, or not, to take a risk to achieve a target. If you have identified this as an issue and would like a story to make your point, try this one on for size.

In the game of cricket the number 100 is highly significant for a batsman. It represents a century of runs in one innings and is a massive milestone. Careers are judged on the number of centuries a batsman scores. Great batsmen score tens of centuries in their careers. However, for bowlers (pitchers if you are from North America) a century is a rarity.

Now transport yourself back to the 2013 Ashes Tour of England with the Australian cricket team. Enter one Ashton Agar, a 19-year-old bowler who could “bat a bit”. He makes his debut for Australia against England in the first test match of a five-test series. Agar is slotted in the number 11 batting position. England don’t perform well in their first innings (of two) and the Australian team members are feeling pretty good about themselves. Then disaster strikes, Australia loses nine of 10 wickets and they have barely made half the runs England made. Agar walks onto the field and starts scoring runs immediately and almost at will. Before you knew it, with the greatest of ease, Ashton was approaching the milestone all cricketers strive for, to score a century, 100 runs in one innings.

What happened next was the strongest evidence you will ever need of the dangers of milestones.

People who follow cricket are well aware of the saying “the nervous nineties”. It was palpable. The free scoring Agar tensed up. He scored one run in the 62nd over, one in the 63rd and edged nervously for three runs in the 64th, he was then four runs from glory. On the second ball of the 65th over he defended again for a comfortable two runs. He was just two runs away from glory. Here is how the ESPN Cricinfo website commentator called it for online followers:


Broad to Agar, no run, back of a length down the leg side, swings at it and misses


Broad to Agar, no run, short again, wafts at it trying to force it down to third man past gully but missed


Broad to Agar, OUT, back of a length, pulled and … got him! Oh no, caught in the deep.

For those watching live as I was, you could see how his behaviour had changed. He, the commentators and I were all left at best, flat … and at worst distraught.

There is your story. If you prefer, go look up the story of golfer Tom Watson at the 2009 British Open. The pressure got to him and he was 58!