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First-class Indian cricketers must get annual retainers now

With the Indian Premier League’s riches bypassing most first-class players, the Board of Control for Cricket in India must reward them enough to ensure they stay motivated.

cricket Updated: Mar 08, 2018 09:22 IST
Indian Premier League,IPL,IPL 2018
Indian cricketer Jalaj Saxena (left) was the highest wicket-taker in this Ranji Trophy season but doesn’t have an Indian Premier League contract.(BCCI)

As another long domestic season comes to a close the BCCI is set to hold its annual debrief exercise -- the meeting with Ranji captains and coaches. This consultative engagement will bring into focus important issues that need attention. In such meetings some players hesitate to speak up while others have nothing to say or are unable to express themselves. But coaches like Chandrakant Pandit, Bhaskar Pillai, Dav Whatmore, Vikram Rathore, Sitanshu Kotak know their stuff and are not shy of playing on the front foot.

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Domestic cricket is the foundation on which Virat Kohli’s Indian cricket team stands. For India to do well -- in Tests, especially overseas --- domestic cricket must be carefully shaped. Instead of support, domestic cricket this season has got quite a hammering. First, the schedule was unduly delayed which affected team preparation. Then started a bizarre sequence where every major tournament was tinkered with. Ranji Trophy returned to home and away structure, Duleep Trophy was scrapped before being restored, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy was rescheduled and the Vijay Hazare restructured.

Considering this, the first message from captains and coaches should be to stop this treatment. What is the point of six months of hard grind if Mayank Agarwal (2000 runs,1160 in Ranji with five hundreds from eight games and a highest score of 394) is only in the ‘queue’ for India selection? Faiz Fazal and RR Sanjay, the second and third highest run getters, are not even in the frame. And does anyone know Harpreet Bhatia from Madhya Pradesh who averaged 70?

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Why should Jalaj Saxena, the highest wicket taker in Ranji Trophy (44 wickets from only seven games) play domestic cricket when he is not in Deodhar Trophy, Duleep Trophy, Irani Cup or the IPL?

Compare this with rising under-19 star Kamlesh Nagarkoti who is yet to play Ranji Trophy but is already a recipient of multiple cash awards from the BCCI and Rajasthan government and a multi-crore IPL contract .The message around the domestic circuit is focus on IPL, Ranji Trophy is a waste of time.

To change this sad truth, domestic cricketers should be rewarded and their achievements celebrated. Indian cricket’s vast wealth has benefitted the BCCI, state associations and only a handful of top stars. IPL’s riches have bypassed first-class players and with shrinking job opportunities, most are in severe financial distress.

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Without state contracts, players live on match fees, which again is subject to selection. Worse, BCCI is yet to clear payments for the season before this. India’s domestic cricket structure provides a wonderful platform to display skills. But for lasting reform, three steps are required --- annual retainer contracts for first-class players, higher match fees to be paid upfront and cash bonus equal to the lowest grade BCCI annual contracts for top ten Ranji batsmen/bowlers. This will ensure future stars like Rajesh Gurbani and Anmolpreet Singh don’t get demotivated even if IPL gives them a miss.

(Amrit Mathur is a senior cricket writer and has been involved with IPL in official capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are personal)

First Published: Mar 08, 2018 08:43 IST