For those expecting a Diwali windfall, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)’s financial package for domestic cricketers turned out to be a disappointing gift – a firecracker without the bang. There is some barfi (sweets) in the BCCI handout for the traditional ‘mooh mitha’ of our players but someone forgot to bring the full box.
To start with, let's give you the two pieces of good news:
First, since the players did not earn an income because the pandemic erased the last season (2020-21), they have been ‘compensated’ and given a cheque equal to half the amount they got the year before (2019-20). This is a nice gesture because without this generous gift their net cricket income for a full year would have been zero.
The other ‘good news’ is that players are promised a salary hike for the matches they will play this season. The increase is on a graded scale – more for seniors, compared to those starting afresh.
At the base level, in the Ranji Trophy the upside is marginal – Rs 5,000 more per day (40,000 now instead of 35 earlier). But for players who have played over 50 Ranji matches (who are not many), the increase is substantial.
Salary increases also apply across the board and include women's cricket down to the U-16 level where a schoolgoing child is eligible for Rs 7,000 for each day of cricket.
Great Move by BCCI, but There's a Catch
All this sounds pretty impressive and progressive but these benefits kick in with a ‘conditions apply’ clause. Domestic salary payments are subject to selection, money is assured only when picked in the squad. Miss a game for whatever reason – injury, family emergency, lack of form – and the door is slammed shut, no money is transferred to your bank account.
Reduced to basics: domestic cricket payments are similar to a game of snakes and ladders, with danger lurking at every step. You move up rapidly but can fall to the ground the next instant.
One observer described the situation saying the compensation and pay increase is only a stopgap, a part solution.
By announcing the 50% salary compensation, the BCCI decided to pick up the bill for a previous ailment, which is a big relief, but, and this is the awkward question: what happens if something similar happens again?
The players were looking for long-term insurance cover, merely paying past bills is not good enough.
Indian Domestic Cricketers Need a Long-Term Solution
The core issue for thousands of Ranji and Indian domestic players is financial security, not match fees.
Ranji players don’t have jobs because the government stopped hiring and corporates shut their cricket shops long back. In this scary scenario, the players are dependent for survival on earnings from the game, and the BCCI effectively becomes their only employer.
With their salaries depending entirely on selection and fitness, Indian domestic cricketers are simply reduced to the fate of daily wage earners, not the regular employees they deserve to be.
For top players, the international stars, cricket is lucrative and money is never a problem. The 28 centrally contracted players are secure with annual retainers ranging from Rs 7 crore (Virat Kohli/ Rohit Sharma/ Jasprit Bumrah) down to the lowest grade of Rs 1 crore. The same players, plus another 89-90 who lucked out with the Indian Premier League lottery, are in a financial comfort zone.
For the rest, professional domestic cricket is a circus act with no safety net for protection. These players exist on the fringe of wealth and fame, just outside the boundary, and know that the barrier to entry – for a safe and secure life – is extremely high. The grass on the other side of Ranji is actually greener.
Time for Domestic Cricket Contracts
Given the financial troubles of domestic players, it’s surprising the BCCI did not introduce state contracts on the line of the central contracts for international players. Financial security would have taken away uncertainty from the cricketers’ lives and provided a huge incentive for improving performance.
The players with contracts are incentivised to perform better to retain their benefits; for others it is aspirational to up their game and get into the select group.
Contracts are more than just money – they are instruments which set ground rules and define the roles and responsibilities of players and administrators.
Players commit their availability to play, and agree to meet standards of fitness and general conduct laid down. State associations commit to provide the tools (equipment, coaching, training facilities) required by professional athletes.
With this pact, overall standards rise, which is why domestic contracts are the norm in other major cricket-playing nations. They've existed for years in Australia and England and recently even Pakistan’s 198 domestic cricketers across six first-class sides were brought into the contract system.
On assuming office, BCCI President Sourav Ganguly had announced that implementing domestic contracts was a priority but almost two years down the line, the BCCI’s non-movement on this matter is difficult to understand.
Could money be a factor because contracts across 38 Ranji teams (with women and U-25 teams) would cost a bomb?
Yes, and no.
On a quick calculation, contracts should cost not more than Rs 150 crore a year, which is a lot of money. The counter-argument is that it is small money in the context of the riches IPL spins – the BCCI nets 150 crore (from media and sponsorship revenue) from just two IPL games.
So why not utilise the quickest format of the game, to empower the disciples of the oldest and longest formats?
(Amrit Mathur is a senior journalist, former GM of the BCCI and Manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He can be reached at @AmritMathur1)
. Read more on Cricket by The Quint.England, Aus and Pak Have Contracts For Domestic Cricketers, Why Not India?Temple Demolition: Bommai Faces Right-Wing Heat, Infighting Continues in BJP . Read more on Cricket by The Quint.