How Should International Cricket Stars Be Nurtured?

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Nature vs Nurture: How Are International Cricket Stars Born?

Jeremy Loadman presents the unique case of how talent is nurtured in cricket. Unlike football and other sporting behemoths, international cricket rules the roost when it comes to building talent.

The maxim goes: to be the best, you must learn from the best. In most professions, the possibility of this occurring largely lies with the determination of the individual. Want to learn from the best rocket scientists in the world, you’d have your sights set on NASA; if reading classics is your thing, then it’s Cambridge or Oxford. If you want to play with the best footballers in the world you’d have your eyes set on Barcelona, or maybe Manchester United or Real Madrid. But if you want to learn from the best cricketers in the world, it’s not so straight forward. While I know a lot of you may be thinking that a person’s chances of getting into world class institutions is heavily affected by the opportunities available in their country of birth, and this is undeniable, it still stands that if a person strives hard enough, gaining access to these institutions is possible.

Cricket, however, is a different kettle of fish. As one of the few professional sports where the international game rules over domestic and franchise-based competitions, the opportunity for many cricketers to play alongside the sport’s best is limited by the passport they carry.

With professionals spending more time representing their countries rather than domestic or ‘franchised’ teams, champions born in different countries spend more time playing against each other than alongside one another. In comparison to many other professional sports in the modern era, this division along national lines almost seems anachronistic. Especially when you think that when the IPL was about to commence this year, the likes of Ricky Ponting, Brad Haddin and Brendon McCullum were not preparing to make the large sums of money that they are worth on the sub continent, instead all three were preparing for the last match of the Chappell-Hadlee trophy.

Given these circumstances, is it not the case that it is much harder for cricketers to become the best they can be when opportunities to play alongside the very best are extremely limited, if not confined to an annual six week IPL season?

I know I am making the assumption that playing alongside world class players is more beneficial than playing against them (and I admit that this is not always true). However, using the case of a young up and coming fast bowler, it is hard to deny that he would not gain more knowledge and experience by repeatedly bowling in tandem with a Glen McGrath, Dale Steyn or Shane Bond than coming up against them sporadically. As such it stands to reason that a young cricketer with great potential stands more chance of reaching his potential playing alongside established top players than playing against them.

Comparing cricket to other international sports on this issue is an interesting exercise. Would Wayne Rooney be the player he is now if not for his experience playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and vice versa? Would Lionel Messi have emerged as the extraordinary talent that he is without playing alongside the likes of Xavi and Andrés Iniesta?

Football is a sport that is constantly growing from the flow of ideas and knowledge, which is driven in no small way by the huge sums of cash and massive demands for top clubs to be successful, it is hard to argue that these players would be where they are today without the chance to play alongside other extraordinarily talented individuals.

In contrast to football the flow of information in the game of cricket is less often decided on commercial lines, and more often on the basis of national loyalties.

From this perspective it is only possible to see the massive concentration of international cricket as a stymie on the ‘flow’ of information between cricketers. As a result it is not surprising that the improvement of lesser sides does not occur as quickly as it might.

For a minute though, back in 2007, it seemed all might change. The dominance of the international game and the international calendar appeared truly challenged, by the only way it was going to be: the force of commerce. Due to the huge amounts of money being thrown around in the IPL there seemed a real chance that the international cricketing calendar might just be thrown out on its ear – there just didn’t seem to be enough days in the year to fit everything in. But alas, the status quo has remained; international cricket has not been thrown off its mantle. The concept of the game as first and foremost an international sport appears to be too ingrained in its identity for any serious change to be made to the scheduling of international fixtures.

At a time when there is a stark lack of competitiveness in so much test cricket, is it not time to consider ways of increasing the flow of knowledge throughout the cricketing world? Yes there are and have been many foreign coaches taking charge of national teams, but this seems to be just scratching the surface of the possibilities available in spreading knowledge. Surely there are more substantial measures that can put in place to help the flow of knowledge from the cricketing elite to the perennial strugglers.

At this stage in the game’s history, up and coming talent in less successful cricketing nations need access to the best education possible.

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