Indian cricket’s domestic problem is not about money alone | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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Indian cricket’s domestic problem is not about money alone

By, Mumbai
Feb 29, 2024 09:42 PM IST

Players prioritising IPL over domestic cricket has been a recurring theme since the inception of the T20 league.

Rewind to 2007, just months before the Indian Premier League revolution hit Indian cricket. The Indian cricket board – BCCI had introduced an additional fourth category of annual retainership - Grade D worth 15 lakhs. One of the beneficiaries was a young Rohit Sharma. Ajit Agarkar, more experienced, was a grade higher and bagged 25 lakhs, annually. Rahul Dravid, an A-lister, took home 60 lakhs.

Saurashtra's Cheteshwar Pujara plays a shot (ANI)
Saurashtra's Cheteshwar Pujara plays a shot (ANI)

Six months later, these national contracts lost their sheen as the economics of player pay in Indian cricket changed forever on the IPL auction table. Rohit’s first IPL contract was worth $7,50,000 (more than 3 crore), Agarkar’s $3,50,000 (approx 1.5 crore). As an Icon player, Dravid became a millionaire.

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The same three characters; in different capacities – Rohit, the all-format captain, Agarkar as chief selector and Dravid as head coach - are now actively involved in BCCI’s efforts to get players to re-channelize energies towards red-ball cricket. It helps that they won’t need reminding that the problem isn’t a new one.

Yes, the board has delivered its strongest-ever message by denying central contracts to Shreyas Iyer and Ishan Kishan for missing Ranji Trophy ties. But it could be argued, many others have escaped action, with bare minimum participation in the Ranji trophy.

There’s a proposal with the BCCI to increase annual retainership amounts or match fees for playing Test cricket. Currently, contracted players earn between 1-7 crore and match fees amount to 15 lakh per Test match. While any effort to bridge the gap with IPL pay is welcome, it’s not about money alone.

Matching the IPL pay scale across the playing landscape may prove to be impossible. Take Hardik Pandya’s case. While he was traded for 15 crore to Mumbai Indians, the undisclosed transfer fee may have made him a much richer cricketer. Every year, overseas players win a jackpot at mini-auctions. Mitch Starc was the lucky one in this year’s auction, fetching a whopping 24.75 crore contract.

Besides, IPL is T20 cricket – more money for less work. Players unwilling to put in the hard yards of training that red-ball cricket demands, would not be charmed.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the individual,” says former captain Dilip Vengsarkar. “If someone doesn’t aspire to play Test cricket, let somebody else establish themselves. As simple as that.”

“There was a time when domestic cricket was the only way you could play for India,” says Chandrakant Pandit, head coach Madhya Pradesh. “When I speak with cricketers of today’s generation, it’s not that they don’t have the desire. But they want to take the shortcut, having seen many instances where players perform in IPL and get India caps.”

It’s an area which has been addressed recently by the Ajit Agarkar-led selection committee. Players are no longer being parachuted from IPL into Test cricket. Akash Deep, Sarfaraz Khan, Rajat Patidar and Yashasvi Jaiswal are all products of domestic cricket. Dhruv Jurel has proved to be an inspired selection call.

SPICING UP DOMESTIC CRICKET

Spicing up domestic cricket and making it more competitive has been a crying need for a while now. Challenging as it is with the packed international calendar, a rebranding could perhaps be the answer. If not that, then a restructuring which will ensure that teams don't score 500 runs in a day. More brainstorming could offer perhaps even better solutions to ensure participation from international cricketers in domestic cricket. The BCCI has to make it worth their while.

“I had suggested to the BCCI that for Duleep Trophy and the Irani Trophy, one should encourage international players to play. It’s a matter of one month,” said former Chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar. “That’s how selectors would be able to better evaluate players and there won’t be questions like, ‘800 runs against whom?”

Pandit makes another telling point on the standard of domestic cricket. “One of the reasons why we are seeing so many outright results in Ranji trophy recently is because the players are not able to cope up with red-ball cricket. There are too many shots, very little patience. Sometimes, two maidens are all it takes to get people out.”

A more competitive domestic cricket structure would offer other benefits to players too, argues Vengsarkar. “They would get to play against good spinners on Indian soil. And their experience would help other cricketers.”

WHITE-BALL DOMESTIC CRICKET

While the problem is more acute in red-ball cricket, a similar case can be made about domestic white-ball cricket too. While Vijay Hazare One-Dayers and Mushtaq Ali T20s are tracked by IPL scouts, these performances aren’t given the same weightage because often the teams aren’t full strength. One of the reasons, uncapped players have to be used judiciously in IPL is because they haven’t been tested enough in domestic cricket.

“If players like Hardik don’t want to play red ball cricket, should he and others like him participate in white-ball domestic cricket when they aren’t on national duty? If this doesn’t apply to all, then Indian cricket won’t achieve the desired results!” former all-rounder Irfan Pathan posted on X.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Rasesh Mandani loves a straight drive. He has been covering cricket, the governance and business side of sport for close to two decades. He writes and video blogs for HT.

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