What is Talent? It's obvious, right?
At the outset of my coaching career, I was asked by a good friend to assist him with a team that he had just taken on. The organisation that he was working for was making the transition from being run by committed volunteers to becoming more professional. Keith had to move things forward whilst being politically savvy.
We came across a very impressive 15 year old batter. He was brave, got behind the ball, had a simple method that looked transferable higher up the levels yet he could hardly hit the ball off the square.
Other attributes included a capacity to work hard and a good cricket brain.
Keith had to persuade the other selectors to pick this player despite the fact that he would rarely pierce the field. There were other players in the squad who hit harder and the other selectors wanted these guys to play.
To me, it was a classic case of "Results based selection" vs "Talent identification and player development selection".
It was also threw up the question of "What is talent?"
Keith eventually wore down the other selectors and the player was selected. He scored a few runs that week without setting the world on fire.
As a 20 year old, the same lad scored a wonderful 111 against a team that I was coaching. He had developed well physically and lost none of the psychological trademarks that impressed Keith and I when he was a schoolboy.
I felt that Keith's persistence when arguing for this young player to be selected 5 years previously was well and truly vindicated.
A year later, I was coaching in a different environment and the now 21 year old lad was called up into the squad as a late replacement for a senior player.
It was my first match in my new role and I was nervous, who wouldn't be?
The very scary Head Coach came up to me on the eve of the match and said
"Young Garaway, I hear that you know this lad pretty well. Is he good enough to play tomorrow?"
A cold bead of sweat went down my back, I thought quickly, took a deep breath and said:
"I can't tell you if he is technically good enough as this is my first match at this level. But what I know is that he has got plenty of character, ticker (pointing to my chest) and is cricket intelligent"
"In that case, he plays"
said the scary head coach as he walked away from me. There were a few more beads of sweat running down my back at this point let me tell you!
The following days
I lived every ball that the young player batted in that match. Fortunately, he batted 303 balls in that match for 164 runs. He had a great start at this new level and I was off the hook!
What were those environments?
- 15 Year old player: England U15s coached by Keith Tomlins. A top man and fortunately good at persuasion.
- 20 year old player: 1st Class Cricket
- 21 year old player: Test Match vs India in Nagpur, 2006. The Scary head coach was Duncan Fletcher.
Where is he now?
On 30th May 2015, the same player became England's top Test match run scorer of all time. Two days later he became the Youngest ever player to score 9000 Test runs, beating Sachin Tendulkar by 94 days to the feat.
What does it mean to us?
If you are have a selection position around young players then please ask yourself the following questions before making your decisions:
- What is talent?
- Winning vs talent identification: what's more important to me?
- What is the best decision for the individual? Sometimes this can be non-selection, like Trott on West Indies tour for example).
On Saturday I tuned into the radio in the car to hear Cooky reach that massive landmark at the tender age of 30.
My 6 year old turned to me and asked,
"why are your eyes watering Daddy?"
It was a privilege to be a very tiny part of that journey Cooky.