Mediocrity wasn’t an option for Kevin Pietersen

2008-08-07 00:00

The development of Kevin Pietersen’s awesome talent is a phenomenon that defies normal understanding. That he has emerged as one of the world’s most skilful and successful batsmen reflects a determination which few people would be able to emulate.

Were his success attributable to raw talent alone, it would have been revealed a long time ago and he would not have been so easily left to take his abilities elsewhere.

That young sportspeople develop at different rates and with surges of talent at different times is not often appreciated by people who coach sport in schools.

The composition of the U13A team is often based on a primary school pedigree and as this chosen group of stars moves through each successive age group, its composition changes little.

While these players, and their parents, enjoy this form of protection for their abilities, there are others who feel that the way to the highest team is blocked because their abilities did not draw sufficient notice in the years before.

Since the more fancied players receive better and more intense attention, the rest do not have the same opportunities to advance their talents. This, unfortunately, is an aspect of boys’ school sport which challenges the fundamental principle of the role of teachers in schools.

Pietersen, by the way, arrived at Maritzburg College without a notable pedigree, having attended Clarendon Primary School.

As I understand it (all this happened after I had left College and the school cricket arena) the young Pietersen’s talents as an off-spin bowler were discovered in the Second XI team during his final year at school. He was something of a surprise selection in the Natal Schools’ team that year, not because he wasn’t considered good enough, but because he was relatively unknown.

The senior provincial body took an interest in him and he was taken into the provincial system and included in the Natal B team as a promising spinner. To what extent his batting ability was considered significant, I cannot say, but the fact that he had to plead, unsuccessfully, to be given a better contract is indicative of the fact that he was considered dispensable.

Quite obviously, the need on the part of the contract-givers to promote black players was a critical factor which inhibited the young Pietersen’s chances of revealing the talent which he believed he had, but which had not shone through to those who made the decisions.

I doubt if there was a single person, including the young man himself, who would have predicted, or even thought it possible, that 10 years later he would be named England captain as one of the foremost Test cricketers in the world.

It is not uncommon for a city or a school to claim some credit for a person’s later success, but in this case there is little justification for doing so. Either his enormous talent was overlooked while he was in Pietermaritzburg, or it emerged later in a blaze of glory. The likelihood is that both are true.

Talent is quite frequently overlooked within institutional environments where perceptions tend to be shaped by the limited horizons which characterise them. There are far too many instances where unrecognised, often mediocre, school performers have risen to very lofty heights in adult life for these to be considered exceptions to the rule.

In Pietersen’s case, however, and notwithstanding the fact that he was probably more capable 10 years ago than people recognised, I believe he has been the classic late developer.

I know of many, including myself, who have hoped that they would find a sporting talent that had lain dormant before, as if it can be bestowed on one from some higher benevolent source.

Realists know that the release of latent talent and its development to a high pitch of performance emanate from oneself and one’s own commitment and determination.

It takes a considerable amount of effort to convince others that one is as good as one believes, and often the degree of single-minded application that is required in making this effort, is not well received. Bombast is not an attractive human trait, but when it is shown by performance to have a genuine foundation of talent and ability, it becomes understandable, if not laudable, self-confidence.

What is laudable and inspirational for all young and dedicated sportsmen and sportswomen is that the almost-impossible may be achieved through one’s own perseverance and determination.

Application to the development of one’s innate abilities yields a growth of those abilities, and talent, as Pietersen has shown, is not necessarily confined within predetermined boundaries.

He is not the person I most like to see on television, but his batting is sublime, even slightly tainted as it is by his belief in his own infallibility. But what dedication and determination to prove himself right.

• Andrew Layman is a former headmaster and now the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.

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