How will BCCI save this domestic season from peril?
Unlike ECB, the BCCI has not offered any financial assistance to cricketers or ground staff whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic.Updated: Sep 11, 2020, 09:08 IST
The Indian Premier League, so lucrative and pivotal for BCCI’s finances, gets underway in the UAE next weekend after a five-month delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But what happens to India’s vast domestic cricket calendar that cannot be shifted out of the country? How will that be held even as the country’s Covid-19 count is on a steeply upward curve with no signs of slowing?
“We certainly haven’t given up on having domestic cricket this season. Just the way we put things together for IPL, we are committed to having domestic cricket as well,” a top BCCI official, who did not wish to be named, said.
It is a hopeful message for the thousands of people who depend on it for their earnings: not just the domestic cricketers, especially the vast majority who do not have IPL contracts or represent India, but also umpires, match referees, scorers and ground staff.
Unlike ECB, the English cricket board, that announced a £61 million aid package for counties and clubs, BCCI have not offered any financial assistance to cricketers or ground staff whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic.
The authorities admit that a full season - involving 2000-plus matches across age groups and seniors, for men and women - may not be possible.
“Our priority will be to stage it in a safe and healthy environment, and we will make all efforts. We have time till next May, but we may not have a full season this time,” the official said.
It is learnt that BCCI is planning to stage just two domestic tournaments for men: Syed Mushtaq Ali national T20 and the Ranji Trophy, and a T20 league for women. Which means this domestic season may not feature age group tournaments, Duleep Trophy, Deodhar Trophy, Vijay Hazare Trophy, or the Irani Cup.
Multiple scenarios have been discussed over the tweaking of the Ranji format (though no details have emerged), and cities with at least three cricket grounds in a 50km radius have been identified as the most likely hosts.
MHA’s unlock-4 guidelines permit sporting activity with up to 100 persons from September 21, but state governments will have their own health assessments. Whether BCCI puts in place an expensive bio-bubble for domestic cricket also remains to be seen.
“Putting a T20 tournament together is one thing, but with Ranji Trophy we are talking about four-day matches. To have teams playing simultaneously at three venues, then possibly move another set of teams there, maintain ground and pitch conditions is all a tough task,” another BCCI official said. “We can look for a December-January start, but will have one eye on the virus situation.”
With every tournament and every match taken off the calendar, the players lose out on match fees, the only way they earn from cricket. Unlike the 27 Indian cricketers on central contract - the lowest of the four grades assures ₹1 crore - the 900-odd domestic players across 38 state teams are not protected by contracts.
Bengal wicket-keeper Shreevats Goswami, who has a ₹1 crore IPL contract with Sunrisers Hyderabad, made an appeal from Dubai for his fraternity. “Worst case scenario if domestic cricket isn’t possible in India this year due to COVID, I sincerely hope BCCI or every state has plans to pay the players. This is our bread and butter. That is why mandatory contract system is so important,” he tweeted.
Goswami’s sentiments are echoed by Cheteshwar Pujara, India Test batsman who is in Grade A (₹5 crore) of the India team’s annual contracts list.
“It’s not for players in the India team. They are well looked after. It’s for those who only get to play domestic cricket, are good performers at state level but for some reason can’t make it to the next level. Their entire income is dependent on domestic cricket. They would benefit by having a domestic contract system,” Pujara said.
“If you look at domestic players in most other countries, they have contracts, whether you see in County cricket or Australian players; I believe even South African players have contracts.”
The money on offer for domestic cricketers is not very attractive to begin with. After the last revision in 2018, match fee was fixed at ₹35,000 a day, projected as a 200% hike over the previous gross revenue share (GRS) system by the then in-charge, BCCI’s Committee of Administrators. But players allege that it’s just a cosmetic change. An average domestic player whose team does not go deep into the knock-out rounds of Ranji, makes around ₹10-12 lakh annually. Even the pay of a best-performing domestic cricketer featuring in all tournaments does not touch ₹20 lakh annually.
On the other hand, the IPL’s lowest contract is worth ₹30 lakh. A total of ₹680 crore is spent annually on player salaries, which works out to over 20% of the IPL media rights value. While the IPL’s heft in keeping Indian cricket healthy is well documented, only 125 Indian players get contracts.
“It’s important to take care of our domestic players because that is where the talent for India, IPL, India A or Duleep Trophy comes from,” says Pujara. “If there are no matches, domestic contracts, even if they are a small amount, it will give some security to the players. It’s like having a job.”
Punjab shows the way
Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) has taken the lead by introducing a scholarship contract scheme for 40 players, including 10 women. “Our apex council has approved it. Once some of the technical issues are ironed out, we will write to BCCI,” says PCA secretary Puneet Bali.
Cricket Association of Uttarakhand too has said it will implement a contract system.
Seasoned Bengal batsman Manoj Tiwary, a former India player, is hopeful BCCI will act. “In the situation we are in now, contracts would be very useful. It’s also important that states give contracts which are respectable and can make some difference to a player’s life. BCCI president Sourav Ganguly has already spoken about the idea; I’m sure he will be working something out.”
Anshuman Gaekwad, former India batsman and coach who is in the BCCI apex council, promises steps soon. “It was important we got IPL up and running because so much of BCCI’s revenue depends on it. Now that we have put IPL plans in motion, I am sure there will be action on domestic contracts too. It’s likely we will hear something soon.”
Raising domestic pay was an early promise of former India skipper Sourav Ganguly as he took over as BCCI president late last year. Just like he nudged the India team to embrace day-night Tests, a plan to benefit the domestic cricket ecosystem would be widely welcome.