What is talent?

India's Rohit Sharma plays a shot during the second T20 cricket match between India and South Africa at The Barabati Stadium in Cuttack on October 5, 2015.
PHOTO: AFP

When we were younger playing on matting wickets in Hyderabad, the wristy flick wide of mid-on was the shot that announced your arrival.

There is an indescribable elegance about it and in Mohammad Azharuddin and V.V.S. Laxman, we had our torchbearers. The straight drive, as played by Sunil Gavaskar and, among many in his repertoire, by Sachin Tendulkar, was the definition of class itself. But as Indians, when we see these shots, it is the perfection in execution that sets them apart. But the pull shot? We sit up. Off the front foot? We are on the edge of our seat now.

That is why when Rohit Sharma plays it, and I accept we are talking of a post-helmet, good-wicket shot, we rush to pull out the word we in India love and pay obeisance to: Talent. We define it by the ability to play certain shots in a certain way. When you play the cover drive as if you were taking a break from a conversation and are going back to it. When you seem to have enough time to read a newspaper while batting. And when you can play that pull shot off the front foot over mid-wicket. Hence the tag that Rohit carries, a tag he recently said was like a weight round his neck, one that he thought was hurting him.

Rohit believes what he has achieved is through hours of effort and is miffed that people wave it away because they want to label him "talented".

It is always like that. People who are seen to be good at something are actually reassured by a compliment from another facet of their play. The stodgy defensive cricketer wants to be remembered for his straight drive. The flashy one for his dogged match-saving effort. I remember, 18 years ago, a producer calling me "a professional". If I had to choose a tag, that would still be it!

But Rohit has a point, one that in the world of sport and business, needs to be accepted. Rohit has a great talent for a particular shot or, to be fair, for playing most shots. The reason we tear our hair out is that we believe his talent isn't being used as well as it can.

But Rohit's shot-making isn't accompanied by a Rahul Dravid kind of patience. We knew Dravid was gifted, extraordinarily gifted in fact, but we didn't call him talented, we called him the Wall, a title he rightfully disliked because he thought he played more shots than a wall could! Remember you want to be recognised by something that is different from what people label you as!

But isn't patience a talent you possess too? Or, since it isn't flashy and breathtaking, we don't give it the status of "talent"? So is Rohit very talented in one area but not quite in another? Or does one talent come in the way of another?

Some years ago, at the launch of Abhinav Bindra's book (written in fine style by the hugely "talented" but equally hardworking Rohit Brijnath), he asked that his hard work be recognised as his talent because that, he thought, set him apart from the others. Dravid believed that his discipline set him apart. The dictionary says talent is any special natural ability. Bindra's hard work and focus, Dravid's discipline and patience are special natural abilities. Should we then, widen the net, and start relooking at our traditional definition of talent?

For example, we thought S. Sreesanth and R.P. Singh were rare talents because of the things they could do with a cricket ball. Sreesanth's outswinger with the seam coming at you and then defeating you was such joy. But maybe they were not possessed of other talents. Steve Waugh always contested the statement that his twin brother was more talented as indeed, I am told, Mark Waugh was miffed at the fact that people thought talent was all he had.

You pick people in a team for a wide spectrum of abilities. The ability to play a shot is only one of many a top cricketer needs. Rohit can play shots but maybe isn't possessed of the same ability to own the next moment; something which Dravid had and which allowed him to block or nudge for a single.

It raises the question of course of whether, as the owner of a sublime skill, you can also work hard and become part owner of another. The best do. So Rohit is right in that he shouldn't be judged harshly because he has the most visible of the many abilities a cricketer needs. But he has, maybe unintentionally, asked us to redefine what we traditionally call "talent".

tabla@sph.com.sg


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