These days Dale Steyn, other than terrorising batsmen with his fiery pace, takes time to feed five puppies outside the Sunrisers Hyderabad dressing room. Since he found them six days back, abandoned, the South African has shown the world what a generous soul he is, a far cry from the beast he is with a ball in hand. He even hands out free tickets and goodies to fans before every match he plays.
A peek into Steyn's life and one will know his life has rarely been a bed of roses. That is where the aggression comes out, the streak in him to dismantle the opposition when on field, but off it comes out a large-hearted human being who knows the battle of hardship.
Steyn is far from the stereotypical middle-class white South African brought up in the lap of privilege. He hails from a nowhere Phalaborwa in the high north-east of South Africa, the product of a family with an Afrikaans name whose first (and only) language is English.
The country lad's struggle was such that eight years ago he could barely afford a pair of cricket shoes. “I had one pair of shoes and I had to buy them myself when I first started playing internationals,” he said. “I just didn't have the money for more than one. I was begging Shaun Pollock for a pair of shoes.”
Cut to the present though, Steyn's fortunes have changed. And much has to do with the advent of the Indian domestic T20 league six years ago. He draws an annual salary of $1.2 million (approximately Rs 6.5 crore) per year. Of course, he now has 30 pairs of cricket shoes in a bedroom of his stunning Table mountain-facing house in Cape Town.
Like Steyn, in India there are plenty of players who have made good fortune from the financial windfall the T20 league has offered. While Steyn has touched the peak of his craft — undoubtedly becoming the best fast bowler of his generation —those who have benefitted in India have seldom played for the country or they are yet to do so.
No longer is life a struggle for the sons of a coalmine worker or auto driver, muezzin or watchman for a private security agency.
All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, who has been the butt of jokes not just on the social networking sites but also of his Chennai Super Kings skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team-mates, didn't have much to smile about while growing up in Jamnagar, Gujarat.
Born to Aniruddhsinh, a watchman for a private security agency, Jadeja lost his mother in 2005 in an accident. It was such a low point in his life that he wanted to give up cricket. Thankfully for the Jadejas, their son never gave up.
What money can buy
Now at 24, he is the richest player in CSK, taking home $2 million (R9.72 crore) per year. He drives a Audi4 in the Jamnagar-Rajkot highway, has bought a Hayabusa and owns a horse which he has kept in his farmhouse in the outskirts of Jamnagar.
Like Jadeja, there is Manoj Tiwary, Umesh Yadav, Vinay Kumar, Ashok Dinda, Saurabh Tiwary, Manpreet Gony and many who have battled the odds. While all these have gone on to play for India at some stage or had already played before the T20 riches came their way, there are others who have landed a contract after having played just competitive first division leagues.
There is one such player in Royal Challengers Bangalore, who does not wish to be named. Having only played league cricket in his state, he insists his dream was to play only in the cash-rich T20 league. He was given a contract of R10 lakh and he is content with that. He says he knows he can't make it to the big league, so asks bluntly, “What's wrong earning the quick buck in a right way?”
“I did not eye a Ranji cap. All I wanted was an Indian domestic league contract. It has improved my life and I have to be free only for two months. So why would I complain,” he says.
In 2004-05, the BCCI opened its purse strings to First Class cricketers as well, giving domestic cricket its deserved due. But it's the cash-rich T20 league that has changed the life of cricketers, for the better.