Pension: make it count

Nari Contractor, one of the former India captains, being felicitated by the then Sports Minister Sunil Dutt at the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of the BCCI in Kolkata. Contractor recently revealed that he was paid only Rs. 250 when he played his first Test match in 1955.-V.V. KRISHNAN

In the BCCI's revised monthly pension allotment for India's Test cricketers, a sum of Rs. 35,000 will be paid to players who have figured in 25 Tests or more and Rs. 25,000 to those who have played in less than 25. The cut-off date for either category is December 31, 1993.

Any announcement regarding financial disbursement is always welcome, but when the BCCI President Sharad Pawar unveiled the pension scheme for retired Test cricketers, there was no joy, only disenchantment.

The retired Test cricketers of the 50s and the 60s are extremely unhappy that the BCCI's recently developed munificence hasn't really embraced them. Nari Contractor said, "Compare the frequency of matches of that era with the matches played in the 80s and the 90s and you will find we hardly got to play international cricket. I got Rs. 250 when I played my first Test in 1955."

In the BCCI's revised monthly pension allotment for India's Test cricketers, a sum of Rs. 35,000 will be paid to players who have figured in 25 Tests or more and Rs. 25,000 to those who have played in less than 25. The cut-off date for either category is December 31, 1993.

The widows of Test cricketers will also receive the same amount. By announcing that only the widows will be entitled to get pension, the BCCI has decided that aged parents of a dead Test cricketer who never married will get nothing though they were the ones who nurtured the passion and talent of their son!

No doubt widows must get the pension, but can't some money, if not an equal amount, be given to parents? Let's not forget our childhood. For, in the formative years, it is the parents who provide all the facilities and devote a lot of time to dropping and picking up the child from the training centres. Isn't the BCCI's decision insensitive to the sacrifices parents have made?

As regards the comparison that Nari Contractor is talking about, India played 42 Tests between 1950 and 1960 (4 Tests per year) and 53 Tests (5 Tests per year) between 1960 and 1970. Now compare that with the 78 Tests played between 1980 and 1990. And from 1990 till 2006, India has played 140 Tests. In fact, Rahul Dravid has played 100 Tests in 10 years.

The BCCI's pension-scheme is in urgent need of a drastic revamp, with a more realistically helpful monetary settlement for former cricketers, especially those who retired over four decades ago.

The Rs. 250 match-fee that Nari Contractor speaks of may have been reasonably commensurate with the cost of living in the 50s, but how does the BCCI expect former international cricketers, who may be in their 70s or 80s, to subsist in today's world of burgeoning costs with a monthly pension of Rs. 25,000 or Rs. 35,000?

The life of a cricketer is 10 years on an average, and in the 15 years from 1945 to 1960, if India played only 22 Tests, even with the Rs. 250 that a cricketer got, how much could he have saved? How could any cricketer have figured in 25 Tests in that era when only 22 were played? Mind you, some of them were good enough to have played in more than 50 Tests.

The other issue is of first class cricketers. The pension scheme is likely to be for those who have played 50 first class matches. Again compare the periods. From 1934-35 to 1956-57, only 21 or less Ranji Trophy matches were played, but the moment the format was changed from Knockout to League, 41 matches were played in the 1957-58 season.

Now compare these figures to the present era in which more than 200 first class matches are played every season and a senior cricketer gets to play a maximum of 15 to 20 of those.

Former India opener Madhav Apte played only 44 first class matches from 1951 to 1967, three matches per season compared to the 15-20 matches a player can play now. Those who played in the 40s got one rupee as laundry allowance. Later it was Rs. 5 per match, and now players will be getting Rs. 1 lakh per match.

Shouldn't the BCCI also consider a special financial package for Rajinder Goel (750 first class wickets) and Padmakar Shivalkar (569 first class wickets)? These were pillars of Indian cricket. Without casting aspersions on the credibility of the national selectors even in private conversations, these giants kept bowling for their state and zonal teams.

Those who played at least 10 years of first class cricket or 50 first class matches should be equally eligible for pension.

The BCCI, one hopes, considers these issues concerning old retired cricketers, parents of dead cricketers and the number of matches which were played in the pre-1957 period. Rs.1000 crores per year is the huge amount that the BCCI will be getting.

If an appropriate formula is applied, part of the money can go to those who are really in need of it. The existing formula has a few loopholes, but these can be easily plugged. Hope Mr. Pawar is listening.