Can We Make The Future Worth The Fight? India Domestic Cricket, Payment Issues

“Our greatest glory is not in ever falling but in rising every time we fall!” – Batman.

As the pandemic rages on and the whole world tries to dig deep and exhibit resolve in surviving and overcoming this deadly virus, I have been taking solace in comics. You can call it my coping mechanism. But there’s nothing in the world that can provide enough solace when you’re dealing with a personal loss. There’s no easy way to cope with that.

My grandfather lost his battle with Covid-19 recently. He was 95. A stickler for discipline, he enjoyed his morning walks at the beach and practiced pranayama every day for 75 years. He had zero comorbidities, yet he passed away after fighting for almost 15 days in the hospital. My cousins and I pulled together to settle the hospital expenses which came close to INR. 12 lakhs.

It got me thinking. For, if not for my venture into broadcasting over the past couple of years I would have struggled to contribute in making my thatha’s life slightly more comfortable at the very end. Of course, I am one of the lucky cricketers to be employed by a leading corporate in Chennai. And that puts me in a privileged position. But I wonder, does it really?

The last 10 days or so have laid bare the plight of hundreds of domestic cricketers around India who’ve had to fend for themselves in the wake of their payments getting impacted due to the pandemic. These are those male cricketers without IPL contracts, like me. Not to forget that the cancellation of the first-class season left us without a direct access to our livelihood.

There are hundreds of those, unlike me though, who haven’t managed to find that external source of income. And I shudder every time I think about what their means to an end are?

India has accounted for over 3 lakh deaths so far and the unemployment rate is close to 7%. With the pandemic entering the bio secure bubble in the IPL, cricket has come to a screeching halt again in the country. Things seem bleak for anyone to even think about the resumption of cricket in India for now.

Like with many people, in times of worry and distress, I too have tried relying on hindsight to put my life into perspective. I made my first-class debut in 2007 and I have missed only 4 out of the 106 games my state side Tamil Nadu has played since then. It has been my primary source of income from when I was a teenager. Where has it left me now?

Forgive me if I sound pedantic here, but I want to try and detail the complex pay structure of our domestic cricket. It’ll help you, the reader, get a better understanding of what you’ve been reading over the last week or so about the struggles of my fellow cricketers. It’ll hopefully make it easier for you to relate with their predicament.

Till 2017, we used to receive INR. 10,000 a day (40,000 for a 4-day Ranji game) plus the gross revenue share, which varied from year to year. It could range anywhere between INR. 5 lakh (500,000) to INR. 13 lakh (1.3 million) for the season depending on the number of games played and the profits of the BCCI. The first payment would be of INR 40,000 per game (which gets cut to half if you don’t make the playing 11). That multiplied by the number of games played would be paid at the end of the whole season. For the record, the 2016-17 and the 17-18 season’s gross revenue share came to us in July 2020.

Once the pay hike happened, from the 2018 season onwards, we made INR. 35,000 a day (140,000 for a 4-day Ranji game). That was a 250 per cent increase in our match fees per day. The only catch is we are yet to receive word whether there is a gross revenue share as a part of it or not.

To sum it up – If you play a whole season of the Ranji Trophy, which could be anywhere between 30 to 45 days of cricket, you could end up making INR. 10-12 lakh before tax deductions. Just to put it into context, the lowest paid player in the IPL makes INR. 20 Lakh.

With all the variables involved in a cricketer’s life from selections to injuries, I can safely say that the pandemic has only increased the uncertainty in our finances due to lack of game time. To make matters worse, the league matches of the 2020-21 season in Tamil Nadu have also been scrapped. Financially and emotionally, it continues to be an even tougher ordeal for all those involved with the game at the lower levels.

A decade after playing in the domestic cricket structure, I can’t help but think of my 17-year-old self. The decision to pursue higher honours in education or to pursue my dream of playing cricket for the country was something I had to make. I made the call without any hesitation and there was no looking back. I am certain the pandemic has made a huge impact in making this decision a lot harder for the current bunch of 17-year olds trying to make the grade.

With schools and colleges going online, corporates asking their employees to work from home, zoom meetings have become the norm. Sadly, we can’t showcase our skills from home, and have to be involved in physical contact with each other. Bio-secure bubbles have proven to be the answer in cricket. However, it is hard to fathom a bubble for a 38-team tournament lasting over 2 months considering the geographical vastness of our country. It just seems like a logistical nightmare at this point.

In a country with a population like ours, sometimes I pinch myself if I am really one out of the 302 to have played Test cricket for the nation. It is an honour that will always belong to me. But it involved taking many a tough decision like the one I mentioned earlier, and many a sacrifice. I then think about those around the domestic circuit currently, who also took similar decisions when they were 16-17 and made similar sacrifices since they were in their teens but are currently struggling to make ends meet.

I spoke about unemployment rates being freakishly high earlier, that though has made no impact to the mindset of the younger generation. Gen Z professionals are job-hopping more than before. 1 in 3 of them are likely to change their job in less than a year, according to a LinkedIn survey. Gone are the days of the earlier generation wherein you had to secure a government or a public sector job which you can hold on to till you are 60. Financial and career aspirations have made the younger generation to modify this train of thought.

It is just a matter of time before this mentality creeps into our sport. If we are lucky, we have a lifespan of 10-15 years before our bodies give in. Maximising the opportunities at hand to showcase your potential at the best platform possible would be the ultimate goal. In cricket, it could essentially mean updating or shifting your skill sets to suit the needs of the modern game for it to be financially lucrative.

My foray into commentary came in 2018, an opportunity that I least expected to come my way. It was less than a year since I had opened for India in the Galle Test against Sri Lanka. I was asked multiple times by many legends who became colleagues in the commentary box, if I had retired even though I was scoring heavily in the domestic circuit. This did not deter me though. I took a chance and realised commentary was something I enjoyed doing and it added a new dimension to my game. Since then, it has given me the confidence to jump into things without any fear.

I attended a level-2 coaches course conducted by the NCA. There were so many nuances and minute details that are associated with the sport we overlook when we are playing. It was an epiphany, and I am certain it will help me grow in my cricketing journey. I closely work with a data analyst as to how numbers can be interpreted in sport. It is an endeavour to understand how we can use data to supplement or enhance our skills in cricket. I have even lent my voice for commentary in a cricket video game which released recently. And, of course, there’s my work for Cricbuzz as well.

I realised that yes, our primary source of income has taken a hit but there is no point thinking all is lost. Life has to move on and it’s up to us to get the motion underway.

The challenges of being a domestic cricketer without a lofty T20 league contract have indirectly spurred me on to embrace new challenges. But how many of my colleagues are in a position to do the same?

“Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not by the powers they are graced with”- Iron Man

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