But there a very small number who are so talented that they have the pick of sports. Jacques Kallis, at 22, is one. He made his Test debut at cricket the age of 20 for South Africa in 1995, because Bob Woolmer, the South African coach thought he was a "special" player. Yet in his last year at school he had been advised to pursue rugby.
"I was picked for the South Africa Under-17 cricket tour of England, but it coincided with Under-19 provincial rugby trials," he said. "I love both sports, but I chose to go on the cricket tour, and many of the teachers told me I was making the wrong decision. Maybe, but I doubt if I'd have represented South Africa as a fly-half yet."
On Tuesday he will step out at Lord's for Middlesex in their NatWest quarter-final against the recent one-day experts, Warwickshire. Middlesex are still in the competition only because of a supreme all-round performance by Kallis in the previous round. First he helped restrict Gloucestershire to 277 by taking 4 for 47 in 11 overs and then he ensured victory with a magnificent hundred. No need to ask who was man of the match.
Defeat by Ireland and victory in just four out of 16 one-day games this season suggest long odds on a Middlesex victory. Yet Kallis is confident: "Tuesday is a big day for us because we have not really performed well in one-day cricket this year. But I think the 60-over game suits us better as the cricket is more normal," he said. "Also home advantage is very important in these games and I think that makes us favourites."
Kallis played in all three Tests against Australia this winter and suffered as Middlesex's first-choice as overseas player, Greg Blewett, hit a magnificent double century in Johannesburg. This secured Blewett's Ashes selection and Kallis stepped into the Middlesex vacancy, but only after prolonged discussions between Middlesex, Kallis and the guardian of South African cricket, Dr Ali Bacher. "Doc Bach didn't want me to play at all because South Africa have such a hectic schedule coming up, but we finally compromised by limiting how much bowling I would do."
A wise precaution, as Kallis was forced out of last year's South Africa A tour of England after only four games with a stress fracture of the back. "The problem is, if you're a good young bowler you bowl too many overs and just end up damaging yourself. In South Africa now they are limiting the overs that the young seamers bowl," Kallis said.
Against Kent last week Kallis took a career-best 5 for 54 with his bustling seamers and he has learned quickly how to bowl on English wickets: "The major difference is the slowness of the pitches. In South Africa bowlers tend to bang the ball in because the wickets are bouncier, but in England you have to bowl a fuller length or else the ball just sits up. You also have to adjust when batting and really concentrate on stroke selection."
Surprisingly, Kallis does not adhere to the view espoused by other overseas players that English cricket is dominated by quantity at the expense of quality. "The standard of cricket here is similar to that back home," he explained. "Just maybe it sometimes lacks a bit of intensity, whereas in South Africa people hate each other on the field but all have a beer after the day's play."
Perhaps, but Kallis will be unlikely to find a lack of intensity on Tuesday.Reuse content