Stories of conflict between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the players are not new. In 1989, after a tour of the West Indies, there was a flare-up over exhibition matches leading to six players being suspended, which they finally got overturned in the Supreme Court.
In the same year before the Pakistan series, there was a tussle over pay and captain Krishnamachari Srikkanth was advised to lead a new set of players. He refused, a compromise was made after the trip and Srikkanth stripped of captaincy despite leading India to their first series draw in Pakistan. And days before the 2003 World Cup, the issue of players’ personal contracts had caused a ruckus.
The difference between these instances of unrest and the one brewing now is that while some solution was found in all those cases, none seems to be in sight at the moment. The BCCI is getting sterner everyday when it comes to the Indian Cricket League (ICL), while the number of players joining the so-called rebel league is growing daily.
Jai Prakash Yadav, who played 12 ODIs, was the first one to go on record saying that he and some of his Railways teammates have made up their mind and on Thursday came the news that a clutch of Hyderabad players were following suit. Slowly but steadily, players regardless of age or aspirations are coming under the ICL umbrella, risking a life ban from the BCCI.
Money, money, many
Players like Yadav, who have some international experience but stand little chance of getting back to the top flight, have been promised Rs 75 lakh to a crore for three years with a clause in the contracts stating that they would be compensated if the BCCI slaps financial penalties, stops other benefits like pensions or if they get injured.
The most well to do of these players make a maximum of around Rs 10-12 lakh a year and the prospect of a quantum leap in earnings is naturally bound to make them consider the offers seriously. About 30 per cent of the amount promised will be handed over as soon as they sign the contract, the rest coming in 36 monthly instalments. But some are taking time to decide.
"You can broadly divide those being approached by the ICL in three categories," said a player who has been sounded out and is yet to take a decision. "For some, it's a good deal and they will take it. Some are apprehensive thinking what happens if it stops. There are some others who want to return to the mainstream as coaches or selectors in future and are not sure whether they'll be accepted."
The fear of censure
Apart from fearing that they would face the board's wrath, these players are edgy also because there are grey areas in the ICL concept. "We know it's going to be a Twenty20 competition featuring teams from six cities. We don't know how the teams will be formed, where we will play or when exactly it will start," said the player with a moderate experience of playing at the highest level.
"At the same time, the money involved is too much to ignore. What we earn now will stop once our first-class career is over. It would mean going back to ordinary middle-class living after that. Since many of us don't have the motivation to do well in Ranji Trophy and win back our India place anymore, accepting the ICL offer would make sense. It's an honest way of earning and it will secure our future. It's worth taking that risk."
The organisers, however, were quick to mention there was no reason to be sceptical. "Our aim at the moment is to get the Twenty20 competition underway. Expansion plans are there but we will work on them gradually, since they are going to be part of a big, ongoing process," said Ashish Kaul, executive vice-president of Essel Group, the company behind the ICL.
Where do we go from here?
Another player with a few India caps, who says he has a "60-40" chance of giving the nod, felt there was more at stake. "The selectors don't even watch matches. Even the state association doesn't take up our case. There is no point continuing like this. If I join the ICL, I will be on TV, people will see what I am capable of. There are also talks of foreign trips and all that," said the player whose state has benefitted immensely from his performances but has never acknowledged it properly.
This indifference of the administrators, said another player, was a major cause for dissent. "There is money but are we getting it? Forget that, our bosses know who are being approached by the ICL. Did they think it necessary to have a word with us or try to find out what's causing the discontent? It shows that either they are not bothered about cricket or not bothered about cricketers."
This player added that ICL isn't bad for cricket, since it's not bad for cricketers. "It can be bad for those who run the board and indulge in all sorts of politics. If the ICL affects anyone adversely, it will be them. It's guaranteed that I will get a particular amount if I sign the contract. There is no guarantee that I will play all the games for my state in the next three years."
Players are getting over this apprehension or dilemma each passing day and the ICL is gaining momentum. With an air of controversy about it, the media too is eagerly following it with all possible details. That way, the proposed first edition of the tournament has already created a lot of interest without trying too hard. The next few days will surely tell which way this event with the potential to turn Indian cricket upside down is headed.