Kevin Pietersen’s outrageous natural talent

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Kevin Pietersen - naturally inclined towards sporting self improvementWe’re always suspicious of ‘natural talent’. Kevin Pietersen always seems to attract this commendation – usually from Mark Nicholas. Nicholas closes his eyes and purrs every time KP hoicks one to leg and it’s surely only a matter of time before he affixes himself to the captain’s leg like a dog during the end of day interview.

Anyway, we’re getting off track with all this cat/dog confusion. The point is ‘natural talent’ (which we’re going to persist in putting in inverted commas). There’s a nice quote in a Guardian article about KP by Jon Henderson. It’s the sports coach at Maritzburg College where Pietersen played in his teens:

“No, he wasn’t a special player at all at that stage, but he was a hell of a determined guy with a good work ethic.”

Apparently he didn’t even get in the first team until another spinner emigrated. So Pietersen’s ‘natural talent’ only really manifested itself in adulthood after he’d put in loads and loads of effort.

We don’t know the ins and outs of how children develop hand-eye coordination, but we’d hazard that any cricketer who is deemed to have ‘natural talent’ has in fact overwhelmingly acquired his hand-eye coordination through some form of practice.

Don Bradman famously spent hours and hours hitting a golf ball against a water tank with a stump. It’s a fiendishly difficult thing to pull off and we’d like to know just how shit he was at it when he started.

So what’s our point? Er, it’s probably just that we’d prefer it if commentators would stop talking about ‘natural talent’ like it was a plain fact. Sometimes they use it to explain things and that’s a questionable line of thinking.


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  1. I was reading that Guardian article yesterday and I have to confess the quote that caught my eye was Jason Gallian’s just after he had chucked Pietersen’s kit bag off the Trent Bridge balcony.

  2. I’ve always thought as a writer you have natural talent, did you use to type about golf balls hitting a can when you were little.

  3. No, it all came together at college where our teacher said:

    “He wasn’t a special writer at all at that stage – he was a hell of a laid-back guy with a very poor work ethic.”

  4. I always thought KP’s most ‘natural’ talent was the hand-eye coordination needed for his particular form of wanking. And I’m sure it manifested long before adulthood.

  5. There is an article Malcolm Gladwell that looks into the whole idea of natural talent vs. hard work and ridiculous amounts of focussed practice.

    Turns out talent is not as important as you would think. It’s just most people give up before they reach the level required. See the work of Tony Buzan (the mindmaps guy) for more about that.

    It’s also a good explaination as to why professional sports people are more likely to be born in October than any other month: It means they were some of the oldest in their year at school, therefore better at sports than others in their year, therefore getting access to more games and better coaching, therefore more likely to succeed.

    Just a theory of course, but it makes you think.

  6. I was about to make the joke that Jrod made in the second comment. He beat me to it. Blast. It was just too obvious.

    You have a natural blogging talent, King.

    There, i said it anyway.

  7. Yeah KC used to be rubbish at talking arse about bollox. But after months of being locked in bunker, practising talking arse about bollox he finally unleashed King Cricket. on the world and did arse about bollox to a gold level standard.

  8. I always assume that natural talent for batsmen refers to the ability to pick up the length of the ball early. The earlier you can do this, the more naturally talented. Pietersen looks like he sees the ball very early, so I’m happy with calling him naturally talented.

    Presumably this can be practised to some degree, but I would suggest that it’s the single biggest factor that makes some people able to score runs in Test cricket and others stuck in club cricket.

    Of course the best players are those with great natural talent and an insane number of practice hours behind them. But given an equal amount of practice, some players will still be better than others, and that’s down to talent.

  9. “Given an equal amount of practice, some players will still be better than others.”

    Could that difference not have its roots in childhood development? Could the ability to ‘pick length’ not be acquired and refined by some activity long before a child’s capable of cricket?

    These aren’t rhetorical questions. We don’t know.

  10. Define natural? Genetic? Childhood developmental factors (diet, activities, and all that)? In utero environment (maternal diet etc)? It all a mosic baby.

  11. Maybe we’re getting close to the point that we were probably trying to make all along (without quite knowing it ourself).

    Development’s a continuum rather than a before and after, so how can you label one player ‘naturally talented’ rather than another.

    As Ne says: it’s all a mosaic.

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