August 10, 2012

Rohit Sharma and the talent problem

It's not just about being gifted but about being able to summon that gift when needed

Beyond the extraordinary race they provided us, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake have forced us to revisit the eternal debate between natural ability and hard work. On the left, Bolt, he of the fast-twitch muscles and the huge levers; on the right, Blake, who trains so hard that when his coach gives him a programme he "damages it". Did talent beat work ethic then? Is it true that, as Allan Massie in the Daily Telegraph quoted Aldous Huxley, "Nature is monstrously unjust. There is no substitute for talent. Industry and all the virtues are of no avail"?

It is a much deeper debate than that. Nobody is only talented or only hard-working. But there is little doubt that if talent is combined with ambition and work ethic (and make no mistake, there is far, far more to Bolt than mere great natural endowment) it makes for an unbeatable combination. If unequally talented people have an identical attitude, the greater talent will always win. Blake discovered that in London.

But not everyone who is gifted can take the attention and the kind of financial rewards Bolt receives and remain unaffected. Young footballers in England and cricketers in India are excellent examples of that, of how reward can take talent's hand and lead it astray. Let's look at an example.

On March 2, 2008, Rohit Sharma, already a much talked-about name in Indian cricket circles, scored 66 against Australia in a chase in the first final of the CB Series. He put on 123 with Sachin Tendulkar and it was apparent to anyone who had eyes that a special talent had arrived. He didn't just hit good shots, he was calm, organised his innings with maturity and looked ready to play Test cricket. That was four and a half years ago.

Coincidentally, that very day, India's Under-19 players were in Kuala Lumpur playing the final of the World Cup against South Africa. India won it and the captain, Virat Kohli, a name known only to serious followers of Indian cricket, let his feelings go berserk. Wise people shook their heads gravely, worried about his attitude and, in a manner of speaking, put a little black mark against his name.

A month later both players were in the IPL. Kohli, brash and with a swagger that seemed okay for champions but not for 19-year-olds; Rohit, charming people like Adam Gilchrist and Andrew Symonds with his ability. Rohit was the fast-tracker, the next big thing in Indian cricket, Kohli the petulant youngster lighting the fuse of his own destruction.

So what has changed? Rohit's talent still makes your eyes pop. When he plants his front foot down and is still able to swivel and pull over square leg against pace, you know you are looking at someone special. But while extraordinary talent can help you take on the opposition, it can sometimes weaken your own defences. A couple of years ago Symonds told me Rohit was "lazy", that he was looking forward to playing with him again and giving him a "x@#%o*!" because he was the most talented kid playing. Rohit seems to be losing the battle with himself the way some others before him did. As Rahul Dravid said recently, there is a talent to hit a cricket ball and there is a talent to constantly challenge yourself, to get better every day, to focus on what is best for you, to do the hard yards.

At some point in the last four years Kohli realised that there was a virus within him. There was a rage hidden there that, if harnessed, could propel him upwards but which was in the process of demolishing him. I don't know if the voice within him told him that (the voice within always tells us the truth, it's just that we sometimes can't be bothered to listen) or if someone grabbed him by the collar and sat him down. Whatever it was, a new Kohli emerged; someone who could hit the ball very well but someone who was, at most times, in control of himself and with a better focus on life. The battle with himself that Rohit was losing was the battle Kohli was winning.

One day, very soon, Rohit will realise that greatness is not about possessing talent but about having the discipline to summon that talent whenever needed; a lesson that young Deepika Kumari would doubtless have learned too. That is why Bolt won in London - because his training allowed him to summon that outrageous talent when he wanted it to. When that small wake-up call came in Jamaica, he listened to it but he had already done the hard yards to be able to recover. He was the hare but he wasn't letting himself sleep. It is a lesson that many in Indian cricket, even if at different levels of accomplishment, must learn.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

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  • Srinivas on August 13, 2012, 22:50 GMT

    TALENT - this word is very cheaply used now a days. Remember what Dravid said about talent. It's the completeness that can be called as talent. Not a bit in this area and a lot more in the other area and zero in yet another area and somewhat good in some other area - you've got to be complete in all facets of your approach to be called as gifted and talented cricketer. I know, you can be gifted in math and not in painting or biological sciences. You can still have future. But in cricket, you have to be gifted and talented in all the areas to be called as talented. Oodles of mental toughness with zero batting skills is no talent in cricket. Likewise oodles of batting skills with zero mental toughness cannot be called as talent in cricket.

  • Dummy4 on August 13, 2012, 12:59 GMT

    Just too good Harsha... really wrote with golden ink, so to speak. Truly motivational and very apt in all walks of life. Cannot get better. Indeed a wakeup call to Rohit.

  • Dummy4 on August 12, 2012, 18:40 GMT

    @Great_Aussie...........well said !...........but that itself speaks that if worlds worst batting can score 330 than how poor that bowling would be that is exactly my point..................................Last Pak batting was good in the period 2000 to 2003 when Pk had Anwar (Anwar was in middle order during that phase) Inzamam & yousaf all in good form and formed strong nucleus in middle order and only problem that pk had at that time was opening

  • Dummy4 on August 12, 2012, 15:41 GMT

    Its always a delight to read your columns Harsha , and this is one is amongst your best !

    RD's comment you have quoted here says it all.The Talent to challenge yourself certainly makes a big difference in cricket and all other fields .It will be interesting to see RD sharing his experiences with all young and upcoming players , not just cricketers.

    As an ardent cricket lover I pray Rohit finds this talent soon !

  • Daison on August 12, 2012, 12:14 GMT

    I say you always write good ones Harsha, but sure you used your golden ink to write this one. The comparison between Bolt and Blake, saying what Blake realized was simply awesome. For whatever "talent" Rohit Sharma is said to be possessing he must have kept it is a safe place for the fear of "wearing it out". For all the "fast tracking" and countless chances he has been given he has not done justice by any means. When the so called less talented ones are asked to grind it in the domestice circuits for poor performances, Rohit should be given even more severe sentence for not giving 100%

  • Gower on August 12, 2012, 7:02 GMT

    The way forward here is not that confounding. Not much philosophical contemplation required here. Rohit needs to grind it out in the domestic curcuit and show some numbers. People like Rahane who have been doing this need to be given a break at the international level. And Laxman needs to be retired at the earliest. We will do fine against NZ with or without him. It will be disastrous to not allow a youngster to begin gaining confidence for the glut of overseas trips in 2013/14. To that end, just delighted that Srikkanth's tenure as selector is over. Bye, Bye. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

  • uncle bob on August 12, 2012, 2:06 GMT

    OK great. Nohit is a big NOHIT in ODIs so select him for tests, give him another85-100 tests to prove he is really talented. ha ha ha some of the fans are hilarious and really one eyed.

  • Amit on August 11, 2012, 23:11 GMT

    Hearing about Nohit Sharma's talent makes me sick to the stomach. Only 11 runs in 5 innings? Is that some sort of talent? Both Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have played similar number of ODI matches. Comapre their stats and you will find out who is talented. Virat Kohli has almost 4000 runs at an average that is over 50 runs with 13 centuries. Rohit Sharma has scored only 1974 runs at a paltry average of 30 runs. Harsha and others who are admiring Rohit Sharma's talent should go and enjoy his talent at India nets. That's where according to Gambhir his talent shines; against net bowlers if I may add.

  • Rahul on August 11, 2012, 21:49 GMT

    @Ahmed. India's bowling is worst in world cricket so is Pak batting

  • Dummy4 on August 11, 2012, 20:51 GMT

    Spot On Harsha. I wonder why Selectors don allow talented players to go grinding in Ranji trophy rather than giving them Fast track IPL license. Selectors need to rethink the strategies Indian Test Squad should be "Viru, Gauti(Captain), Kohli (He has been in terrific control, Sachin, Badrinath(Give him a run in test he ll come out with flying colors), Kaif (Deserves a chance) , Yuvi, Dhoni (Need to Improve his batting in Test),Pujara, Zak, Ashwin, bhajji, Ohja, Ishanth, Umesh, Irfan)" What u say Harsha allow, Rahane,Tiwary, Yusuf, Mukund, Vijay, Rohit, Raina, Karthick, Uthappa to paly as many Ranji games to gain experience. Each spot in team should have two replacement ready if no viru, Viajy/Mukund should be ready to fill in create that Pool of talent for each positions. Ur comments harsha

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