Big bucks, bad effects

FORGOTTEN HEROES ... Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan(below).-PICS. V. V. KRISHNAN FORGOTTEN HEROES ... Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan(below).

As the BCCI concludes fresh commercial arrangements it is evident that economics is obviously a prime concern.

This is exam time. Kids across the country are stressed out, as they stay awake through the night to cram, their focus squarely on history and maths. Interestingly, the BCCI has its eyes set on the same subjects — history and maths engage its attention, though in a very different manner.

Two decades ago when Mehmood sang `Sabse bada rupaiya' people thought this to be just one more peppy item number. But now, as money impacts us profoundly, it seems the ace comedian made a telling comment about social behaviour. And cricket.

Since childhood we have been told that the game is bigger than anything else, far bigger than all the players put together. But a view is rapidly gaining ground that, in cricket, cash calls the shots, and money rules. Diehard fans are worried. They fear money is becoming more important than the game and is an end in itself.

Coach Greg Chappell launched into Ganguly, saying the former Indian captain was driven more by money than his mind or the needs of the team. According to him (incidentally, someone in India for gainful employment, and money) Sourav's decline was for all to see but the blinded ex-captain only saw cash, nothing else.

Maybe, the BCCI is doing the same thing. It is a massive — and extremely efficient — money-manufacturing machine, if one looks at the numbers that have been achieved. As the BCCI concludes fresh commercial arrangements it is evident that economics is obviously a prime concern. Not one day passes without another announcement of another huge deal worth thousands of crores, the figures invariably quoted in dollars to give the contract an international spin.

The BCCI has aggressively tapped the market to extract every rupee out of the sponsors, which is sound business .The economics works because of cricket's monopoly status. First, existing sponsors were squeezed and asked to pay higher rates. The message was: we are the sole agents for selling Indian cricket, if you want to buy, pay the top price, otherwise get out of this business. With nowhere else to go, Sahara paid more, Nimbus paid much more and Nike paid lots.

Then the BCCI discovered new products to sell. Exploiting the growth of the media, they made a killing from SMS-ing, video streaming, score updates and merchandising rights. With incredible riches coming its way, the BCCI's annual take exceeds the yearly budget — for all sports — of the Government of India. Because of this, established Test stars stand to make so much money that Shahrukh Khan can grumble he is underpaid. Ranji players too have struck gold; annual salaries for even those unfit to make a good college team in Delhi could surpass 10 lakhs a year! All this, whatever critics may crib, is terrific because the hefty injection of cash should transform cricket more than super-subs and powerplays. Assured of generous rewards, talent will stay in the sport, quality should rise and, hopefully, India will be on the way to becoming as good as Australia. But problem is these money steroids are accompanied by harmful side effects. In India how this plays out remains to be seen — will we be hit by a corruption tsunami when big money flows into small time associations and smaller officials?

In other countries, the issue most times concerns wages. Kenyan players struck work amid widespread allegations of financial misappropriation in their Board. Zimbabwe was worse — officials were detained, players arrested (for failing to return sponsored cars) and Taibu, the youngest ever captain in Test history, was forced to quit the game at the age of 22!

In major cricket playing nations such battles over cash are fought in a more civilised manner. The West Indies go through enormous turbulence on this score, their players bowl more bouncers at themselves, and their officials, than the opposition. Player withdrawal before a series is routine and top stars often revolt when offered unfair terms. Australia and England manage to keep a tight lid on spats through an effective conflict resolution mechanism, but NZ players have taken the militant route to settle their grievances.

In India and Pakistan these disputes tend to simmer. This because sub-continent officials are true tigers and the players hopelessly disunited. Cricketers are pop idols; officials enjoy better life expectancy. Players know it's impossible to take on the establishment and win, the only time Indian players saw the Board straight in the eye without flinching was over the World Cup contract issue. But with stakes rising crazily, and lakhs converting into crores, there could be tension over `batwara' in the future.

Even as economics grabs our attention history is not far behind. Till yesterday Sourav was a monarch, now his status has changed, the title and privy purse withdrawn. Worse, Kiran More rubs salt into injury by repeatedly declaring that the Prince is history.

The same happened to Zaheer Khan who was dropped, reinstated (after a fantastic run in domestic cricket) but is back in the dustbin. Ashish Nehra's plight is equally sad, sidelined by injury and team-mates. Fans are supposed to be heartless, but stony colleagues?

Others could also join these stars and slip into yesterday. Dheeraj Jadhav, a member of the Indian team six months ago, is almost forgotten. The fate of J. P. Yadav is similar. Murali Kartik, on the fringes for a long time, now stands to lose that toehold. Laxman could also face tough questions in the coming months. And who knows who will be next to get a googly?