Talent alone not enough

Talent will only take you to a certain level, but TO GO HIGHER you need facets such as common sense, the ability to accept the right advice, concentration and the desire to be the best, writes BOBBY SIMPSON.

Talent doesn't guarantee success in sport, business or life. After all, it is but a gift from your parents. Just cast your mind back to your school days and ask yourself, `Why didn't the great sportsmen and women and scholars make it to the top?'

Inevitably, only a very few make the grade after school for great talent will only take you to a certain level, but to go higher you need other facets, such as common sense, the ability to accept the right advice, concentration and an enormous desire to be the best.

Talent is at its best up to about the age of 18. This is basically all that is needed to do well in sport and in the classrooms then. After that the going gets much harder as you pit yourself against more mature people. Most of them may not be as naturally gifted as you are, but they would have learnt their trade and know how to succeed.

There is much conjecture in Australia about the future of Michael Clarke. He began his Test career with a bang. The first against India, on debut, on a spinning wicket was a gem. His second against New Zealand was equally impressive and his thunderous, audacious strokeplay caught the media's attention and set the pattern for his future batting. Unfortunately, since that Test he has gone without a century in 25 innings and has only averaged 25.30 in that time.

To me, and I have a huge respect for Clarke's batting, his lack of success is due to his inability at this stage to understand his strengths and weaknesses. He bats at one pace, full blast. He has to be more circumspect in his judgement of the right ball to hit. He tries to over-hit most attacks and this doesn't give him the time to get in the right spot for the appropriate shot. Too often, when seeking power, he falls off his strokes and is not over the ball when making contact.

It is said that Clarke can play every shot in the book. This is right, but can he execute them with the precision and technique required to ensure that they are safe? At this stage he cannot, and this is the reason for his inconsistent performances.

Every batsman or a bowler at some time and on a regular basis must examine his own method. At this stage I don't think Clarke has appraised his batting style and decided on the best way to make the most of his undoubted talent. He is still an instinctive player, and while this can be a good attribute you must have the training and method to take advantage of your talent. While Clarke has the instinct to pick up singles and runs brilliantly between the wickets, he generally bats, as mentioned before, at one pace — flat out.

Clarke is physically aggressive, but I would like to see him much stronger mentally with this aggression. He should understand what is the best way for him to get runs. He must tighten up his concentration and understand that the most difficult part about batting is judging the length of the ball and playing the most appropriate shot to it. Sometimes, in a short time, Clarke will play three or even four different shots to the same delivery. With this method, your percentage of mistakes will only increase.

Right now Clarke needs direction, both on the mental method to score runs and the technique to be a consistent run-getter. He has the skills to be a wonderful batsman, but what he needs now is the right guidance. I am not a great fan of county cricket, particularly considering the bowlers, but a season in England with the opportunity to play many innings would be ideal for Clarke to hone his run-making skills.

Australia are close to the end of their final year of contract, when new contracts are negotiated with the players. I have assumed this is the reason for the spate of demands coming from various people for more pay for the players and less matches. I was fascinated to read a couple of weeks ago a statement by Paul Marsh, the CEO of the Australian Cricketers Association, calling for a reduction in matches and hinting that strike action would be considered if there wasn't a reduction. Shortly after this, Tim May, the former CEO of the Australian Players Association and now the world-wide boss of the Players Association, raised the possibility of strike action in a bid to prove to the ICC that players are being pushed beyond their mental and physical limits by a cramped schedule that is about to become even more torturous.

It was a strange statement to make in the light of the Australian players now starting a four-month holiday break. I found May's rhetoric amazing, particularly when considering that so many internationals are happy to skip off to England and pick up the easy money on offer. Surely, if the Players Association is worried about burnout they should be concerned about this extra cricket. But no, that would be depriving the players of making more money. The national associations don't like this and can't do anything about it for it would be a restraint of trade.

How much cricket then do the Australian lads play? In 2005 Australia played 15 Tests — 66 days in total — and 29 ODIs, in all 95 days of internationals. There was also the odd match or two of first class cricket. So far in 2006, they have played six Tests, of which five went for five days and one went for three days, making it 28 days in all. They have played 19 ODIs by the end of the Bangladesh tour. Doesn't sound too bad to me. In 12 months of cricket between 1964 and 1965, I played 64 matches comprising Tests and first class fixtures.

Of course we were virtually unfit amateurs, or so many would like to think we were. Funny though that I never felt I was being pushed beyond my mental and physical limits. I just loved it all. Incidentally, in this period, I scored more runs in Tests than anyone had done before and also bowled about 600 overs.