Talent alone is not enough
The popular perception is that great players are blessed with incredible talent. They often are, but that is not necessarily the only talent they possess. The world of sport is full of stories of brilliant talent that dazzled the world and faded away.
Great players marry their extraordinary talent for something far more powerful, something more critical to their success.
They are possessed with a wonderful attitude, a work ethic that causes them to chisel away at their craft, removing one rough edge after another till the polished diamond emerges. The romantic stories about sportsmen just landing up and demolishing the opposition, of mathematicians conjuring up beautiful proofs, of writers banging at their keywords on a whim and producing a masterpiece are as mythical as Atlantis, the lost continent.
A talented individual without the right attitude can't be a long-term sustainable winner. A person with limited talent could still be a great champion member of the team. A combination of these two will make the person a real winner.
Sachin Tendulkar once went to a Test match venue four days in advance to practice against a particular kind of ball that he expected to face in the game. India were due to play Australia in Chennai and in the warm-up game in Mumbai he noticed that Shane Warne didn't go round the wicket to him even once. He thought to himself that Warne was probably saving that for the Test match, and so hour upon hour he worked away at playing leg spinners bowling that angle, realising the need to be perfect.
When the first leg-break that he faced from round the wicket in the match was dispatched over mid-wicket the world went 'wow' and raised a toast to his incredible talent. It wasn't just talent, it was good old-fashioned perseverance. Admittedly, someone else with the same degree of preparation may not have been able to produce such a result, but it is just as true that without his efforts, his ability might have been wasted.
In fact, Tendulkar's success recipe was a large tablespoon of talent but several large tablespoonfuls of attitude and work ethic.
It is heartening to see young players like Rahane and Virat Kohli take the game forward with a similar work ethic. Young players in the Royal Challengers Bangalore team would have gaped at Kohli's training methods and his adherence to his practice and diet. Kohli is another example of great talent achieving results by being married to a great work ethic.
You must have come across those who are capable of hard work and discipline but only when they have a specific goal before them. It is like students who normally fool around the whole year but study very hard when the board exams draw near. But opportunity doesn't always knock before presenting itself and if you are not ready, you will not be able to cash in.
Talent opens no more than the first door, occasionally the second. Players armed with talent and nothing else struggle by the third door. By the time the fourth door appears, they are no longer in the picture.
The most striking and sad story in Indian cricket is that of Vinod Kambli who was abundantly blessed, and who had put in sincere hard work through very difficult times but struggled to adjust his game to the demands of International Cricket after his extraordinary entry. He had the talent, but perhaps could not show the determination and discipline required to play at the highest level.
When you are a fourteen-year-old, your natural ability separates you from the others in your age group and allows you to be selected to the next level. By the time you reach the under-nineteens, almost everybody is good , and all have emerged through a similar examination. For a young batsman it probably now means analysing the bowler and being patient enough to tide over a good spell, whereas earlier his modus operandi would have been to demolish the bowler.
Maybe he even acknowledges the skill of his opponents and plays chess with him rather than treating him as an opponent in the boxing ring to be knocked out as quickly as possible.
There is this delicious story told about a sixteen-year-old Tendulkar who went to Pakistan with the Indian team and had to be told that at this level bowlers needed to be respected; something he had never worried about, because no bowlers had really challenged him until then.
'Spin is no more a mystery', says Ravi Ashwin. 'You tend to watch a lot of videos and the batsman knows exactly what cues to take. It's not about skill anymore'
What separates you from the rest is how well you handle pressure and how brave you can be in testing times.
Which brings us to the interesting question of skill. It is merely about batting and bowling? Or will, as Ashwin points out, handling pressure also qualify as a skill? Handling pressure, resilience, optimism or even being a team player can be counted as essential skill that is necessarily needed to succeed at the highest level.