Milking the cash cow

THE PARTICIPATION OF INDIAN STARS such as Mohammad Kaif (above, celebrating Uttar Pradesh's Ranji Trophy win with teammates) in domestic cricket will help State associations to get corporate groups as sponsors.-PTI THE PARTICIPATION OF INDIAN STARS such as Mohammad Kaif (above, celebrating Uttar Pradesh's Ranji Trophy win with teammates) in domestic cricket will help State associations to get corporate groups as sponsors.

The BCCI's recent decision to allocate more money as match fees to domestic players has narrowed the financial gap between international and domestic cricket,writes Nandakumar Marar.

With Indian cricket poised to get bigger, richer and more competitive, even first-class cricketers will be in a position to make a respectable living from the game. Those wanting to choose cricket as a full-time career need not eye a place in the national Test/ODI squad along do-or-die lines. With the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) narrowing the disparity of payments between international and first-class cricketers, even a place in the Ranji Trophy squad may ensure decent living standards.

The BCCI's decision to allocate 10.4 per cent of its total revenue for match fees in domestic cricket starting with 2005-2006 means that players who are part of strong domestic teams will become the new `lakhpatis' of Indian sport.

For a four-day Ranji league game, such a player stands to make Rs 80,000 and for every five-day Ranji knockout game he will be paid Rs 1,00,000.

The remuneration for players representing Team India is Rs 2.50 lakhs for a Test and Rs 1.85 lakhs an ODI on foreign tours and Rs 2 lakhs a Test and Rs 1.60 lakhs an ODI for a home series.

In addition to financial incentives for individual performances, players will also look to enhance their performances so as to bag retainerships granted by state associations.

These associations will also invest in infrastructure and hire full-time coaches in the manner of progressive associations such as Ranji Trophy semifinalists Bengal (who have Paras Mhambrey as coach), Baroda (Balwinder Sandhu) and Mumbai (Karsan Ghavri). Support systems such as professional trainers, computer analysts and handcam operators will also be put in place.

BARODA BATSMAN KIRAN POWAR (in action during his century knock against Bengal in the Ranji Trophy semifinal in Eden Gardens) is a full-time professional.-S. PATRONOBISH

Chairman of Selectors Kiran More, who is also Secretary of the Baroda Cricket Association, feels that the upcoming boom in Indian cricket will demand greater professionalism from everyone.

"Players with a professional outlook will succeed. It means remaining injury-free so as to play more matches and command a regular place in the side," he said. "Contracts with first-class cricketers will now include the fitness clause, according to which a portion of the payment will be made after assessing pre-season fitness. State associations won't pay for players known to break down during vital matches."

As national selection committee chairman, More feels leading India players should play at least one domestic tournament. "It helps the state teams get sponsorship and also benefits other players in the squad. The BCA signed up with car manufacturer Chevrolet only because our team has big names in Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan besides internationals Connor Williams and Jacob Martin.

Chevrolet has set up a local base, but is also looking at the mileage they can get," said More.

Zaheer helped Baroda top the Elite league before he went off to Pakistan. Baroda already has two full-time professionals in middle-order batsman Kiran Powar and strike bowler Rakesh Patel, from Mumbai and Mehsana respectively. Both have first-class cricket as their sole livelihood option. "We put up the team in decent hotels, and pay them for their boarding and lodging," said More, agreeing that more domestic cricketers will follow the path taken by Powar and Patel.

Rajasthan's decision to hand over leadership to Ajay Jadeja is already bearing dividends, the ex-India skipper taking his newly adopted state to the Elite group. Mumbai skipper Sairaj Bahutule and pace bowler Munaf Patel opted for Maharashtra.

The movement of coaches and players across states, attracted by lucrative contracts and the best facilities, is already on. Mhambrey moved from Maharashtra to Bengal on a coaching contract, Punjab roped in Intikhab Alam from Pakistan to handle its impressive talent pool. Maharashtra opted for Australian Darren Holder in addition to engaging former Mumbai coach Chandrakant Pandit as its high performance coach. Ghavri took charge of Mumbai.

Former India seamer Sandhu, who is Baroda's paid coach since 2004-05, had stints with Ranji teams in Mumbai, Maharashtra, Assam and Orissa, apart from two seasons at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. "Globalisation resulted in jobs for cricketers drying up in the private sector," said Sandhu.

"Even now it is prevalent only in the south where corporates based in Tamil Nadu such as Chemplast, India Cements and MRF are promoting cricket by offering employment. Players in north, west and east zones depend on public sector enterprises like Railways, ONGC, BPCL for secure jobs."

Sandhu feels that with cash flowing into Indian first-class cricket, the domestic game will head towards player contracts and transfers that exist in European club football. "State associations wanting to remain competitive will invest the grants they get from the BCCI in talent spotting. Every state will have academies and a pool of coaches.

All these trained youngsters coming out of academies who don't get opportunities at home will seek offers from other teams. The player hopping will lead to home associations demanding transfer fees from buyer states to make up for money invested in grooming young talent," said Sandhu.

Kiran Powar is one such first-class cricketer on the move. He started his Ranji stint with Mumbai in 1997 and after almost a decade of domestic cricket (Goa and South Zone, Assam and East Zone, Baroda and West Zone) is finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

"The hike in match allowances for Ranji Trophy is a huge relief for professionals like me. I can look forward to earning a living from cricket and I am happy for youngsters who won't need to worry about jobs anymore," said Powar, who has been a top performer this year with his 116 in Eden Gardens in the Ranji semifinal against Bengal standing out for its grit and application. Powar supplements his income by playing League cricket in England (Yorkshire, Durham) and has completed a Level II course conducted by the England and Wales Cricket Board which helps him to coach kids at Liverpool. "As a first-class cricketer without a job, I had to do that extra bit, unlike others having secure jobs. Every season is crucial, so I shut out thoughts about not getting a job and just focussed on hard work," said Powar.

The call from national selectors has not yet come for Powar, despite knocks of 100 and 96 for East Zone against North in the Duleep Trophy in 2004. Kiran More, scouting for Baroda talent then, inquired about the Mumbai batsman's intentions through Rohan Gavaskar after witnessing the powerhouse performance at Mohali. Powar, the professional, moved westwards while Gavaskar remained with Bengal.

PIYUSH CHAWLA, 19, and his UP teammates have reaped a rich harvest from the bullish phase in Indian cricket.-R.V. MOORTHY

THE 10 PER CENT MEN

The BCCI has decided to pass on 26 per cent of its gross revenue to all players (international, domestic and junior cricketers). Out of the 26 per cent, the outlay for players in domestic cricket is 10.4 per cent. Players selected for the Ranji Trophy (four-day and one-day), Challenger Series, Duleep Trophy, Deodhar Trophy and Irani Trophy will be eligible for the handout.

For the 2004-2005 season, the 26 per cent paid out to players amounted to a staggering Rs. 56 crores by a conservative estimate. According to Prof. Ratnakar Shetty, BCCI's executive-in-charge at its Mumbai headquarters, the figure will rise to approximately Rs. 70 crores for 2005-06. The magical 10.4 per cent available for first-class cricketers works out to approximately Rs. 30 crores. Each cricketer will be paid Rs. 20,000 for a day. For the 2004-05 season, the outlay of 10.4 per cent of the total revenue earned by the Board worked out to Rs. 16,000 a day for a player, out of which Rs. 4,000 a day has been paid by state units. The Board will hand over the outstanding amount this month to the respective associations, which will disburse the money.

According to Prof. Shetty, match allowances for first-class cricket has increased five times from Rs. 4,000 a day to Rs. 20,000 for any player in the playing XI. Uttar Pradesh players are already reaping a rich harvest from this bullish phase in domestic cricket. Piyush Chawla and Mohd. Kaif, two star performers in Uttar Pradesh's Ranji Trophy winning squad of 2005-06, will earn Rs. 6,00,000 and Rs. 3,60,000 in the form of cumulative match allowances as per the revised pay structure. Chawla is just 19, while Kaif turned up in domestic cricket after being overlooked by the national selectors for the Test series against Pakistan.

Chawla, a leg-spinner who is now part of India's U-19 World Cup squad and touted as a prospect for the senior Indian team, played five out of six league matches in Elite Division 2005-06, apart from the knockout semifinal (against Mumbai) and final (against Bengal). Five league games played over four days will swell his match allowances to Rs. 4,00,000, two knockout ties played over five days will fetch an additional Rs. 2,00,000, an aggregate of Rs. 6,00,000 from just one tournament.

Kaif, whose inspiring captaincy played a part in UP's triumph, will pick up Rs. 1,60,000 as match allowances for two out of six league ties, in addition to Rs. 2,00,000 for the semifinal and the final, aggregating Rs. 3,60,000. He was excluded from the three-Test away series against Pakistan, where Board rules stipulate match fees of Rs. 2.5 lakhs a Test for those in the playing XI. The regulars in the Test squad earned Rs. 7.5 lakhs in match allowances for playing all three Tests against Pakistan. Chawla's Rs. 6,00,000 earnings from just the Ranji Trophy illustrates the narrowing of the gap between international and domestic payments. Kaif's Ranji match allowance total of Rs. 3,60,000 is not way behind the Rs. 5 lakhs earned by Sourav Ganguly as match fees in Pakistan.

Kaif and Chawla can also claim their share of the Rs. 7 lakhs prize money for winning the Ranji Trophy. "A proposal to increase the prize money to the Elite winner to Rs. 1 crore is under discussion," said Shetty. At present, the Elite runners-up get Rs. 4 lakhs, the Plate Division winner gets Rs. 3.5 lakhs and runner-up claims Rs. 2 lakhs. "First-class cricket is becoming a paying profession," said Shetty. "The Rs. 20,000 allowance a day may increase to Rs. 25,000 when Board revenues go up and when the benevolent fund deduction is scrapped."

Indian cricket's governing body will earn Rs. 313 crores from team sponsors Sahara India over a four-year period. Nike will pay the BCCI Rs. 212 crores for a five-year exclusive clothing and merchandising rights. Television rights are up for sale, besides projected revenue from the sale of internet rights. The 10.4 per cent outlay for domestic cricket will increase accordingly. "Players good enough to be chosen by state units for all first-class matches can look approximately at an earning of Rs. 10 lakhs a season, inclusive of logo money shared by state units with team members. It is higher than salaries earned by any MBA," said Shetty.

Mumbai Cricket Association's two-year deal with the National Egg Co-ordination Committee (NECC) is estimated to be in region of Rs. 70 lakhs. Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Baroda and Maharashtra are some other state units who have sponsors in place for their Ranji teams.

DILIP VENGSARKAR says the quality of domestic cricket will improve only if international stars participate.-R.V. MOORTHY

STAR MUST DESCEND TO EARTH

Dilip Vengsarkar is extremely happy at the increase in money for first-class cricketers. "Domestic cricketers will have something to fall back on," said the former Mumbai and India captain. "The toughest part about first-class cricket so far has been that players struggled to make a mark when they were between 20 and 30, an age when people in other professions establish themselves. After 35 years, if a domestic cricketer's career went downhill, he was left with nothing nor could he compete with other established professionals of his age."

The interest in first-class cricket because of the pay hikes will not improve the quality of cricket, Vengsarkar pointed out, until international stars play in at least the zonal tournaments. "The contracts signed between the Board and India's Test and ODI players should have clauses enforcing their participation in domestic cricket. Our international tours should be planned in such a way that overseas tours should not affect players' availability for domestic tournaments. Otherwise, first-class cricket will become like English county cricket, where experienced players opt for percentage cricket to ensure place in teams."

He emphasises on the importance of the planned India `A' and U-19 tours to groom domestic performers so that those getting a break in international cricket are ready. "The Indian board needs an Operations Manager to organise India `A' tours. For example, if the national squad is scheduled to play Australia in December, it makes sense to send an India `A' team in advance, maybe October, and one or two in-form players can be inducted into the main team," said Vengsarkar, who wondered whether the national selectors have confidence in the quality of domestic players available for international selection on the basis of seasonal form. "Tamil Nadu's S. Sriram is scoring heavily, Gujarat's Mukund Parmar has always been a consistent performer but they did not get India opportunities. Why?" he asked.

UP's win in the Ranji Trophy, he feels, is an indication of the spread of talent. "Hats off to the National Cricket Academy for its contribution to UP's victory," said Vengsarkar. "The state does not have the infrastructure yet, so youngsters from there have benefited from systematic NCA training. Indian cricket needs more zonal academies, even state associations setting up academies so that talent is groomed from a young age."