I Don’t Care About The Gender Pay-Gap In Cricket: Snehal Pradhan

“Sorry Mithali, I don’t care if you don’t get as much as Virat Kohli,” writes former India cricketer Snehal Pradhan.

5 min read
Women cricketers need to make money, but focus needs to be on the domestic salaries, writes Snehal Pradhan.

(This article was first published on 10 March 2018. It has been re-posted from The Quint's archives after BCCI released their full list of the annually contracted cricketers for 2019-20 on 16 January 2020.)

A day before Women’s Day is not the best time to announce a contract list in which the lowest paid male athlete earns double the highest paid female one. And so even while making a landmark improvement for women’s cricket, the BCCI finds itself on the wrong side of grawlix-laced ire on social media.

I say improvement because with the latest round of contracts offered to the Indian women’s team, their maximum retainers have grown from 15 lakhs (2015) to 50 lakhs. And yet Twitterati has blasted the difference between the salaries of the top male cricketers, who will take home a cool 7 crores.

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But I could care less about the gap at the top. And here’s why:

Firstly, comparisons between male and female cricket turn me off, whether about the speed of the bowlers or the par scores. Women’s and men’s cricket are now played with very divergent rules; for instance, the batting power play has been preserved in women’s ODI cricket, but abolished in men’s.

In every respect, we need to stop looking at women’s cricket through the lens of the men’s game, and appreciate it as its own sport.

Secondly, rather than fume about the difference of six crore and fifty lakhs between the retainers of Virat Kohli and Mithali Raj, it’s worth plotting a graph of how the men’s salaries rose to the point they have, and considering how the women’s team can also reach that level.

A Lesson to be Learned

Fume as we might about gender equality, it doesn’t happen overnight; true equality is an organic and multi-layered process, and if we want it to be anything more than tokenism, we must be patient.

The two teams need to be looked at as products, where market forces decide the value more than anything. The men’s team had its hockey-stick curve moment 35 years ago, when India stormed Lord’s in 1983. Their brand value has been slow cooked over three decades, as has the system. A huge base and a robust junior cricket system has helped them now threaten to be No 1 in all formats, and they would have gotten here even earlier if the sport was run more professionally.

Contrarily, India women have only just had their OMG moment, coming within 10 runs of that same Lord’s balcony last year. Like with the men, a more committed administration would have seen that happen much earlier; the early apathy towards women’s cricket remains one of the unpardonable sins of previous BCCI regimes. But the spark has finally come, and the graph is rising once more. To expect it to numerically match one that has had a 30-year headstart is illogical.

Domestic Cricketers Need The Rescuing

I am a glass-half-full realist. I never expected the salaries of female cricketers to rival those of the men in this contract cycle. In five years, at the most 10, certainly, the pay gap should be less significant, perhaps even zero. But as long as the players are well taken care of financially, I’m least bothered about numerical equality right now. I have other priorities.

Like the gap at the bottom.

Let’s talk minimums. Anuja Patil, viewed as a T20I specialist, has played just three T20Is so far in the contract period. Her Grade ‘C’ contract fetches her Rs 10 lakhs, aside from match fees and DA. Assuming a worst-case scenario, that she doesn’t play any more games, she will still take home an amount comparable to most engineering graduates in core-company jobs. She has the financial resources to train full time, hire a personal coach and fitness trainer, so when her next opportunity comes, she is ready.

Now consider the same situation in women’s domestic cricket. A player who plays just T20s for her state side, and whose team, worst-case scenario again, does not make it past the first round of the domestic competition, will take home only Rs 25,000, just about enough to cover the cost of a good bat and a good pair of spikes.

That’s a Rs 9,75,000 gap between domestic and international cricket.

Indian Domestic Cricket vs Overseas Structures

Now let’s consider maximums: According to this report, Australian female domestic players stand to earn more than AUD 38,000, from domestic and Big Bash cricket combined. That amounts to Rs 19 lakhs. Indian domestic female players, with the recent increase, will earn close to Rs 2.8 lakhs, if they play every possible match in the senior domestic circuit. Naturally, the two currencies cannot be compared directly, but it tells us why the Australians are the world’s best. With the recent MoU, most of those players now earn more than the minimum wage in Australia, qualifying them as professional. England women coach Marc Robinson put it best: “Australia have 92 pros, we have 18.”

Comparisons have been made between the salaries of the Indian women’s team and the Australians, whose top female cricketers earn in the vicinity of Rs 90 lakhs. But we may be better off comparing ourselves to England, not Australia.

England women took a pool of close to 20 players, and invested heavily in them, while their county cricketers saw no real increase in payments. The approach won them a World Cup in the short term, but they have a problem of finding quality replacements in the long run, with the gap between domestic and international cricket yawning. Similarly, the Indian women’s team, the top of the pyramid, is now looked after financially. But domestic match fees need to keep increasing, to a point where players need not look to government jobs for financial security. While these fees have been raised from Rs 3,500 per day to Rs 12,500 per day (half of that for T20s, lower amounts for age group cricket), it is still not nearly enough to allow players to train full time.

Just a few days ago, Australia scored 413 against India A in a warm-up match, and then bowled them out for 92. Indian women’s cricket’s biggest problem is not the pay gap, but the lack of depth. And it is there that the funds need to go.

Where The Money Is Really Needed

So, sorry Mithali Raj, I don’t care if you don’t get as much as Virat Kohli. Right now, I would rather see that money going into domestic cricket. I would rather see the Under-16 tournament go national from its current zonal avatar. I would rather see funds earmarked for women’s cricket distributed to each state association, to accountably lay out a grassroots structure, where inspired players can enroll. I would rather see inter-school tournaments in every city, and talent-spotting programs in every village, than a few extra zeros at the top. I would rather see the same junior structure that has taken the men to the top be set in place for women. I would rather see a players association that ensures a year-on-year increase in payments.

I would rather see the kind of depth that will make Indian women’s cricket a strong product, and make a women’s IPL a reality. That is equality for me. Once that happens, watch as that pay gap disappears on its own.

(The author is a former India cricketer, and now a freelance journalist and broadcaster. You can tweet to her at @SnehalPradhan)

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