Harbhajan Singh's plea to Team India coach Anil Kumble to raise the issue of match fees for domestic cricketers in his meeting with the Committee of Administrators on May 21 may have been welcomed by domestic cricketers across the country, but the current dispensation of Board of Control for Cricket in India is wary of this suggestion and the timing of it. Many state association officials agree that the gap in earnings between centrally contracted players and those only playing domestic cricket is too wide.
The move comes at a time when Australian crickets and their player association is engaged in a bitter battle for better pay structure with Cricket Australia. Interestingly, Australian contracted players earn far more under central contracts than an Indian international player does.
Many forward thinking state associations admit that a hike in domestic cricketers' fees is due, while others feel that state associations should not create own systems of retainers for first class players as it could lead to increase in selection pressures, push and pull culture and corruption. Kumble has reportedly proposed a massive hike and overhaul of pay structure initially—a move resented by the BCCI's old guard as they also view him as a former cricket administrator and senior player who met Justice Lodha Committee with suggestions to improve cricket administration.
In his letter to Kumble, the Indian off spinner pleaded , “It's been last 2/3 years (that) I am playing Ranji Trophy. I hate that I've found constant struggle around me in the financial situation of my first-class teammates. Even though Ranji Trophy is hosted by the richest cricket board in the world, I appeal to you as a player, who is an inspiration and role model for all Ranji players." He requested Kumble to take the matter up with BCCI officials, and cricket greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman and Virender Sehwag “to ensure that a change is brought about in the pay structure, in the amounts they get paid,"
Shreevats Goswami, Bengal's Ranji Trophy and Kolkata Knight Riders player, tweeted a thanks back to Harbhajan saying “sincerely hope @BCCI acts on this. State of many domestic cricketers with 2harbhajan_singh paaji voicing it. Thank you”/
Former India cricketer and currently TV commentator Sanjay Manjrekar too supported Harbhajan's views .
A senior BCCI official said, “all matters are now being raised because the board is in a state of flux! Why is this request being made to Kumble or CoA? Why aren't the cricketers writing to BCCI?” He also pointed out that the Board in its annual statement of accounts has already kept a provision of 13 per cent of gross revenue for international cricketers and 13 per cent for domestic cricketers. “If BCCI revenues increase in future, players earnings could increase too,” he said, but added that since BCCI was “hit” by revenue loss from ICC, “these factors must be kept in mind.”
The central contracts were recently upgraded by CoA to Rs 2 crore, Rs1 crore and Rs 50 lakh. The BCCI had fixed first class cricketers get a match fees of Rs 1.5 lakhs (first eleven) for a first class game. A cricketer who plays full season of first class cricket can currently make upto Rs 15 lakh per season. Not every domestic cricketer plays all FC games in a season and not every domestic cricketer is lucky enough to get an IPL contract. Harbhajan highlighted the insecurity that goes with current structure—as the player doesn't know how much will he end up earning at the end of a season. Not every first class cricketer has a good, well paying job.
Many feel there is urgent need to also give some retainers to U-12 to U-19 level cricketers as many come from a background where parents cannot afford good quality coaching.
Some officials mooted the idea of state associations creating a retainer system for U-16, U-19, U-23 levels. “Each state gets Rs 35-40 crore annual subsidy from BCCI. Why can't states do it?” said a senior cricket official.
But his stand is refuted by a state association boss . “The players are not our employees. We are a not for profit organisation. The amount due to us by BCCI annually is spent on multiple things like games, training facilities, maintenance of ground and upgradation, travel, allowances etc.”
Another senior cricket administrator agreed that pay disparity was big at the top level and first class level. “There's a big gap and it needs to be looked in. The domestic cricketers should get some raise, I agree.” He, however, said such a move should be initiated from BCCI level. “Some states may start a retainer system, some won't and a different remuneration issue could come up. Best if BCCI initiates and hikes fees. The slab set for first class cricketers is also set by BCCI.”