IPL will have two new teams, but players are crying for help

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Despite being one of the richest and most influential cricketing boards of the world, BCCI is yet to come up with a concrete plan to help ensure job security for the country’s domestic players 

With two more teams set to be added by the BCCI in the ‘Super Rich Club’ of the Indian Premier League from next season, the questions have already been asked whether cricket in India is only going to be played for the rich and famous names or there will be any contract system for ignored domestic players who have been left on their own to beg for their survival.

Already, IPL has made BCCI the richest amongst the boards of all the cricket playing nations. The valuation of any IPL franchise is pegged anywhere between Rs 2000 crore to Rs 4000 crore, depending who owns you and how much power you yield in the cricketing circles. And if you belong to Ambani’s Mumbai Indians, there is no price tag for you. And that’s the reason BCCI hopes to garner anything between Rs 4000 to Rs 6000 crores by means of just auctioning the two new teams.

Auction? Well, that may not be an appropriate word to use when BCCI doles out favours to anyone. Whether it was in the past when Lalit Modi was calling the shots, or now when the son of a powerful politician is at the helm. It doesn’t require any common sense to know who is going to be the one team in the IPL. The guess work is only happening to name the second! Everyone in the BCCI is convinced that a top business house of India, from Ahmedabad, will get one team in the “auctions”. But no one has any answers when you ask them “whether the new Rs 4000 crore-plus money will ensure “regular contracts for domestic players, just like the chosen few of Team India”?

 

Profits, the priority

Over the course of the last 13 seasons, the valuation of the IPL team has grown many folds. All the current eight IPL franchises are already amongst the highest-valued sports teams in the world. The only difference is that Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders are on the top of the chart, while Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad are at the bottom half. Despite money flowing into the BCCI coffers, there has been no concrete step till date to compensate all those domestic players or match officials who are solely dependent on cricket money to survive.

In fact, BCCI would be holding the third phase of the IPL 13 with the UAE once again agreeing to host this cash-rich tournament in September-October later this year. But to take a call on how to compensate our needy domestic players and match officials, it has kept an eerie silence, resulting in many of the players being forced to leave cricket and do petty jobs to feed their families. By cancelling the Ranji Trophy for the first time in its 87-year-old history last year, and continuing with IPL even by taking it out of India, BCCI has sent a clear message on its priorities.

All cricket administrators took Virat Kohli or for that matter chief coach Ravi Shastri so seriously when they spoke about “mental health of players with long stints in a bio-bubble”. However, no one has ever bothered to debate on the mental health of our domestic players.

Even though the BCCI has now announced the domestic cricket calendar, no one in the Board or in states is absolutely sure about how this will be implemented on the ground because of the fear of “Covid’s third wave” expected around that time only. Kohli or Shastri may hardly have been affected by this deadly Covid aftereffect because most of India’s big stars will be on the road playing non-stop cricket around the world for the next six months.

Going by an insiders account, the BCCI has yet to figure out “who exactly to give the compensation to”. Whether full squads from the previous season will be paid or just the players who played matches in that season, or the entire probable squads.

But even now, no one in the Board is talking about having a contract system for the domestic players. 

 

Can BCCI help?

Going by the financial reports on the BCCI’s website for the last financial year, the world’s richest board has paid Rs 5 crore, Rs 150 crore, and Rs 162 crore as advance tax during the first three quarters. And this was paid when most of the other cricket boards around the world recorded losses due to the cancellation of international tours during Covid lockdown. The BCCI has the resources to sustain and even grow even during a pandemic and that’s the reason most state associations are of the view that there should be a contract system in place for domestic players.

A BCCI official in know of the Board’s finances has a suggestion that “even by setting aside 10% of Board’s profits”, all state units (38 affiliated) could compensate their men’s, women’s, and age-group squads across the different formats. Going by the sheer numbers, the majority of domestic players are not part of either cash rich IPL or even have a secured job. And when the domestic circuit was cancelled last season because of the  pandemic, the ones relying only on match fee from BCCI were left to survive on their own.

For simple cricketing reasons, there is a need to take care of our domestic circuit. Team India right now is so dominant in world cricket because it has a very strong bench strength. Take the example of the series in Sri Lanka where the BCCI sent a second team under Shikhar Dhawan to take on their first team. There is hardly any doubt over India’s ability to even produce a third team for any international assignment. The credit should go to all our players and system in place for over decades now. 

No other cricket board can compare their domestic structure with that of the BCCI in India. But if we allow our domestic players to disband cricket during the testing time of Covid crisis, we may soon be counted amongst nations where there are hardly any players available for national duty. In fact, talks over central contracts were happening even before the pandemic. 

Even cricketers at the age group level should be compensated for the lack of cricket, it will keep them motivated and then hand contracts to senior players. For example, a domestic Ranji player earns anything between Rs 15-16 lakh during a full season. But with the entire season being called off for the first time in 87 years, imagine the plight of those huge numbers of cricketers across India. 

 

Help the needy first

The BCCI should come up with a policy of helping domestic cricketers soon to avoid any further mental stress. To immediately reach out to those in dire need of funds, the Board may think of dividing all our players into two groups — one with secured jobs and others without. But that’s clearly a temporary solution. The permanent one has to be the “contractual offers to all in domestic just like the chosen few in the national squad”. 

And this includes all the women cricketers, too. Women players have even lesser job opportunities compared to men cricketers. The BCCI can take help of state cricket associations in this regard to short-list the needy cricketers. 

Board treasurer Arun Dhumal had indicated during the lockdown period that the BCCI is working out a compensation package in consultation with the state associations. But no such issue was discussed in the Special General Body Meeting on May 29, 2021.

For now, there is only one thing that is certain, that the BCCI has been negotiating hard with the International Cricket Council and television broadcasters to have an extended window for the IPL, even if that means agreeing to an ICC tournament every year in exchange.

Going by the internal presentation, no one is in favour of having 94 matches — home and away basis currently for eight IPL franchises — from next season. Instead, BCCI is likely to revert to the format of two groups of five teams each with 74 matches.

But before making any further calculations, BCCI must understand this simple mathematics… “More matches may fetch more profits, but no domestic cricket would guarantee the death of our talent!”

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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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