Even before they set foot on Lord’s for the final, the BCCI announced a cash prize of Rs. 50 lakh for each player of the Indian women’s team. And since narrowly finishing second, they have been greeted by stack of larger-than-life cheques upon arrival. But their windfall is like a single cherry tree in bloom – sensational but short lived. The Australian women’s team – who India beat in the semi final — have just sown a harvest that will last them the next five years.
Most Indian players were awarded large cash bonuses after equaling the country's best ever performance in World Cups, and coming within ten runs of the title. Mithali Raj was even gifted a BMW, and Harmanpreet Kaur must choose between a promotion in her Railways job and a high level post in the Punjab police that has been offered to her.
But when their fame grows cold, especially with no international cricket for the next three months, this campaign will be forgotten. Then the players will return to the much less glamourous reality: domestic circuit. There, their pay for a season, which has been revised only once in the last 10 years, might not even be enough to pay for one of the tyres on Raj’s new car.
In contrast, Cricket Australia’s new MoU, which includes female players for the first time, will see “the biggest pay rise in the history of women’s sport in Australia.” The national team players see an 80 percent increase in their payments, with the base rate going up from AUD 40,000 to 72,076 in the first year. State players, who earned a minimum of AUD 11,000 per annum (Rs. 5, 53,647), will see their income more than doubled to AUD 25,659 a year (Rs. 12,89,220). In addition to WBBL payments, the players could make close to AUD 36,000, which is approximately the minimum wage in Australia, thereby taking domestic female cricket to the brink of true professionalism.
In contrast, Indian domestic female players receive Rs. 3500 per day for a First Class or List-A match, and half that amount per day for T20s. This figure was revised in 2015-16, it used to be Rs. 2,500 per day. A player who plays the maximum number of T20 and One-Day games (assuming her team reaches the final), and is selected for the Inter Zonal First Class tournament (three day games) can earn close to 80,000 per year in senior cricket. A player whose team does not make it past the first round, and is not selected in her zone team, earns about Rs. 21,000 in the senior circuit. Payment rates for the Under-19 and Under-23 circuit are less than the senior circuit. The minimum wage for the state of Delhi (skilled workmen), is Rs. 1,94,184.
In short, women and girls in Australia who play state cricket can now truly consider making a living through even domestic cricket, whereas for players in India, their total earnings may just about cover the cost of their equipment.
While Cricket Australia has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to female cricket (the Australian team were already the highest paid female team in the country), it is the involvement of the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) that has helped them get the best out of this new MoU for male and female players.
The lack of a similar association in India has hit women’s cricket the most. The BCCI has so far resisted the formation of the players association, on the grounds that players are already well taken care of financially. It is an attitude typical of the BCCI, where female cricket has mostly been an afterthought. Yes, the Indian men’s team is more than well taken care of financially. The Indian women’s team too has basic contracts in place since 2015. But what about the domestic players, who make up the bulk of the iceberg? If the national teams are the tip, domestic cricket is the vast bulk of invisible ice that acts as ballast.
It’s not just female players who would benefit by a players association. Match fees of male domestic players have not been altered since 2007, and while the rates they earn (Rs. 40,000 per day) are not as dire as the women’s pay rates, 10 years without increment in pay is the kind of statistic that would cause most people to quit their jobs. There is also the issue of welfare of players. From insurance, to counseling, to education, retirement funds, and programs helping cricketers prepare for life outside of cricket, a player association can be more than just a collective bargainer. Perhaps the biggest factor would be that players could voice their say in scheduling of tournaments; in case of women, more and in case of men, less.
Since the Lodha Committee mandated that a players association be formed, the wheels have started turning, although like most things Lodha, there have been other issues that have stymied real progress. There is also the fact that for any players association to be successful, it needs widespread participation. The reason the ACA could negotiate from a position of strength was that every cricketer at every level, male, female, international and domestic, stuck together. It will be a challenge in a country like India, where cricket is highly factionalised to begin with.
The current batch of Australian cricketers have helped secure the future for players who are just coming into the system, particularly young girls and women. While felicitations and cash awards are welcome, a bigger service to the development of Indian women’s cricket would be a players association that gives them a voice. Then, perhaps female players can gain benefits that are both system wide and long-term, as opposed to a windfall that coats the tip of the iceberg in gold, but leaves the rest in cold water.