Talent - or talunt as some people pejoratively refer to it as - is a common subject of debate in cricket, with a division existing between those who believe it to be a curse (and simply an excuse of underperforming) and those who believe profusely talented players should be accommodated into international sides at the exclusion of less exuberant, less brash and less flamboyant - and nearly invariably more consistent - players.
Before I assert my opinion on this matter, it is necessary to declare what the conception of talent is. Talent is commonly thought to manifest itself in a few forms: usually attacking, belligerent stroke-play and the ability to turn the tide of a game against the run of play due to the talented player's mercurial nature. Due to the fact that the talent discussion is typically in reference to talented/less talented batsmen, I have decided to focus my argument primarily on batsmen specifically.
The debate of "unfulfilled talent" is one which I find particularly intriguing. Although not intrinsic, it appears that consistency has the semblance of being directly related to a lack of talunt. Ultimately, the question which I wish to address - along with if there is any proportionality between consistency and an absence of talent - is: should a talented player be provided a free run in the side due to their aforementioned ability to perform in manners no other players can (no matter if they are a passenger for a prolonged period), even at the expense of more consistent and actively performing players?
I'm adamantly of the opinion that the answer should be a resolute no.
Why is it that that cricket fans - especially Pakistan fans - favour exciting, often brainless, batting over consistently performing with proper cricketing strokes? People constantly bemoan the dearth of consistent batsmen Pakistan possess but whenever one finally surfaces, people are often far too quick to criticise even after only a few minor, possibly even non-existent, problems/failures. Even if they don't castigate the player, the consistency is usually only begrudgingly praised - with a few snide remarks also being muttered.
For example, look at the case of Azhar Ali. In 2013, he suffered from a horrible run-of-form in which his overall career average fell from an excellent 45.27 prior to 1 Jan 2013 to an adequate 39.14 by the conclusion of the year. More significantly, he performed abysmally in the year alone, obtaining a meagre average of 19.28 (which is less than half of his total career average at this current moment!) from 7 Tests.
However, even within this horror show of a year personally for Azhar (particularly on the tour to SA), he displayed tremendous grit whilst forging his innings - consuming a considerable amount of 846 deliveries in his 14 innings (an average of a tad over 60 balls per innings), despite only scoring 270 runs in the whole year. In contrast, Mohammed Hafeez similarly had an atrocious year as a batsman in 2013, managing to acquire an average of 17.54 - amassing a total of 193 runs from his 6 respective Tests - but had a BF : innings ratio of approximately 30, less than half of Azhar Ali's BF per innings average.
Even after performing impeccably before 2013, Pakistan fans were unappreciative of his performances and instead the knives were out for him - with many rendering him as being a "tail-ender". In my opinion, this was always likely and a damning indictment of how ungrateful cricket fans are of the virtues of playing innings with grit, substance and not gifting one's wicket away. A #3 Test batsman should be steady, stable and difficult to dislodge (due to the fact that they are essentially the resistance to the new ball) and this is exactly what Azhar Ali is - his purpose is to remove the shine from the new ball and tire the bowlers, which is exactly what he does/did (even during his worse periods of form).
All of this pinpoints only one primary thing to me, of how ungrateful Pakistan fans are of the fundamental qualities of batsmanship - that is staying at the wicket for as long as is possible. Despite clamouring for consistency and the occupation of the crease, the majority of us would much rather see a batsman conduct his art in three overs, play a whimpering slog and get caught out at the mid-wicket boundary with his tail between his legs (like the Afridi's and Nazir's of the cricket universe) - all for entertainment value.
To prove my point, I move onwards towards the problematic issue of Shahid Afridi. Afridi possesses a horrific ODI average of 23.44, yet many Pakistan fans would much rather like to see him in the line-up over more consistent players (relative to other players, before anybody attempts to be sly) like Misbah-Ul-Haq. Not for one moment am I suggesting that Misbah-ul-Haq doesn't exhibit serious limitations as an ODI batsman (namely strike rotation) but shouldn't we applaud Misbah's qualities of consistency and not allowing his wicket to be pried out easily, instead of altering the hue with which we look at these qualities and labelling them as examples of defensiveness, a weak technique, playing for one's own average and - most absurdly of all - cowardice.
Admittedly, even I myself have doubts on whether we should omit the mercurial Afridi from the 2015 WC line-up for one simple reason: his ability to provide staggeringly brilliant performances from nowhere (such as his 88 off 48 deliveries against South Africa in the 3rd ODI at Johannesburg, 2013) , albeit mercurially.
Even though this is the case, I'd much rather Pakistan opted to play a more stable, consistent line-up rather than a temperamental, talunted one. Marquee, match-winning players are a necessity but that doesn't necessarily mean talent (which match-winning players are) should typically be an excuse for underperforming, inconsistency or giving one's wicket away idiotically - as it often is nowadays, unfortunately. The example of Inzamam-ul-Haq is evidence enough to show that this aforementioned notion isn't always true; Inzy was both highly talented and very consistent (especially in contrast to other players usually deemed to be talented).
Consequently, regarding the case of Shahid Afridi in the 2015 WC line-up, I propose that he be in the squad regardless of his performance up until the tournament (which some people may state is somewhat unfair to other, less talunted players) - unless his performances are so poor as to have a negative impact on Pakistan's fortunes - with an automatic place in the XI if his performances prior to the tournament were satisfactory enough to be selected ahead of others.
Even though sadly he is inevitable to fail (based upon prior batting performances in ICC tournaments, excluding the 2009 T20I World Cup), the sheer fact that he could possibly perform majestically and provide Pakistan with some match-winning innings (innings which no others could play) isn't something to be overestimated. I understand it is all hypothetical but Afridi desperately needs to tap into his own potential gold-mine of skill, deftness and talent.
So...you've read and considered my opinion. I believe in the proper virtues of batsmanship - application and the occupation of the crease rather than providing excitement to the spectators - but also believe Afridi should be in Pakistan's line-up of the starting match of the 2015 World Cup because of his potential and capability to surprise the opposition and provide mercurial performances in the dying stages of the game when the chips are down. What is a more significant point to heed is - as Harsha Bhogle declared - "Greatness is not about possessing talent but about having the discipline to summon that talent whenever needed". This is a very, very important statement!
What is your opinion on the above (after considering my viewpoint on the matter)? Is it right that a talented player replace a more consistent and actively performing player, due to his potential to perform? Or should the most consistent players always be selected?