The off season, when there is no game tomorrow, no tour next week, no newspaper to read to know what columnists are saying about you, can be very nice, very therapeutic. And an opportunity to do things you wouldn't have time for when you are on the circuit. You could get a niggling injury sorted out, read a few books, tweet… Committed, professional sportsmen use the time to do strength training, some others could do much-needed sprint training. Or you can wait for the controlling authority, the BCCI in this case, to tell you what to do.
The last of those is the easiest alternative, and like with most easy alternatives, should present itself as the most flawed. The best sportsmen plan their own futures, they listen to voices they trust, one of which must lie within, and plan accordingly. The off-season work ethic is an indicator of commitment and of ambition. It tells you that a player is thinking of how he can present a better package to his team in the weeks ahead.
That is why this series against Zimbabwe, though it seems to give young players an opportunity, isn't the best idea. Yusuf Pathan, for example, would have done well to work on batting against the short-pitched ball, which is so clearly going to block his international career. Suresh Raina, who has much more going for him, could have worked on a similar theme to try and earn the Test place that seems so distant at the moment. And Rohit Sharma could have worked on trimming a few inches off his middle - but more on that later.
The short-pitched ball has, a bit surprisingly, shaken Gautam Gambhir too. Luckily for him all he needs to do is to iron out the niggle rather than make major changes to his style, and missing out on Victoria Falls will not hurt him too much. And Irfan Pathan has some work to do before reclaiming the spot that seems to be waiting for him - an opportunity few are allowed.
"Dravid isn't an athlete, has never been, but he is giving himself the best possible chance of surviving in this game. He would make a great mentor for the next generation, if indeed they were willing to do what he has"
The two who should be the busiest are Yuvraj Singh and Rohit, amazingly gifted players who are coming in the way of their own progress, and in doing so, showing a little less responsibility to the team they must proudly represent. Yuvraj, in particular, has a serious career-defining decision to take. It has nothing to do with his extended bad patch, for that can happen to the best. Rather, it is about the way he is moving on the field and the weight he is carrying. For someone who was an amazing fielder, he looks embarrassingly unfit, and I fear it is something that could end a career that I am convinced has much more to offer.
It could be because of a knee surgery delayed, but if indeed that is the reason - and I don't know if it is - then he must rectify it now. If it means a few months out of the game, so be it, for sitting on it any longer will do him and Indian cricket no good. Unlike a bureaucrat who can keep a file pending, a cricketer cannot keep his fitness pending. Hopefully he will take a call on his fitness, not the selectors, who I hope have already had a word with him.
Sadly Rohit Sharma treads the same path. For someone who has just turned 23, he is in terrible shape. It won't interfere with his game just yet, for he is in the prime of youth, a lovely phase when you can drag your body through hell and high water and it won't complain. But that he allows himself to possess these contours is indicative of a worrying mindset, maybe a slightly lackadaisical work ethic.
He doesn't have to look too far to understand the great value of a fine work ethic. Rahul Dravid turned 37 this January, which means he gives 14 years to Rohit, and looks in fabulous shape - the result of extraordinary discipline. Dravid isn't an athlete, has never been, but he is giving himself the best possible chance of surviving in this game. He would make a great mentor for the next generation, if indeed they were willing to do what he has.
Mentoring is an area the BCCI has never really believed in. But that needn't stop a young player from seeking it out on his own. But maybe that is for another day.