By the time this appears in print, the player auction for this year’s IPL will be done and dusted. The talk will be about how much some player went for and especially how some unknown player made a killing, when a franchise put huge money to secure his services. While that is a lucky break for the individual concerned — and good luck to him — the question remains not just about whether he is worth that much money and whether he will even justify that amount by the time the season is over, but also as to why the first-class player in India, who doesn’t play the IPL but plays many more days of domestic cricket, should get only a fraction of the amount some of these lucky players manage. Now if these guys were also playing Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy and other domestic tournaments then that would be understandable, but most of these players just play the IPL and that’s it.
The IPL has 14 league fixtures and then in the knockouts a team may play another three games, so the maximum days of cricket over a period of nearly two months that a player plays in the IPL is 17. That is about a little more than four first-class games of Ranji Trophy in the league phase. A player, who plays right through to the final, gets to play about eight league games of four days each, then three games in the knockouts of five days each. So a player in the final of the Ranji Trophy plays about 47 days of cricket. If he is good enough to play the Duleep Trophy, then it’s another 10 to 15 days of first-class cricket and of course if he belongs to the Ranji Trophy champion team or is selected for the Rest of India team, he gets five more days of first-class cricket. So, for a Ranji player it works out to about 50-plus days of cricket even if he does not play Duleep Trophy. There are other limited-overs tournaments too which add maybe another 10 to 15 days of cricket. Let me confess, I’m not too sure what the fees for a Ranji, Duleep, Vijay Hazare and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy games are today, but to my reckoning, even if you add all the days played in the various domestic tournaments, it would be around Rs 40 to 50 lakh. The guys who play the first-class season, are the salt of the earth as far as Indian domestic cricket is concerned and it’s their interest and keenness that fires up the national championship, which in turn is supposed to be the feeder line for Test and international cricket. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen and it’s invariably the guy who has one eye-catching performance in the IPL, who dashes ahead of the line for an India cap and gets it, rather than those who are grinding it day-in day-out in the none-too-glamorous first-class domestic structure.
Yes, the argument that is heard is that market forces dictate the price at which a player is bought at an IPL auction. Oh, yeah? Can someone then explain why last year a player that was so desperately chased by various franchises for close to USD 2 million finds himself released by the franchise that picked him? Leave that apart, why did the franchise not play him in all the games if he was so good that he had to be bought for that kind of money? If buying him at that price was a mistake then why punish him by releasing him? Why not punish those who were at the auction and on whose advice that kind of ridiculous figure was spent on him?
In the initial years of the IPL there was a cap of Rs. 20 lakh for a domestic player, who had not played for India. It was lifted when it became clear that there were some uncapped players from overseas who were getting millions.
So, why should an uncapped Indian player feel deprived, especially in the Indian Premier League? However, seeing the bizarre sums that some players, who do not even play Ranji Trophy cricket, are getting, the time has come to look at capping that amount for all uncapped players and not just Indian uncapped players. Every other league has a cap for even the top-most international, so having a cap for those who have not represented their countries is fair enough. The maximum amount that an uncapped player can get should be not more than the amount that an Indian domestic player earns for playing all days of Ranji, Duleep, Irani Trophy and other domestic limited-overs tournaments. So, if that adds up to say Rs. 60 lakh, then an uncapped player in the IPL should not get more than that.
This way, you level the playing field and ensure that the domestic first-class player is not de-motivated and made to feel that he is wasting his time playing domestic first-class cricket. More importantly, the franchise will also be able to cut its costs down. It is of course too late to do anything this year, but when the new ten-year cycle of the IPL starts next year the Governing Council must do something to correct this anomaly and ensure that those who play domestic first-class cricket are on an equal footing with those playing the IPL and are not treated as poor cousins of Indian cricket.