Context: The BCCI’s announced new contracts for its cricketers and the new system has more grades (four compared to the three earlier) and more money (a max grade of Rs 7 crore compared to the Rs 2 crore earlier), but there are also fewer players (26 instead of 32 earlier).
So, The Questions: What is the rationale behind these changes? And do these really work?
Four Grades for Indian Men’s Team, Versus The Three Earlier
The apparent reason to create the ‘A+’ top grade super slab is to reward those who are 'most valuable' members of the Indian team. These should ideally be players who select themselves in all three formats of the game, and are sure of being on the team sheet.
However, if that is the case, the five chosen in this elite group, don't quite stand up to the scrutiny.
Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah are named in the new A+ and will receive Rs 7 crore a year.
Virat and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are automatic choices in any starting eleven, but Rohit Sharma is not an established test player – not yet, at least – and Bumrah, for all his limited over exploits, has just about started playing five-day cricket. Is he the preferred option after Bhuvi, ahead of Umesh Yadav, Ishant and Shami? One is not sure.
Shikhar Dhawan is rewarded for recent consistency, but do remember, only some months back, he was struggling to hold his place in the test squad.
Conclusion: It seems almost like the A+ category was created only for Virat, and others were accommodated later, based on 'value to the team' concept. But this raises a troubling concern: Is Bumrah as valuable as Virat?
If the intent was to acknowledge Virat's preeminent position, and reward him for excellence, he could have been granted a monetary bonus for captaining India. England/Australia provide captains a higher base figure than other contracted players. India could have also done the same.
Other countries, notably England, have broken the mould of annual retainer contracts by separating 'red ball' and 'white ball' contracts. Indian selectors, while recognising the need of rewarding different skill sets/performances based in different formats, stopped short of a radical shift, and instead, thought of this compromise formula by inventing the A+ grade .
Women Cricketers to Get Rs 50/30/10 Lakh a Year
A better deal for women players was on the cards, but a quick look at the men/women retainers highlights the staggering disparity in value. Mithali Raj is to receive 50 lakhs now (previous figure 15 lakhs) which is great, but compared to Axar Patel's Rs 1 crore retainer, it is scandalously low.
Without getting into gender equality and payment parity (as in tennis prize money, for example) is this the signal to be sent out to women's cricket? Seriously, is Mithali's 'value' to Indian cricket half than that of the 26th ranked male player?
Mithali is the Virat Kohli of women's team – a successful player, inspirational leader, someone remarkably poised and dignified. The least she deserved was a A+ category!
New Rs 7, 5, 3 and 1 Crore Slabs For Men
These are fine because, as a general rule, Indian cricketers are seriously underpaid. Why should, for instance, megastar Virat Kohli, captain of India, earn less than Steve Smith or Joe Root?
Moreover, considering BCCI's huge profits (in excess of Rs 2,000 crore annually) higher player retainers are perfectly justified. Don't forget, as many have repeated several times, it's the star power of top players that attracts sponsors and pushes up value of media rights. If players ask for bigger retainers and higher salaries, it is at par for the course.
In this background, raising the bar of the highest paid players from Rs 2 to Rs 7 crore is no big deal. This was also the request of Anil Kumble and demand of Virat Kohli.
The Rs 7 crore top grade must also be viewed in the context of multi-crore salaries of coaches Ravi Shastri (who makes a reported Rs 8 crore a year), and Rahul Dravid (approximately Rs 5 crore a year) and the IPL salaries of players.
The above picture of the previous disparity simply doesn't add up! The Rs 2 to Rs 7 crore top salary jump in BCCI contracts therefore corrects a long standing wrong.
Players in Different Grades
There, however, can be some minor cribs about the decision of selectors. MS Dhoni does not play all formats out of choice, so is in the Rs 5 crore grade. Cheteshwar Pujara does not play all formats (but not out of choice !), so he too has been placed in the ‘A grade’ of players who will receive Rs 5 crore a year. Ajinkya Rahane and R Ashwin would have been contenders for the top grade, but their careers/performances have gone cold recently.
Suresh Raina returns after the South Africa T20's, but Shreyas Iyer is clearly unlucky on missing out. Those surprised about off spinner Jayant Yadav must remember he scored a Test hundred batting low down the order, and was recovering from injury this season. The selectors have done well to trust his talent.
Why No Contracts for Top Ranji Performers ?
Ranji players belong to Indian cricket's Third World – neglected, unsung, poorly paid. The top three Ranji batsmen (Mayank Agrawal, Faiz Fazal, RR Sanjay) and top bowlers (Jalaj Saxena, Rajesh Gurbani, Ashok Dinda) are unrewarded financially. Without state or IPL contracts, they suffer severe financial distress and live through five months of Ranji/domestic cricket only on match fees.
To give these players a financial lifeline, and respect for service to domestic cricket, a special contract category should have been created. A 50 lakh annual retainer for top 10 Ranji batsmen/bowlers would compensate players for their effort , and motivate rising stars like Anmolpreet Singh. Without this incentive, youngsters would think Ranji to be a waste of time and focus only on the cash rich IPL.
(Amrit Mathur is a senior journalist, former GM of the BCCI and Manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He can be reached at @AmritMathur1)