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When talent and passion come together

Indian captain Virat Kohli celebrates his century on day 3 of the second Test against South Africa in Centurion

Indian captain Virat Kohli celebrates his century on day 3 of the second Test against South Africa in Centurion   | Photo Credit: Reuters

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With a well-meshed self and team-belief, Kohli has raised the stakes in the above spheres with his 153

Watching Virat Kohli play with an intensity few can summon up, it seems like a repudiation of the line about the best lacking all conviction and the worst being full of passionate intensity. When the elements work together, the best have both conviction and intensity.

It is not mere competitiveness — a word that seems to suggest selfishness and ego rather than an attempt at being the best one can be — that is the driving force. There was genuine anger at the stupidity of colleagues, as at the run out of Hardik Pandya, and a special look reserved for someone who didn’t appear to be trying hard enough.

I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything I am not willing to do myself, Kohli had said in the early days of his captaincy. All he is saying is, do your best.

There are talented cricketers who lack passion and passionate cricketers who lack talent, for these two qualities are not always to be found in the same person.

In Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, the hard working Salieri lacked genius, but saw it in his rival Mozart who was otherwise quite unremarkable. Salieri called him “that filthy thing”. Alleged improper behaviour by the outrageously gifted is mediocrity’s consolation. He might make better music, but I love god more, as Salieri says.

Curious case of Barry Richards

Talent and passion came together only occasionally in Barry Richards, the phenomenal opening batsman from South Africa’s lost generation. He played just four Tests before his country was banned from international sport owing to its then policy of apartheid. And he often came across as bored and uninterested in county cricket where he played for Hampshire.

Denied an opportunity to exhibit his talent at the highest level and lacking in motivation, Richards would often toy with the bowling and then give his wicket away. Perhaps too, he found some of the bowling uninspiring.

Since Test cricket was ruled out, other stimulants had to be found. This was sometimes money; a sponsor was once promised a certain amount for every run made. Or the presence of television cameras which ensured an audience larger than the proverbial two men and a dog at the county grounds. The photographer Patrick Eagar once worked out that Richards made more runs when the cameras were present at the ground.

So much talent, so little passion. Richards was a Salieri in reverse, watching many lesser, even mediocre batsmen gain international prominence while he was forced to blush unseen in the deserted air.

Spectre of boredom

Boredom in sport and among professional sportsmen is not a subject that is much commented upon, yet it must exist. There is the repetitive nature of their jobs, both in its detail and in an overarching sense. There are days, when, like everybody else, they wake up not feeling good about themselves but may be expected to save a Test match or win one.

In the early years of the IPL, some senior players complained (privately) about the repetitive nature of their jobs leading to boredom: play-party-travel-practice before the cycle started again. Halfway through the season some were looking forward to an injury that would ground them for a while.

My principal in college once told me “boredom is a part of the curriculum”, suggesting that it prepared you for boredom in later life. Boredom is the root of all evil, said Kiekergaard, and perhaps sport is an attempt to escape that boredom and inject excitement and unpredictability into our lives.

Unlike artists or writers, however, sportsmen cannot afford to get bored easily. This is because while artists can break through restraints and create something new out of what exists, everyday sport is not a creative exercise but one that involves playing within rules.

A Picasso who breaks things and rejoins them in a different shape is hailed as a genius, but no left arm spinner can hope for anything other than banishment if he decides to bowl at the square leg umpire just to be different. An extreme example, perhaps, but it makes the point.

“If you have passion you cannot be bored,” says former England captain Mike Brearley, so passion is a guard against evil too. Kohli might not articulate it thus even if he is aware of Kierkegaard.

It would be ungenerous to mention names in the second category — those who have talent but no passion. First class cricket below the international attracts many players who turn their arm over because they can do it, who bat like automations because of over-coaching and who are obsessed with doing it right rather than simply doing it because they enjoy it. Medium pacers are often referred to as “trundlers”, which implies motion and little else. Such perfomers may not be bored, but they are boring.

Kohli might have raised the stakes in both spheres, talent and passion. His 153 in Centurion will stand by itself no matter what the result is. So too will his reactions throughout the match. Self-belief and team-belief mesh well in him.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 4:54:08 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/when-talent-and-passion-come-together/article22451762.ece

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