A Messerchmitt up your arse

Keith Miller was an Australian all-rounder, widely regarded as one of the finest cricketers to have played the game.

He might have been the greatest ever, had his prime cricketing years not been interrupted by the second world war.

Instead of playing cricket, Miller spent most of the war years flying fighter-bombers on daring raids over occupied Europe.

On several occasions, he was lucky to escape with his life: he once crash-landed a burning Mosquito, only to clamber out of the wreckage and open the bowling for his local club side less than an hour later.

After the war, when normal cricketing hostilities resumed, Miller returned to England as part of Bradman’s ‘invincibles’, the famous Australian team who regained the Ashes without losing a match.

The games were often tighter than the results suggested. But invariably, whenever the Aussies were in trouble, it would be Miller who swung the momentum back in their favour, with a mighty innings or a terrifying bowling spell.

A reporter once asked him how he was able to cope so well with the pressure.

Miller grinned and replied:

‘Pressure? There’s no pressure in cricket. Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse.’

For me, that’s a perfect summary of the value of perspective. And it feels particularly apt for the rather strange times we’re living through now.

Things that were considered impossible six months ago – offices closed, everyone working from home, no meetings, no travel – have become completely normal in the face of a lethal pandemic. Businesses have adapted. People have found a way.

And, in the process, a lot of those people have begun to ask themselves why so many of those things seemed impossible before. And, by extension, whether all the things that seemed important – milestones, priorities, deadlines, wearing a suit, catching the 7.22 train – were really quite so important after all.

There’s a lot of talk about ‘how things will be different’ in a post-Covid world. How we’ll all work from home more, we’ll prioritise our friends and families and be less concerned with material things.

Well, maybe.

But, if the one thing we learn from this lockdown is that there are vanishingly few work problems worth losing any sleep over, that will be enough.

Because, as Keith Miller memorably proved, when people have the freedom to express their talent – without being distracted by pressure from things that don’t really matter – that’s when they achieve extraordinary things.