'Pay' the way you play

RAJU BHARATAN

HOW clear-cut was Cricket Board President Jagmohan Dalmiya in urging our players to reform and perform! So as to be worthy of the double-edged pay-packet he Kolkata-showcased. Dalmiya timed the offer as crisply as a Mike Denness drive. By announcing the incentive-oriented package with India already in England on tour. Even as Dalmiya so put the Kumble cat among the Sourav pigeons, he missed out on the punchline. As Dalmiya spoke up on Thursday, June 20, 2002, he could as well have glibly gilt-edged the new deal saying he was making the 'presentation' with India all set to complete '70 Years in World Cricket'. For was it not on the Tuesday of June 25, 2002, that Indian cricket attained the Biblical span of 'threescore and ten'? But how many at the Board's Kolkata Working Committee meet knew that Indian cricket was on the threshold of such a milestone? None! On the Saturday of June 25, 1983, did Kapil Dev's India lift the World Cup at Lord's. At the same Lord's, on another Saturday of another June 25 (1932), had the nation (then still to break free) played its first Test - C. K. Nayudu's India vs Douglas Jardine's England. Now on a tour of the same England was Sourav's India as our cricket turned 70 on June 25, 2002.

India lost that June 1932 maiden Test by 158 runs. A full 70 years later, India ranks 8th in Test cricket! But who cares about Test ratings right now? What matters (from hereon) is where we 'one-day' finish in the World Cup starting February 2003. With this big pay-off date fast approaching, the 'Dalmiyatra' turned its earnest attention to converting certain Test matches into spot ODIs! Say one thing for Dalmiya though. He is the Players' President. With an open mind and an open purse. That Sourav and his men have not rewarded such a comprehending Board President with commensurate results is what now prompts Dalmiya, gingerly, to turn the knife in the wound. By threatening to relate pay to performance. Pay up the way you play! Even here there is a catch. What our five-star players stand to lose on the match-fee swings they are set to make on the annual-contract roundabouts. 'Yeh Dil Maange More'!

In this 'Pepsinging' Kumble light, 'Chalte chalte', let us look at how the neo-Dalmiya dispensation works. To place 20 handpicked players on yearly contracts ranging from Rs. 150,000 to Rs. 300,000 to Rs. 600,000, I submit, is to sow the wind of dissension in a country as 'quota systemised' as India. Reap the 'whirlwindfall' we are not going to by merely robbing Peter to pay Paul. So why not just revert to Sunil Gavaskar's pat early formula? By which you determine each player's pay-scale going by the number of Tests or ODIs he has played for India? Take Anil Kumble himself. Do Anil's past performances for India (10 wickets in an innings - 319 at 27.82 through 70 Tests) be 'costing' the Board nothing from this dot-ball point? Is Anil to be assessed only by the number of wickets he delivers in future for India? By all means drop Anil Kumble if he fails to perform starting mid-2002. That is your selectorial privilege. But payment (from the 2002-03 season) for any match involving India to Anil, Sachin, Sourav and Rahul, even Laxman, has logically to be on the pre-set basis of their number of appearances for the country (in Tests or ODIs, as the case may be) up to that point.

These men, never forget, have earned such high price-tags by dint of sustained performance. Virtually to ignore (via a contract arbitrarily terminable at the end of the year) their yesteryear contribution to India's international cause is just not cricket. Payment worked out on the strength of the number of matches (Tests or ODIs) would leave scope for no heartburn whatsoever in the rank and file. Nor am I entirely convinced about the 'Dalmiyardstick' by which you whittle down the annually contracted list to a 'Select 20'. Such a narrow base, is it really viable in the Test case of a country as far-flung as India? What is good enough for a performance-oriented cricketing nation like Australia is not necessarily the role model for the cosmos that is India. Our cricketing system now, for all the autonomy the Board enjoys, is subject to far too many pressures and pulls for such an 'Elitist List of 20' firmly to hold. As such a captive list of 20 gets 'progressively' enlarged to 21-25 (as those close to the Board, like Oliver Twist, ask for more), well could the whole exercise degenerate into a farce.

Think again, Jagmohan Dalmiya. Keep the Indian field open even while being a global player. By all means do all you can to improve payments and facilities to the have-nots of our cricket in the lower tiers of the Ranji Trophy. Concentrate on restructuring the National Championships and on re-laying our wickets on a scale truly broadbased. So broadbased that the Ranji Trophy once again throws up many more than 20 quality players from whom to take our nitpick. This business of making our players match-fee accountable for their performances sounds great on bond paper. But is flawed in its essence. In the sense that it is calculated to burn a hole only in the pocket of the cloutless newcomer to Test or ODI cricket while not really hurting our run millionaires enjoying sponsored visibility. Dalmiya's Board has said nothing to indicate that payment per player is not going to continue to be at Rs. 180,000 per ODI and Rs. 225,000 per Test. To such base per-match payment to each player (once he has turned out in 50 ODIs or 25 Tests) the Board now merely needs to 'add on'. Add on to Rs. 180,000 or to Rs. 225,000 a sum determined by the number of matches the senior cricketer in question has already played for India. Sunil had urged such added payment on cut-off lines varying from 51 matches to 100; 101 to 150; 151 to 200 - and so on. So scrap the contract idea altogether and integrate the added amount (that the senior should thus ODIwise or Testwise be getting) into the match-fee itself. Only this way could the seasoned ones in the team really be made to feel the pinch of a cut imposed for a downslide.

Having said that, let us always bear in mind that cricket is still only a game. You really cannot expect to put players on a contract and expect them to expand. There is the human factor. Recall the way Sachin (after the West Indies had totalled 501 in the Georgetown Test series opener) uncaringly stroked his way to 73? Only to find his style cramped, from that point, by the way Rahul got Fevi-stuck into his TV-anchor role at the other end. To argue now that Sachin was consequentially dismissed for 79 (136 balls, 13 fours) is neither here in India nor there in Guyana. For, in the grand sum, it was Rahul's bat-in-hand 144 (347 balls, 23 fours) that proved enough of a draw for India to stay the course and win the next Test at Port of Spain. It could be argued that (during the five Tests in the Caribbean against the feeble Windies attack) Rahul, Sourav and Laxman alike failed to seize the striking initiative in the teeth of Sachin's failings (0; 0 & 8; 0) through the core segment of the series. Yet this is but a value judgment being drawn in 1-2 hindsight! Were we not all the way with Rahul, Sourav and Laxman as the three held the West Indies at tele-bay? Until Sachin found his touch afresh with 41 & 83 in the final Sabina Park Test? It is a game that taunts you all the way, Dalmiya. Do not so act now as to get remembered as the Board President who put our freewheeling players in a strait-jacket. Already you have blundered in mindlessly bringing back Shoaib Akhtar as the fastest chucker in the world!

Looking to the erratic way Sourav's India habitually performs, lay viewers are not going to be overly impressed as they learn that each one of our players today gets Rs. 180,000 for an ODI and Rs. 225,000 for a Test. Over and above that, to hand (to a select few) annual contracts (going up to Rs. 600,000) is hardly a proposal likely to meet with public approval. Better therefore would it be for the established performers in the team to settle for a graded system by which they get proportionately more (for each ODI or Test) than what the freshers in the side collect. That would be recognition of seniority on the spot -- rather than at the end of a possibly 'non-extending' year.

Let our seniors always remember that, as India became independent on August 15, 1947, our players (with no Test nation overkeen then to play us!) were given a 'first-class' pay-rise! A rise by which 'calibre' performers like Vijay Hazare, Lala Amarnath and Vinoo Mankad had their match allowance raised to Rs. 6 per day for each of the three days of the Ranji Trophy game! Plus Rs. 6 for the day before the match, another Rs. 6 for the day after the game. Thus Rs. 30 was the maximum that a Vijay Hazare could then hope to collect for representing Baroda in the Ranji Trophy. Plus a Vijay Hazare was allowed to travel only second class by train! During such second-class progress, Vijay Hazare was paid the full Rs. 6 only if the journey extended beyond 12 hours. (Just Rs. 3 if the destination was reached in lesser time!) Out of that Rs. 6, Vijay Hazare had to buy his own breakfast, lunch and dinner on the train. For a Test match, even a Vijay Hazare then got Rs. 100 - no more, no less. A point for Dalmiya and his Board to ponder as all play and no worth makes our team prominent, right now, only among the weaker bidders for the World Cup in February 2003.