Talent. It is a word that has become synonymous with - and almost a cliché of - any commentary stint during an England One Day International. The talented Ravi Bopara. The talented Jade Dernbach. Both men have been fixtures of the setup throughout the period that saw England scale the summit of the ICC rankings for the first time in their history, yet for all their gifts they are arguably the case in point of what remains a somewhat contradictory selection policy.
What do the pundits mean when they use the word talent? A natural aptitude for cricket? Each and every player to have won an England cap has possessed it in varying degrees. Talent and Paul Collingwood were combined in a sentence about as often as 'Brigadier Block' unfurled an attractive off-drive, yet there have been few of greater value to pass through the England ranks. The game of cricket is multifaceted; ability alone is rarely enough. Just ask Vinod Kambli.
Ravi Bopara remains a source of frustration unequalled since the Mark Ramprakash era. Bopara is a batsman of poise, grace and technique that should flourish in the international arena, yet fleeting glimpses aside it is a career that has never truly reached fruition. A comparison with Ramprakash is perhaps inequitable given the gulf in first class statistics between the two, but there are surely similarities when assessing the respective international careers of both men. A lack of mental strength and composure in high pressure situations was an accusation often levelled at Ramprakash, and in that respect Bopara appears to be reading from the same script. Too often has he flattered to deceive when the going got tough.
Likewise, Jade Dernbach possesses a potent array of fast bowling weaponry. An ability to spear the ball in at 90mph is complemented beautifully with the trickery of a slower ball subtly delivered from the back of the hand. In theory, those attributes form the perfect fast bowler in limited overs cricket, yet despite bamboozling many a genuine international class batsman Dernbach continues to concede more than a run a ball in ODI's. In fact, of all bowlers to have bowled more than 1,000 ODI deliveries he is the most expensive, and one of only two with an economy rate exceeding 6.00. Such lavish gifts are sadly compromised without control, and it does not sit well with England's policy of restriction that bought hitherto unparalleled success last summer. He is often a prime culprit when England's bowlers leave their batsmen chasing an insurmountable target.
I touched on what I deem to be a contradictory selection policy set out by the England selectors earlier. Let me explain. The likes of Bopara and Dernbach (this is turning in to a character assassination, isn't it?) were and are persisted with because the selectors see something in them, namely an ability to win cricket matches for England. But every so often they throw in a curveball with more swing than James Anderson on an overcast morning at Headingley - they pick the likes of Alastair Cook and more recently Joe Root and James Tredwell, not because of any obvious outstanding natural 'talent' or record but because they observe the desirable attributes of composure, grit and determination within their psyche that primes them for the pressures of international cricket. It is an entirely different approach, but an approach that historically tends to yield significantly enhanced results.
Somewhere deep within Bopara and Dernbach lies that ability to win cricket matches for their country it is true, yet talent can only remain unfulfilled for so long. There comes a tipping point where an experiment needs to be grudgingly abandoned and a fresh one commenced in its place. It is a great shame and will inevitably lead to questions of 'what if', but that time is probably now.
Talent remains a word used incorrectly in reference to cricketers. Paul Collingwood had talent. An ability to perform under pressure regardless of how big the stage, grind out victories for England and care little for the aesthetic value that went with it. That is the talent that England should again be searching for - it's time to abandon the cliché and update the cricketing dictionary.