Since making her debut for India Women back in June 1999, Mithali Raj has won 267 caps across formats. The vast majority of those (189) have come in the 50-over version, where she has represented India in five World Cups. There have been two runners-up medals (2005 and 2017) and a third-place finish (2009). In her own way, she has been as colossal a figure as Sachin Tendulkar, an inspiration for thousands of girls hoping to make it to the top.
Earlier this week, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) – or the Committee of Administrators (CoA) appointed to administer its affairs – announced vastly improved new contracts for Indian cricketers. Those that excel across formats – five players including Virat Kohli – stand to make 7 crores as retainer. Even those fringe players at the base of the pyramid, Grade C, stand to earn 1 crore, half of what the highest retainer is currently.
Jayant is one of those players, though his chance of wearing the India shirt in the immediate future – there are hardly any home Tests over the next 18 months – are next to non-existent. At the same time, the women’s contracts have also been made more lucrative. Mithali, whose previous retainer, long since lapsed, was worth 15 lakhs, could now earn 50 lakhs. Jhulan Goswami, the other bulwark of the Indian women’s side over the past two decades, Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana also come in the same pay bracket.
So, there you have it. A fringe player who may not play for India in the foreseeable future will be paid twice the retainer that one of the greatest women’s cricketers will be. Yes, we know that comparing men’s and women’s cricket is like mixing apples and oranges. Yes, it’s the men who command the millions of eyeballs that bring in the revenue. Yes, it’s the Indian Premier League (IPL) – contested by the men – which has put obscene sums of money in the BCCI’s bank accounts.
But there lies the rub. The cricket board is not a for-profit enterprise. The bottom line shouldn’t be its priority, especially when it enjoys such riches. The fact is that individuals like Mithali and Jhulan, who have done so much to raise the profile of Indian women’s cricket while earning far less than 50 lakhs over the duration of such long careers, deserve so much more.
And it’s not just about them either. Look lower down the food chain and the numbers are pitiable. Under the new payment system, male domestic cricketers will be paid 35,000 Rupees a match day, with that fee halved for Twenty20 games. The reserves will be paid half that. With the Ranji Trophy stalwart guaranteed at least six matches, and several other limited-overs tournaments dotting the season, it adds up to a decent living if you’re proficient across formats. But when you consider that the average Sheffield Shield player was making A$200,000 even before the new pay structure was put in place, those numbers don’t look too flash.
Yes, there are cost-of-living indices to consider, but they’re almost irrelevant in a field where you’re one bad injury away from oblivion, and where even the longest career seldom goes beyond 15 years. But if you think the men are underpaid, don’t even look at what the women make. That’s just embarrassing.
Even after the latest proposed hike, the women who play the domestic circuit will make 12,500 Rupees a day. At first glance, that’s definitely not a trifling amount, given that they don’t even make a third of that now. But here’s the thing. If you consider a state team like Hyderabad, which has produced a few Indian internationals over the years, they played just eight (one-day) matches this season. Half of them were in the T20 format. So, a player who played every game would make just 75,000 Rupees. For a full season.
The zonal competition, four three-day matches, remains to be played, but that obviously excludes the majority of state players. Imagine buying kit, eating according to the dietary recommendations, and training, and all on just over 6,000 Rupees a month. When some of these girls then go on to do India proud, as they did at the World Cup last summer, the tendency is to shower them with cash and plots of land and other camera-friendly gestures. But at the grassroots, and even domestic level, they have their task cut out to excel.
Once the women are good enough, goes the argument, the sponsors will come, as will the lucrative fees and contracts. In that case, we need to ask, what constitutes good enough? Two finals and a third place in the last four World Cups isn’t? Besides, should Indian cricket even be depending on sponsors?
The minimum retainer for an Australian woman cricketer right now is A$72,000 (approximately 36 lakhs). Even the state players are guaranteed nearly A$26,000 (around 13 lakhs). With so much money in the bank, the BCCI’s focus should be on how India can approach the standards set by the Australian girls over the past two decades.
Instead, we’ll slap ourselves on the back over having given the women such a generous hike, and completely ignore just how hard it is to stay invested in the game even at the state level. The proposed structure is a pyramid alright, but by focussing so much on the apex, it ignores every structural issue that still holds back Indian cricket.
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First Published: March 9, 2018, 2:14 PM IST