Now that we are obsessed by identifying athletes is it any wonder we are producing far fewer sportspeople?
The difference was once subtle. The athlete was picked on raw physical potential; the sportspeople could just play the game.
But the widening gap between the entitled pathway athlete and the player honed over long years in the traditional club system helps explain the existential crisis that has gripped Australian cricket.
The story of Australian cricket's ignominious summer in the men's game has been viewed through that prism of 'culture' and, by extension, its impact on the international team's behaviour and now performance.
The takeaway from the recent cultural reviews, and the administrative bloodletting that followed, has been that a superior culture could be created from the top by more robust leadership and, most recently, even by a sign on the dressing room lockers.
Yet while there have clearly been administrative failings there is also good reason to believe the Australian team's problems are the symptom of a more widespread disease – the cultural and even moral void created when the best young athletes are invested with the kind of queue-jumping entitlement once reserved for celebrities at crowded nightclubs.
Cricket's mistake in Australia has been to pole vault 'potential stars' over the pile of club, grade and even state cricketers into futures leagues and elite squads, gambling that these superior athletes could make the early-age transition to international cricket that only the very best players had previously achieved.
Cricket is not the only sport to have circumvented its traditional and once highly successful development systems in order to get their hands on the cherished 'first-choice athlete'.
In a country where four professional football leagues, well-funded cricket, and booming grassroots basketball and netball programs compete for early-aged talent, the temptation to fast track 'future stars' by providing lucrative contracts and even priority selection seems like good business sense.
Inevitably, the practice has trickled down the very lowest age groups where selection for representative and pathway squads is now often based on guesswork about physical development.
So much are size and power now favoured over technique and temperament that the old stories of football coaches checking the height of a 12-year-old's parents before considering him for a pathway squad are now almost equally common in the summer game.
I know of several cases where small but richly talented young players who could bat all day but struggled to hit the boundary have been excluded in favour of larger kids who could bash the ball with a technique that will inevitably be exposed by the best bowling.
This mistake is compounded by the misguided search for the powerful 'all format' athlete, rather than the player with the technique that would give him the grounding to eventually master other forms of the game.
At the junior level, the impact of this crystal-balling is twofold. The 'unsuitable' child is denied what might well be the highlight of his sporting life and left stuck at the back of the selection queue assuming he doesn't walk away.
Meanwhile, those chosen on physique and potential proceed through the pathway with a sense of immunity to the game's school of hard knocks.
The kind of immunity — to quote one anecdotal example — that the 15-year-old bowler who turned up at his club's nets recently and refused to bowl because he had 'reached his loads' with a representative team might display.
Taken to its extreme, is it any wonder we are seeing the emergence of a generation of players not only lacking the technical and mental resilience, but also the cultural awareness, to withstand the extreme challenges that first-class and international cricket present?
Cultural change should start in junior ranks
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell argues convincingly that "you can't change culture from the top; culture has got to start when you are a young kid".
"That was banged into me from a very young age," Chappell said.
"You got it at club level, and then you got it at Shield level from senior players and then at international level you got it from senior players.
"Every time you looked like getting out of line, they would kick you in the backside. That's the way culture should work."
None of which is to devalue some of the potential advantages of early identification, elite squads and — shudder — even restricted bowling loads.
Cricket Australia's now-former high-performance manager Pat Howard, a retired Australia rugby union international, has been ridiculed in some circles for his lack of cricketing knowledge and the decision to in some cases circumvent cricket's traditional development path seems at the very least regrettable.
But when a team enjoys sustained success — as Australia has recently with World Cup and Ashes victories — the media goes looking for reasons beyond the mere natural talent of the players and celebrates the marginal gains.
Thus we are as guilty as sport's nutty professors of perpetrating the myth that sports science in its various guises is the cure-all, not merely the icing on the cake — the source of the fabled one percenters that make very good teams slightly better.
But when players are picked by algorithms or on a hunch in some distortion of the routinely misunderstood Moneyball methods of American baseball?
It seems inevitable the athlete who has not had his technique hardened and, as importantly, his moral compass calibrated at the lower levels can be left floundering when confronted by the harsh competition the sportsperson would relish.