October 28, 2012

What's wrong with commercialising cricket?

A journalist from a local news channel in Punjab recently questioned me about the growing commercialisation of Indian cricket

A journalist from a local news channel in Punjab recently questioned me about the growing commercialisation of Indian cricket. "Isn't it killing the game? Aren't 10 different logos on a player's jersey crass?" he asked. His cameraman zoomed in embarrassingly close, mike shoved right into my face. The rest of his coterie promptly pulled out their pens in anticipation of a juicy byte that would make tomorrow's headlines.

It may not be an earth-shattering, news-generating question, and my answer was run of the mill, but somehow it is a favourite among the press. As a cricketer, one almost feels like a criminal facing a media trial for a crime you haven't committed. But since you are one of the "beneficiaries", however small and indirect that benefit may be, you ought to stand up and defend your case or be ready to be crucified the following day. You feel trapped, wanting to avoid these questions, but that's exactly what the media wants. It's imperative to stay firm and present your case. Here's my take on the matter, perhaps not news worthy, but worth a read.

Do you know that there are about 550 first-class cricketers in India and about 60% of them don't have jobs outside of the game? Their only source of income is the five-month window in winter, in which they represent their respective states and make just enough to last the remaining seven months.

If you add the players who are on the periphery and make the cut only once in a while, the numbers swell to the thousands. Since corporate houses or banks do not have positions for even the top players in Indian cricket, it needs no mentioning that the players in the second tier find it tough to make ends meet. Their only hope is to make it to their Ranji team one day and then the lucrative IPL, and perhaps don India colours later. Till then they need to bear all their expenses themselves. And trust me, playing cricket in India is still an expensive hobby.

Do people who vociferously condemn the money in cricket ever take time out to fight for the cause of these unemployed athletes? When people talk about certain players making millions in the IPL, do they ever think of the ones who are putting their livelihoods at stake to pursue the sport?

In fact, most of those who have ended up making a lot of money from cricket have gone through the same ordeal while growing up. I'm not sure if many people know that Munaf Patel, before playing for the country, worked in a factory for Rs 50 a day, and that he bowled barefoot during his formative years, since buying bowling shoes was a luxury he couldn't afford. Indian cricket is full of such stories, but we only get to hear the ones about those who make it to the top.

I recently met a first-class cricketer who is a regular in his state side, which means that he's talented. He bowls reasonably quick and has earned the bragging rights of having dismissed Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag in a List-A match.

The tale of his struggle outside the five months of first-class cricket moved me. He lives in the mountains and looks after his apple farm when the cricket season is not on. His off-season job profile is to supervise the work force that he hires on daily wages. Since that money is paid at the end of the day after looking at the quality of the work accomplished, he needs to be on his toes all day. And on days when work force is not at its optimum strength, he needs to fill in himself. The thought of off-season cricket training doesn't even cross his mind. A decent ground and gym are a couple of hours' drive away. The only way for him to keep fit is by running or carrying heavy boxes of apples on his back, up and down the mountains. He doesn't have a "proper" job, and doesn't harbour hopes of getting one.

People who know the business of apple farming will know that it takes only one unseasonal shower to ruin a crop. There are many like this player in Indian first-class cricket. Is it still fair to assume that money in cricket is a bad thing?

Some may just shrug it off by saying that the bigger the risk, the better the reward. But many don't make it to the top, and putting everything on the line doesn't always guarantee a good life. Gamblers don't always hit the jackpot. You've got to be talented enough to reach a certain level to demand perks. Just that in cricket the amount of talent isn't always proportional to the rewards you get. There are things like luck and injury involved, which are beyond anyone's control. Also, one needs to remember that the life of a professional cricketer can be drastically cut short by a poor season or an injury. He must make a lot of hay while the sun is shining, for the sun sets a lot sooner on a professional sportsperson's career than it does on those of other professionals.

Do the naysayers realise that some of the perks trickle down to the ones who need them most only because there are so many logos on the Indian/IPL jerseys, and because there are still takers for the TV rights? The big fish may still survive if that pool dries up, but the others will simply die.

Last but not least, the newspapers and news channels these journalists work for make money selling advertisements. The audience may detest the ads but they are a must for the commercial viability of the news medium. If people in the media don't complain about the fact that their salaries are derived from this same commercialisation, they shouldn't grudge a sportsperson his earnings either. In any case, there are only a handful of cricketers who are making megabucks; the rest are still trying very hard to pursue their dream without burning holes in their pockets.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on December 1, 2012, 5:45 GMT

    Nice article by Aakash, In 70's my experienced with former Ranji Player played more than 15 years of Ranji Trophy who was very gentleman one day came up to me and ask for 0.75 paisa to pay the rental cycle rent for a day not only that he can't even afford a extra white shirt to play for club Cricket.

  • testli5504537 on November 25, 2012, 23:39 GMT

    Aakash As usual well written article. Only question do we need 550 cricketers? Even today there is not one single spinner who is decent enough to challenge a Ashwin who is not doing an average job....

  • testli5504537 on November 23, 2012, 18:25 GMT

    Everything is fine till you look at it with envy. As time passes the form changes, but the talk and critic never. I only see progress. Every progress has a new form. IPL is a new form, a new avataar. Tomorrow some new and speedy form of cricket will work. The world had the same thing to say when Kerry Packer arrived on the scene. The world has the same thing to say today, accept its BCCI now.

  • testli5504537 on November 18, 2012, 19:36 GMT

    Dear Akash,

    Well thought and presented. But I think that lust for extra money through IPL has deprived India's first class cricket of its charm and competitiveness. Some of the best performers in First class cricket have preferred to preserve themselves for that 45 day IPL stint and have been guilty of being mere passengers in their state sides ,just doing enough to retain their places and their IPL contract. Indian cricket will benefit a lot the day this attitude of a handful of " Lucky " cricketers changes !!!

  • testli5504537 on November 8, 2012, 1:43 GMT

    When Cable TV came into existence, in the mid 90s, there were good Sport Channels to watch Cricket with few ads in between, now the trend is, there are good advertisement channels to watch few hours of Cricket in between. The most pressed button on my TV remote while watching Cricket is the Mute button. Cricket Commercialization is at its peak and won't sustain for long. IPL is a curse for Cricket, after few years real cricket lovers would have get DVD recordings of past games to get the real excitement and aesthetics of real cricket.

  • testli5504537 on November 3, 2012, 16:37 GMT

    True that cricket needs money - especially so for the second/third rung cricketers who may have sacrificed all their lives in the hope of making it big some day. But this trickle does not seem to happen. Rich getting richer and poor getting poorer seems to be the norm. This balance is what nay sayers like me would like to see being corrected. I can't talk about other countries.., but for India Cricket Commercialization equates to IPL and in my honest opinion, this has done more damage to Indian cricket than anything else over the last 10 years! Millions are spent on post-match-IPL dinners in the name of "commercialization" and it has brought out the worst out of otherwise hard-working cricketers. Ironically it is the same media that questions commercialization which tries to capitalize by sensationalizing cricketers stories!! The whole system seems so corrupt, non-transparent and leading to one mistake to another. This overkill of commercialization (at least IPL) must be stopped please

  • testli5504537 on November 2, 2012, 19:32 GMT

    Dude Aakash, you are in one heck of a form as a writer...

  • testli5504537 on November 1, 2012, 16:47 GMT

    When I go to work, I think about doing the best for my company, so that they reward me financially. So that I can provide for my family. Exactly in the same way, a cricketer at any level will try and do the best for his team, and hope that it will translate into financial rewards for him eventually. It is easy for those of us who have other jobs to criticize cricketers for "thinking only about money". But isn't that what we do? We don't have any altruistic reasons for going to work, do we? I can think of players like Ramnath Parkar, Santosh Saxena, Kulamani Parida, etc....who would have benefited so much if cricket had been commericialized in their days. Even cricketers like Don Bradman wanted to ensure they had financial stability before anything else (he missed the first test of the bodyline series because of a contract dispute). Or going further back, the great Sydney Barnes chose to play minor counties because it paid him better.

  • testli5504537 on November 1, 2012, 16:41 GMT

    I am a big fan of your perspective on Indian cricket, and this is one of the best pieces you have written. I completely agree with the points you make, and believe that those who blame commercialization of the sport for the bad performance of the Indian team are missing a point. Cricket is not a game for 11 to play and millions to enjoy watching those special 11 players. It is a vocation, a job for hard-working thousands who have but just a few years to provide for their families. The cricketers, the coaches, the support staff, the groundsmen, the maalis.....all of them deserve to make money just as the rest of us do in our chosen vocation. If that means that someone wants to sacrifice playing for the country in order to play for a high-paid job with an IPL team, so be it. That is a choice for them to make. And not for us to judge. I don't doubt that those who make the highest honour of playing for their country always give their best. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you dont

  • testli5504537 on October 31, 2012, 1:44 GMT

    Dear Gulu, You missed "Siddharth". "Akash", "Samir" and "Sid" would complete what "Dil Chahta hai"!!

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