Cancelling domestic cricket matches while planning the IPL could pose long term problems for the Indian team, leaving future players with even less time to hone their skills for the international arena
On 10 January, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced its decision to postpone the ongoing Under-19 Cooch Behar Trophy in Pune after several players tested positive for Covid-19.
According to an insider’s account, close to 40 cases have been reported to date which forced BCCI to resort to this extreme step. This has come as a personal setback for BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, also because it was his close associate Amit Siddheshwar (assistant manager, administration) who was given the responsibility of conducting this all-important junior tournament, which is considered the key supply chain for senior teams.
However, there has been no news from the BCCI regarding how many players have been isolated in Pune since all other players have started to leave for their respective hometowns. Since the hotel rooms were on a twin-sharing basis, the number of players asked to stay back in isolation has to be much greater than the originally infected ones.
The tournament’s quarter final stage was to be played in a bio-bubble in Pune on 11 January but with several teams reporting COVID-19 cases over the last few days, it was decided to postpone the tournament for the time being. Mumbai, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Vidarbha, Bengal, Haryana, and Maharashtra teams qualified for the U-19 quarterfinals.
It was only last week that the BCCI announced that they had postponed the Ranji Trophy, the Col. CK Nayudu Trophy, and the Senior Women’s T20 League. However, it was then decided that the Cooch Behar Trophy would go ahead since the tournament was “underway”.
BCCI secretary Jay Shah wrote to the state associations that “Once the caseload again goes down and the situation improves, we will lock in a new window and resume the knockout leg of the tournament”. But the fear now in the minds of all junior players is that this tournament may not be finished (or resumed), just like what happened a season ago when the entire junior circuit was wasted due to a pandemic.
Moreover, BCCI’s main agenda of selecting the Indian team for the U-19 World Cup in the West Indies has already been met based on the performances in the Vinoo Mankad U-19 one-day tournament.
IPL, the cash cow, is a must
A day later, BCCI vice-president Rajeev Shukla said that “The cricket body will make all the efforts so that the upcoming edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) will take place in India”.
It is important to note that the 2020 edition of the lucrative T20 league was held in the UAE, while the previous season (2021) was played in two phases. It was initially scheduled to be played entirely in India, but due to COVID-19 cases emerging inside the bio-bubble, the tournament was suspended midway and then held in the UAE. But this time around, the BCCI is keen to ensure that the IPL happens in India.
To that end, the BCCI has already requested that “there be a contingency plan in case the Covid situation worsens in the coming days” from all those involved in the IPL.
Right now, the Board is focusing on the IPL players’ auction scheduled to be held in the second week of February in Bengaluru. “With two new teams in the rank, our priority is to finish the team building or players’ auction. After that, we will explore all options for hosting the IPL successfully. Whether IPL will be played in India or any overseas venues will only depend on the COVID situation then.” This is what a senior BCCI official told The Patriot.
Cancelling (or postponing) India’s premier domestic event, the Ranji Trophy, for the second season in a row while focusing entirely on holding the IPL at any cost, has sent a clear message about the BCCI’s priorities.
On the one hand, India’s domestic players have been suffering from a lack of matches. But on the other hand, the senior players of Team India are becoming the “victims of the Board’s poor scheduling”, which is forcing them to play non-stop cricket.
Remember how Indian skipper Virat Kohli and the former chief coach Ravi Shastri warned about the longer tours in the wake of strict bio-bubble before taking a flight off to England for the World Test Championship a few months back? But the BCCI had no time to listen to them and therefore scheduled the remainder of the IPL in between the England tour and the T20 World Cup for obvious monetary reasons.
That’s why players like Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul, and many others have been playing non-stop cricket for over six months now.
Compensation: Too less, too late
The situation was as bad as this even last season. And the BCCI made it worse for the players and match officials (umpires, scorers, etc.) by delaying compensation to them. It was only in the final week of 2021 that the BCCI started to disburse the match fees it owes to male and female domestic players for tournaments that had to be shelved due to the pandemic in the 2020–21 season.
It has been learned that all players whose names were duly submitted by their respective state cricket associations are being compensated at 50 per cent of their regular match earnings. There are a large number of players who may have to wait longer for their payments as the invoices have not been duly sent out by the state associations.
It must be mentioned here that the premier domestic cricket tournament, the Ranji Trophy, was cancelled for the first time in its 85-year history last season. While in the women’s category, their premier T20 tournament was also shelved due to the Covid-19’s second wave.
According to the compensation plan worked out by a team led by former Team India skipper Mohammad Azharuddin, a player who earned Rs 11.20 lakh by playing all eight Ranji games in the 2019–20 season would get compensation of Rs 5.10 lakh for the 2020–21 domestic season. Similarly, those players who did not play all eight games and were part of the playing XI in fewer games would be compensated on a pro-rata basis.
If the premier Ranji tournament fails to get completed even this season, then the compensation would be higher for the players next year as the BCCI has also announced a substantial increase in the payment from this season onwards. But the catch is that the number of matches played by each player will be less in comparison to 2019-20.
For example, a player used to play eight group matches in a Ranji season and if his team progresses to the knock-out stage, then three (maximum, if the team reaches the final) more games are added to his kitty to make it a total of 11. But with the new formula in place, teams will get to play only five group matches.
This will certainly hit the earnings of each player.
As compared to the per day fee of Rs 35,000 given to the Ranji Trophy players till now, the new slab has been fixed at Rs 40,000 to Rs 60,000 per day (depending upon seniority).
The fee will be the same in domestic one-day and T20 formats as well, compared to Rs 17,500 paid previously.
Suppose, if a player has played less than 20 games, then the hike is only Rs 5,000 (Rs 40000 per day). But for those who have played more than 40 first-class matches, the hike is almost double, from Rs 35,000 to Rs 60,000. For those who fall in the mid-category of between 21 and 40 matches, the match fee will be Rs 50,000 per day.
Though this compensation scheme may look satisfactory to many, hundreds of those aspiring cricketers, who were hoping to attract the attention of national selectors by performing well at different domestic tournaments, have been left wondering for the second season in a row.
Many former cricketers believe that “all these cancellations will affect the supply chain for the senior national team”.
“Great players are not made in factories. Rather, they are being produced under the scorching heat of the domestic circuit. All the famous Indian cricketers first fine-tuned their skills in the domestic circuit and then went on to become the superstars of world cricket. For Team India or even for IPL teams, a gap of two domestic seasons may affect their supply chain,” explained the former India wicket-keeper batsman, Surender Khanna.
The issue is that there are numerous issues, even for the BCCI.
Earlier, the Board was forced to cancel the Vijay Merchant Trophy (U-16 tournament) because most of the players in the age group were not vaccinated in India. Though the government has announced vaccination of the 15 to 18-year old population, since the majority of the players in this age group are below the age of 15, there was no way that BCCI was ready to take a chance.