Indian cricketers have had a lot to celebrate in recent times. They finished a long season of test cricket where barring a blip at Pune, they were imperious at home. ICC rankings and awards were dominated by Indian players, wisden recognized Kohli as the leading cricketer of the world and to top it all there was a pay hike by BCCI. The retainer fee in player’s contract was doubled across all grades. Under this new contract, a Grade A cricketer will earn Rs 2 crore per year. This is in addition to the match fee, which will depend on the actual number of games he plays.
Now a hundred percent salary hike would be a dream come true for most professionals like you and me but Indian cricketers were far from impressed. Led by captain Kohli, they players made it clear to the board that they want a retainer of Rs 5 crore for Grade A contracts. They have a fair point. If you worked for the richest company in the world, you would expect your pay to reflect that, right? Despite representing the richest cricket board in the world, Indian cricketer’s salaries are still not at par with the top cricketers of the world.
There is no doubt that love for the game is the biggest driver for world’s top cricketers but one shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the game is not just their passion but also their occupation. There have been several instances in the past where cricketers have chosen a fatter pay cheque over a chance to play for their national team, Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, rebel tours to countries like South Africa to count some. More recently South Africa’s Kyle Abbott chose job security over national sentiments and signed a Kolpak deal with Hampshire.
A popular option in the age of T20 leagues is to become a freelance cricketer and cash in your skills anywhere there is a team playing T20 cricket. Why represent one team when you can represent four with each one ready to pay several times the amount you would get to play for your national team.
While most of the world’s top players would play for their T20 franchise only when they aren’t needed for national teams, some like Chris Gayle often skips national duties in favour of a franchise team. Except for Indian cricketers. BCCI is the only cricket board that doesn’t allow their cricketers to take the freelancing route. The only league Indian cricketers can participate in is the IPL.
This exclusivity clause of BCCI’s contract makes the board liable to compensate the players for losing out on an extra stream of income. The BCCI imposes this restriction not just on its international players but also on domestic players, apparently in a bid to protecting their domestic tournaments, but their real intention is to safeguard the novelty and hence revenue of its cash cow, the IPL.
BCCI thinks if Indian audience gets to see their cricketers play in other tournaments, the interest in IPL will diminish. Adopting such a protectionist model in the age of free markets is terribly myopic. If a cricket league prospers anywhere in the world, BCCI prospers from it. As home to legions of fans, cricket’s win will always be India’s win. BCCI has in the past claimed that it’s a nonprofit organization. As custodians of Indian cricket, it’s incumbent on them to give their fans a chance to see their favorite cricketers play in leagues other than the IPL.
In addition to partially mitigating the demand for higher compensation in player’s contact, it will also help the players develop their game. West Indies have the most successful international T20 team because their key players like Chris Gayle and Andre Russell play T20 cricket throughout the year. Day in and day out, they are exposed to different bowlers, pitch conditions, and match situations. Lack of these T20 specialists is one of the reasons why India haven’t won a World T20 after the first year despite being home to arguably the most competitive T20 league structure in the world.
A player who is not playing for India should be free to practice his trade in an overseas T20 league or even country cricket. At the start of the IPL this year, four out of the eight teams have Australian captains, Indian cricket would have truly arrived the day Australia’s Big Bash League has half its teams captained by Indian players.
India often claims to be the headquarter of world cricket and for good reason. But leadership isn’t just about increasing revenues and number of TV audience, it isn’t restricted to claiming number one test ranking or winning world cups either and it’s definitely not just about imposing your will at ICC while bullying other member boards into submission. Leadership shows in statesmanship. BCCI should establish itself as the global ambassador of cricket by exporting its players, coaches and match officials to every part of the world where cricket is played. Doing so will benefit not just India’s cricket economy but also its cricket culture.