Nirmal Shekar

Mega-bucks chasing ordinary talent

If the International Cricket Council and the Board of Control for Cricket in India push through an act that penalises cricketers for possession of assets/money disproportionate to their talent, or, to be precise, the lack of it, tens of dozens of cricketers will be caught in the net.

Even leaving aside the so-called icons and superstars whose worth might collectively match the Reserve Bank’s strictly guarded vault, there would still be a whole lot of players whose earnings would hardly match their skills on the field — batting, bowling, fielding or whatever.

If the kind of money earned by megastars such as Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni is nothing short of the obscene, then these men at least do enough in not only convincing us to turn our eyes away from what is happening during contract negotiations, but they also carry a huge amount of responsibility on their shoulders.

But there are cricketers who are barely above the level of the mediocre who drive the latest version of Audis and Mercs and truly believe that they deserve even more for their on-field labour.

“There is this player — an off-spinner — who can barely turn the ball and has done just enough to stay in the XI thanks to lack of competition. He takes home 10 times what his father, a respected, hard working government servant for the last 30 years does,” says a former Test cricketer who does not want to be named.

Like life, sport can never eradicate gross inequalities. Nor will it be fair always; but the point is, so much money is going into the pockets of men who hardly deserve a few thousand rupees for what they have to offer.

Although the comparison may not be apt from one or the other point of view — and just imagine that you are a Rip Van Winkle who slept through the great years of change and huge inflows of money — it really makes you sad that great cricketers of past generations barely made a pittance at the highest levels of the sport while over-rated and underperforming ‘stars’ walk away with a bounty today.

Nari Contractor, who was struck on the head by a Charlie Griffith delivery during the 1962 tour of the West Indies and was critically injured, says that he got Rs. 5 as laundry allowance when he played first-class cricket. And for Tests, he took home a princely sum of Rs. 250.

Light kitbags

For a long tour of England in 1959 — almost six months — the players were given five trousers, five long sleeve white shirts, one pull-over and one jacket. Members of a club team on a tour of England will refuse to board the plane with such a light and tiny kitbag these days. And this is comparable to many other professions too.

But it is not just a matter of money that the youngsters make or the extra HD TV they can afford and the cars they drive. It is about fulfilment. It is about living not just an empty ‘enjoyable’ life filled with parties where several hundred litres of the amber liquid may be consumed by dozens of hangers-on. It is ultimately about living a meaningful life.

I wonder if these thoughts ever penetrate the front door of the 17-year-old cricketers’ brains. But if all are ready to fall at the feet of the capricious golden goddess success, so that they can become teenaged millionaires, then the future looks gloomy indeed for both the players and the fans in every cricket crazy nation.

This is precisely why we cannot wait to find out how many of ‘our boys’ are on the list. But I am pretty sure that Indian players will lead the pack.

All this is not just simply a case of curmudgeonly gripe about a few hundred cricketers — mostly in India — enjoying a lifestyle that few men their age would even muster the courage to imagine. The point of this column is, while life can never be 100 per cent fair, over-compensation for over-rated players in the game in India isn’t cricket.

Wicketkeeper-batsmen who are not even Test regulars make close to Rs. 15 crore a season in the Indian Premier League.

“The money apart, how can you equate a club cricketer with an international cricketer. It is no secret that some mediocre players have been drafted into the IPL to the detriment of performers in domestic cricket,” said the former Indian wicketkeeper-batsman Syed Kirmani.

There are those who might say that the market has its own logic and its intricate workings are beyond the intellect of men such as this writer. Even if you granted that the Gen Next knows what is good for itself, the situation does not pass the test of common sense.

A long-time coach told me two years ago that quite a number of parents have told him at the time of joining his coaching school that they want their boys to be taught to play T20 cricket.

Can you think of anything more ridiculous than this?

It ain’t cricket anymore.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 1:32:06 AM |

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