An elite domestic cricketer in India stands to earn a grand sum of Rs 10 lakh in a year. And that’s before taxes. © Sunny Shinde

An elite domestic cricketer in India stands to earn a grand sum of Rs 10 lakh in a year. And that’s before taxes. © Sunny Shinde

How would you feel if you had a job where you earned Rs 10,000 per day? That’s US$ 156 or £118. You would be earning the equivalent of Rs 26 lakh per annum given a five-day working week. Would you feel rich?

The correct answer to that is, ‘It depends on how many days you get to work’. Ten thousand per day seems a lot, but what if you’re told that you will be working for only 36 days, rising to a maximum of 51 days?

That’s the lot of the Ranji Trophy cricketer now. They get that sum per day during the tournament. Till last year, that meant eight or nine league matches of four days each for most cricketers, that too provided they didn’t suffer injuries or loss of form.

If you happen to be amongst those few domestic cricketers who are as adept with the red ball as with the white ball, and across either 50 or 20 overs, you could throw in the Vijay Hazare Trophy matches (also Rs 10,000 per day) and the Syed Mushtaq Ali matches (Rs 5000 per day).

The share of revenue that the Board of Control for Cricket in India offers comes separate of this. Thus an elite domestic cricketer in India stands to earn a grand sum of Rs 10 lakh in a year. And that’s before taxes. And that’s only if you are good enough to represent your state side across all three formats. And that’s only if you are fortunate enough to go through a season injury free.

You get the same sum as the minimum IPL contract.

Imagine not getting a pay hike for ten years. Now remember that as a cricketer, you come with an expiry date. You have a shelf life and this is not a job for life. Sure, there is some merit in the argument that you can’t be too pampered at the domestic level and you need a certain hunger to develop so that the cream of the crop is toughened and ready for international cricket – but this is paupering, not pampering, from the world’s richest cricket board.

Now I’m not saying that those who play in the IPL shouldn’t be showered with riches. If franchises can afford to, then why not? Many of those getting the monies have done the domestic grind for years together and deserve what they get and more. But there are 28 teams in first-class cricket, which makes for at least 420 first-class cricketers considering a bare minimum of 15 per squad throughout the season. How many uncapped players do each IPL franchise have? It varies, but ten on average, making for 80 uncapped players. Throw in those who have had only brief careers with India and are, for all practical purposes, domestic players – but the number will still not rise to more than a quarter of those who play domestic cricket. So 75% of India’s best domestic cricketers have to get by on salaries that have not seen any revision in a decade.

The last time a fee increase happened was in 2007, and as a counter-measure to the ill-conceived and ill-fated Indian Cricket League.

Imagine not getting a pay hike for ten years. Now remember that as a cricketer, you come with an expiry date. You have a shelf life and this is not a job for life. Sure, there is some merit in the argument that you can’t be too pampered at the domestic level and you need a certain hunger to develop so that the cream of the crop is toughened and ready for international cricket – but this is paupering, not pampering, from the world’s richest cricket board.

Domestic players on the fringes of India A selection tell stories of how a good chunk of what they earn also goes into keeping themselves at the top of their games. The modern game demands that aspects like diet, nutrition and targeted fitness training be focussed on. These don’t get delivered for free.

Which is why it was heartening to read that someone of the stature of Sourav Ganguly has urged a significant pay hike for domestic cricketers. And it probably helped in no small measure that Harbhajan Singh made an impassioned plea for domestic cricketers earlier this year. We’re just talking pay hikes here, and not even getting into the fact that domestic cricketers should also be on contracts so that there is some security and an injury doesn’t mean the end.

The Ranji schedules of seasons recent past were ruthless, with four days of play and two days of travel packed within a week. © Wisden India

The Ranji schedules of seasons recent past were ruthless, with four days of play and two days of travel packed within a week. © Wisden India

But just revising pay is also a necessary change, especially in the light of several proposals that are said to be in the pipelines for the Ranji Trophy. For one, there is a proposal to make four groups of seven teams each, with all groups being of equal strength. This means that for the first time, there won’t be the equivalent of a ‘Plate’ or ‘Elite’ group.

But while such a move will make great sense from several angles, it would also mean that the number of matches for each player will reduce, which makes it even more imperative to raise their pays, which are match dependent.

The one possible negative with seven teams in a group would be that there is less chance for a player to showcase his skills. The bumper 1000-run or 50-wicket season will be a rarity. And if a player is unfortunate enough to experience a form slump, there will not be as many chances to recover.

The major benefit of fewer matches, though, is more rest between matches. The Ranji schedules of seasons recent past were ruthless, with four days of play and two days of travel packed within a week. Better rested and better prepared players can only lead to better contests and an improvement in the overall standard. Now that the ‘neutral venues’ experiment has also reportedly been shelved, it could lead to the best season from a scheduling point of view for players.

Given how often Ranji matches have been at the mercy of the weather, it might not be a bad idea to have a reserve day for each match either, which could be workable with seven teams in a group only. More sensible schedules and a greater chance of getting results will make random chance less of a factor.

The other big benefit of the new format will be if groups are made of equal strength, Without denigrating the honest work put in, there was always an asterisk against the stats piled up by those in Group C in earlier years, since it comprised of the weaker teams. So if you looked at the list of the five highest run-getters of a season and you saw a batsman from Group C in there, you didn’t know whether he belonged truly, or the runs were easier because of weaker bowling attacks. None of that can happen now; 800 runs will be 800 runs, period.

It’s an encouraging note ahead of the domestic season. Now for the BCCI to follow up on Ganguly’s words and Harbhajan’s plea, and make sure the financial rewards that are due to cricketers come to them.