What prize Indian cricket?

TIME again for Michael Ferreira to inveigh against cricket, unlovely cricket. Against the dream money it yields to players losing the World Cup.

RAJU BHARATAN

TIME again for Michael Ferreira to inveigh against cricket, unlovely cricket. Against the dream money it yields to players losing the World Cup. News that each Indian cricketer in the World Cup team to South Africa is going to get (whether he participated in a match or not) at least Rs. 50 lakhs must come as gall and wormwood to a Michael who played the white ball with such precision — for peanuts. Billiards is a mindsport. While cricket is a heart game. That even snooker, as the one-day edition of billiards, fails to attract a crowd is not cricket's fault, is it? It is the prime function of each sport in India to survive on its own intrinsic crowd-pulling strength. Cricket draws its pith and sinew from the fact that the BCCI, as the bountiful body running the game in the country, is a septuagenarian autonomous institution. It is a Cricket Board in a position to draw up its own Dalmiyardstick by which its huge profits now get thoughtfully distributed among players representing the life-blood of the game.

Sachin Tendulkar's knock of 143 in Sharjah in April 1998 against Australia fetched him nearly Rs. 10,000 per run on the spot. — Pic. M. MOORTHY-

Thus even the Ranji Trophy player is to rake in Rs. 30-40,000 per match. This is where cricket now has stolen a march over all other games. If cricket in India has developed the same financial vitality as golf in other parts of the world, that is its raison d'etre. By all means be envious of cricket. But not jealous. Envy is but the sixth of the seven deadly sins. Covetousness is the second. No one really should be grudging our topnotch cricket players the megabucks they are making today. If only because their high wages are for their sustained telly pull in the middle, irrespective of the match result.

Here is where I say that it was rather harsh on Sri Lanka's players to be asked to forego part of their match fees if they lost the ODI or the Test. What if the poor Sri Lanka player tried his darnedest and that island nation still lost? A match fee-cut, in such demoralising circumstances, was it not a psychological deterrent to the team's performing at its best in the game following? Some via media has to be found by which the international performer is always encouraged to give of his best, very best, nothing but the very best. That is why I say let our cricketers continue to earn all that they do now. But let Sourav & Co ensure that, once they reach the final of the World Cup, they surprise Australia the same out-of-the-Blue Mountain way Kapil and his 1983 Devils did. By the bravura with which they neutralised Clive Lloyd and the Black Power status he symbolised. So much so that Viv Richards, during the West Indies' end-1983 tour of India, was heard, frantically to be enquiring of each Indian player, as to how much lolly the team had discovered to be waiting for it in the World Cup that Kapil Dev had held up for such captive Lord's viewing.

Coming to the 2003 World Cup, employing the same three-man attack as your demolition squad, simply because it had worked in 8 World Cup matches running, is not my idea of thinking up a strategy innovative and imaginative enough for the ultimate encounter with Champions Australia. The Zed style of gamesmanship was enough to make the Kangaroo blush. It was via Harbhajan Singh's spin, never forget, that Sourav had crushed Australia (at its mightiest) not once but twice in Tests during that magic month of March 2001. So that Anil Kumble should have come into Sourav's 2003 Final reckoning. Should have come in and should have been asked to bowl 2-3 overs at the outset itself. To ensure that Adam did not get just the pace he wanted, on his buccaneering bat, from the word go.

The World Cup, as the original Kapil Dev prize, now stands 2003 envisioned and surrendered. The burden of my song therefore is that, from hereon, Sourav and his men must be truly worthy of the high price tag the BCCI has so magnanimously placed on our vanquished World Cup team. The team's senior statesmen, like Sourav, Rahul, Sachin and Anil (never ever write him off, just wait and watch how he bounces back), should have no reason to complain now. Seeing how the BCCI is already into the process of determining graded payments according to the number of ODIs or Tests that each performer has played for India. Never here could I forget a Rusi Surti call I got from faraway Australia. "Is it true, Raju,'' Rusi wanted urgently to know, "that the BCCI is planning to pay us an extra Rs. 2000 for each Test we played for India?''

I could sense Rusi to be on top of the world as I told him that he had heard right, that Polly Umrigar had initiated the move by which Superfield Surti, for one, would be receiving a fresh Rs. 52,000 cheque for the 26 Tests in which he had been the role model of physical fitness for India. Rusi needed the money, meagre as the BCCI reward might look by today's dizzying standards. To think that Rusi's live-wiry successor in the field, Eknath Solkar, was studiedly played in an extra Test or two (27 matches in all) — even when past his close-catching prime — so that he might meet the minimum criterion of 25 Tests to merit that Rs. 2000 per match for India! As Ranji players now get Rs. 30-40,000 per match, they need to be enlightened that, when the National Championship was launched, each performer collected Rs. 5 per match.

When then did this business of big prize money really come into focus? It happened during the April 1998 Sharjah Coca-Cola Cup decider between India and Australia. I mean the contest that set Sir Donald Bradman bonzer-thinking about who played exactly like him. It happened as Man of the Match Sachin dumbstruck Shane Warne (among others) for 143 off 131 balls. At this point, speaking up for the total "Coca Colanisation'' of the game by early 1998 itself, commentator Tony Greig Sharjah-spot announced a swag of 20,000 pounds for Tendulkar's remarkable batting effort. Sparking an instant controversy about whether those 20,000 pounds belonged exclusively to Ten (for his yeoman 143) or had to be, according to the prevailing norm, proportionately distributed among the Indian players in the Sharjah Coca-Cola Cup team.

The exchange rate then was Rs. 66.97 per pound, so that Sachin's 143 had netted him Rs. 13,39,400. Each run, making up that Sachin 143, thus worked out to Rs. 9366.44. As near Rs. 10,000 per run as made a difference, at least, to Sunil Gavaskar's Test tally in our eyes. Do remember, Sunny's 10,122 Test runs, for India, did not make him a lakhpati overnight. Leave alone a lakhpati, 10 times over, that just one knock by Sachin did. Different times, different valuations. But the gut issue, by end-April 1998, was whether Sachin kept the 20,000 pounds to himself. I thought it meet to take the matter to Ajit Wadekar. As the man who had insisted, while being Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi's deputy, that any cash Test prize won by an Indian in the team should be equally shared.

I doubt if Tiger Pataudi then applied his mind to the Wadekar poser any more than he did to the idea of heading the Arun Lal-fortified Cricket Players Association now. I straightway quizzed Ajit about the issue of Ten's keeping those 20,000 pounds for himself. Indeed, Sachin had come up with a no less shots-filled 134 in the Sharjah Coca-Cola Cup Final against the same Australia. With that 134 following the dinner tables-turning 143 for India, the Opel car (on snazzy Sharjah display) belonged to Sachin and Sachin alone — as Audi Judge Ravi Shastri, dynamic in his neutrality, saw it. An Opel secret it thus was that Sachin kept the car, since this was the net practice in the Indian team. But those 20,000 pounds, how did Ajit Wadekar view the near Rs. 13,40,000 they meant, solo, to India's lightning conductor Sachin, leaving our Sharjah team-orchestra high and dry?

``There's no way Sachin splits these 20,000 pounds, the prize is his for the keeping!'' insisted Ajit. I logically wanted to know why, when the set methodology, in the Indian team, was to split each cash prize. "Because,'' argued Ajit, "only the prize money announced in print — before the start of the tournament in question — is to be shared in the event of an Indian player winning such an award." Upon my persisting with the point that the 20,000 pounds remained a cash award still, Wadekar reasoned: "That is as may be. But the issue here is if the 20,000 pounds prize was announced before this (1998 Coca-Cola Cup) Sharjah tournament got under way. Those 20,000 pounds clearly came to be offered as an ` afterthought' (on the part of the sponsors) upon their viewing Sachin so sensationally striking out for those 143 runs against Australia. My point is straightforward,'' concluded Wadekar. "It is that this 20,000 pounds prize was not part of the original scheme of things at all. Therefore, any question of Sachin splitting the 20,000 pounds money with the rest of the team does not arise.''

That was a line of reasoning not easily countered, so I noted, going off at a tangent: "Remember, Ajit, the very principle of prize sharing has undergone a change since your all-sharing playing days. The settled guideline in the Indian team, now, is that the winner keeps 25% of the prize money. So that the remaining 75% gets to be equitably distributed among the others,'' I pointed out. "You don't need to tell me that,'' maintained Wadekar. "If only because such 25-75 percentage distribution had become the accepted mode of division by the time I became the manager of the Indian team. But your specific query is about this spot prize of 20,000 pounds awarded to Sachin individually. Here the guideline is crystal clear — that only those prizes put up by the sponsor, before the start of the tournament, are to be shared in our team.''

Alongside the Opel car for that 134 in the final, Sachin (as it happened) kept those 20,000 pounds for his sterling 143 vs Australia at Sharjah. Yet how did this practice of prizes in cash being distributed, awards in kind being retained by the player winning, originate in the Indian team? That is a theme for another day and night. During which, hopefully, Ten still looks like making a million. As he did while sending Wasim Akram packing. So packing as for Waqar Younis to pick up where Shoaib Akhtar let off steam — after the Centurion event. Sachin, challenged anew by Brian Lara, has now to live up to what David Boon wrote in his book: "Tendulkar stands out because of his ability to increase the pace at will. To play an inspiring shot which can quickly wrest the initiative from the bowler. He has the necessary confidence to go ` over the top'. To break a bowler who might have been concentrating on line and length.''

Was it not about swiftly spotting "line and length'' that Sachin talked at the end of the March 1 Saturday witnessing India overwhelming Pakistan? The world now waits with bated Bradman breath to see the length to which Sachin goes to come in line with Brian Lara in Australia.