England's top players could earn in excess of £1.5m over the course of the next 15 months but what physical and mental state they will be in when they return from South Africa in February 2010 is anybody's guess. During this unbelievably congested period, which began on 24 October when England travelled to Antigua to prepare for the Stanford Super Series, the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, fitness permitting, could have a maximum of 75 days when they are free from England and Wales Cricket Board, or Indian Premier League commitments, less than half the downtime of an average working person.
Pietersen and Flintoff could, of course, say "no" to the contracts and invitations that will be sent their way, but the career of a sportsman is relatively short and the attitude of most is to grasp what is on offer when it is there. A workload of this magnitude will inevitably produce casualties and, as Marcus Trescothick has shown, the problems will not be confined to physical ones.
Injury is an occupational hazard for a sportsman and, sadly, there will be the occasional player whose body cannot cope with the constant demands that are placed on it. Fast bowlers are the most prone to injury. The physically trying nature of the job means that a pull, strain, tear or stress fracture is never far away, and there must be fears among the England hierarchy that the body of Ryan Sidebottom is unable to handle such a workload.
Sidebottom's latest injury, a sore lower back, was picked up between Indore and Kanpur, the venue of this morning's third one-dayer against India. In solitude the injury would be of little concern, but the left-arm seamer has had one injury after another since bowling England to victory against New Zealand in early June. In the five months since taking 6 for 67 at Trent Bridge, back, groin, hip, side and Achilles injuries have restricted him to just 112 overs for England.
Sidebottom, who won England's player of the year award last May, had a good fitness record with Nottinghamshire before making his international comeback in May 2007. The 30-year-old is a wholehearted cricketer and the extra intensity of Test and one-day cricket, the constant travelling and the additional fitness work he has had to put in appears to have taken its toll. It is to be hoped this just proves to be a testing period for him, and that he returns to where he was. Sidebottom deserves better and England are in need of the variety and quality he brings to the side.
India have an equally heavy, if not greater workload than England and their captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, believes that young star performers like Ishant Sharma need to be protected if their careers are not to be ruined. Sharma missed the opening two one-dayers with an ankle injury he picked up in the recent Test series against Australia, and is available for selection today. "Ishant, he is always there for you with the same amount of effort even when he comes back for a third spell," said Dhoni. "You have to take care of a kid like this. He is 19 or 20 and he has a long career ahead of him. No players are disposable. It should not be that you use a player too much and then get rid of him. It is important to give them rest without penalty from the board when they need it.
"I opted out of the tour of Sri Lanka because I felt if I didn't take a break I would get injured. Once you get injured it's not about 15-20 days, you need one or two months off. It's important for players to decide when they want to opt out because it is tough, especially for fast bowlers. In India you don't get plenty of help from the pitch and you have to bowl your heart out.
"You won't need money after three or four years of playing. Of course it depends on what you really want in life. If you want a private jet you struggle to get that in 12 years, but after two or three years you have more than enough. If you are out of form or injured you won't get the money."
* Captain Graeme Smith (138) and Hashim Amla (103) hit unbeaten tons yesterday as South Africa reached 299 for 1 on a rain-hit first day of the first Test against Bangladesh in Bloemfontein. It is Smith's 17th Test century.
England in the money: What they could bank
Central contract: £200,000
Test, one-day and Twenty20 match fees: £275,000
Winning 2009 Quadrangular Stanford T20 tournament in England: £300,000
Winning 2009 Stanford Super Series in Antigua: £600,000
Indian Premier League contract for 15 days' participation: £200,000
Prize-money for winning Test and one-day series, Twenty20 World Cup and Champions Trophy to be added.
(all figures approximate)