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BCCI’s fillip to Test cricket must not forget Ranji cricketers

Our highest-earning cricketer-athletes – around 150 IPL signees – are less than eight percent of the 1041 registered Indian professional male cricketers

Inside ten days, two BCCI statements paid homage to two very important pillars in our cricket. First, at the bottom of its annual retainer contracts announcement for senior men came a small note – “The BCCI has recommended that all athletes give precedence to participating in domestic cricket during periods when they are not representing the national team.” This reads like a muscular validation of the importance of domestic cricket in our ecosystem. Then came ‘Test Cricket Incentive Scheme’ (TCIS) for senior men, the BCCI’s salute at the shrine of the ‘Primacy of Test Cricket’ (PoTC).

PREMIUM Mumbai’s Musheer Khan celebrates with teammates the wicket of Vidharbha’s batter Karun Nair during Ranji Trophy final(PTI)

Let us see whether such a robust belief system is backed up by facts. The TCIS promised payouts are impressive – a 300% increase in Test match earnings for those who play more than 75% Tests in an Indian season. The TCIS includes the 2022-23 season from October 1, 2022 to September 30, 2023, which ensures that someone like the Great Che aka Pujara will earn four times his regular ₹1.05 crore for Tests that season.

Including 2022-23 also means that Shreyas Iyer, having played five of its nine Tests gets an additional ₹30 lakhs per Test. Iyer is one of the two frontline players, Ishan Kishan the other, culled from BCCI’s latest contracts. At the moment, both are in some invisible doghouse due, it is believed but not openly stated, to their laissez-faire attitude to red ball cricket. To be honest, missing out on a BCCI contract plus TCIS extras will hurt egos rather than the bank accounts of our star male cricketers.

Now onto POTC: that somehow looks a bit off. In a June 2022 interview given to PTI by BCCI secretary Jay Shah[3] said, “in the next ICC FTP, the IPL will have a two-and-a-half month window.” An unnamed BCCI official around the same time talked about a 94-match IPL 2025. While the Big Three can focus and fine-tune their Test calendars against each other, a 94 match/ 75-day IPL means that smaller Test playing nations must bury all POTC dreams.

In the PTI interview, Shah said the BCCI was “committed to international cricket” and “all bilateral commitments across all formats will be honoured.” The plan was to have, “two national teams ready at the same time.” This is a win-win for everyone if only. If only smaller nations had deeper pools of cricketers to choose from. If only smaller cricket boards aren’t competing with better-paying year-round global franchise leagues for player time and attention.

But that’s not really BCCI’s problem because it has expressed its POTC faith through TCIS. What does confuse was another mysterious trial balloon sent up December 2023. A MoneyControl story reported that the BCCI was planning a Tier-2 cricket league either T10 or T20, with a September-October window and a probable age cap. That deflated balloon has disappeared, but who knows six months later.

The BCCI’s push for domestic cricket by is based on the somewhat unsuccessful economic model – the trickle down when it asks its star ‘athletes’ to give ‘precedence’ to domestic cricket participation. Some basic facts. Our highest-earning cricketer-athletes – around 150 IPL signees – are less than eight percent of the 1041 registered Indian professional male cricketers (FICA numbers). Between the high earners and the rest of the 900 domestic cricketers, there lies an earnings abyss.

The BCCI is unable to run a unified payment system for internationals and domestics. Internationals are on match fees plus contracts based on their seasonal performances. Domestic cricketers have no retainer contracts and receive payments based on match fees. Sort of like Uber/ Ola drivers, their skills being their vehicles. Think of them as gig workers, but in a monopoly business.

In late 2021, match fees for domestic cricketers were suddenly divided into seniority/ experience: those with 1-20 match experience received ₹40,000 (per match day), 21-40 matches Rs50,000 (pmd), 40+ matches ₹60,000 (pmd). Like Rohit Sharma and Dhruv Jurel being paid different match fees because BCCI couldn’t bother with contracts to differentiate their value as players across formats.

The BCCI’s annual income from its last public balance sheet 2021-22 was ₹4360.56crores. Its interest on fixed deposit that financial year alone was ₹232.8 crores. This is not an organisation without money.

And still, the most experienced players in Ranji final who would have played in all ten matches will earn ₹25 lakhs as match fees from the season. In no way vastly different from what domestics earned in the BCCI’s previous media rights sales cycle. The BCCI’s true treatment of first-class cricket should be given its most brandable name: the Domestic Cricket Dis-Incentive Scheme.

“This is where it ends today,” said a first-class cricketer, putting domestic cricket in its proper context. The primary focus for his tribe is now an IPL contract, “Ranji Trophy is a hobby.” As media rights holders assemble multi-lingual commentary teams, insiders joke how “domestic giants” are starting to make money only now, “Because of broadcasting not because of playing Ranji Trophy.”

Yet conversations around domestic cricket payments, with young and old, are met with a medieval response. That BCCI’s domestic player salaries are adequate because first-class cricketers do not “deserve” or “require” higher earnings. Because they are not international quality talents or because they live outside of major metros. Like is also said about women’s cricket.

Basically these gig workers-athletes – in the BCCI monopoly – should be grateful they’ve got a source of livelihood. Those issuing judgement on what are ‘deserving’ wages for athletes would not accept ad-hoc external criteria being used when fixing their own salaries.

Every time the BCCI signs a gazillon-dollar deal, there is muscle-flexing celebration about the power and growth of the Indian cricket ‘industry’. At the same time believing it is okay to keep squeezing its player base of hundreds out of this wealth cycle which is driven and centered around player performance. So what if a billion-dollar industry runs like a home business unit? Just keep those ticking POTC and TCIS boxes.


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