New pay structure to re-assert Test primacy
Lost among the large and extremely healthy contract pools for India's leading cricketers lies the BCCI's most progressive move so far - giving Test cricket the financial muscle to keep India's younger generation of cricketers interested.
At the end of the BCCI's Gradation Committee meeting in Chennai on Thursday, along with shrinking the list of contracted players from about four groups of over 40 to three groups of 24, the board has radically reworked the match-fee structure.
For the period October 1, 2010 to September 30, 2011, the Test match fee has been nearly tripled from Rs 2.5 lakhs per match ($5500) to Rs 7 lakhs ($15,500) per Test. The ODI fee has risen from Rs 1.8 lakhs ($4000) per match to Rs 4 lakhs ($8900) and the T20 fee doubled from Rs 1 lakh ($2200) per match to Rs 2 lakhs ($4400).
This, the BCCI says, is an attempt to re-assert the primacy of Test cricket as well as make what used to be a very narrow gap between the earnings of Test and ODI cricketers per match into a fairly vast gulf. It is significant that the BCCI's Grade A whose retainers are Rs one crore ($220,000) a year are those who (with the exception of Suresh Raina) have been a key part of the Test team over the past few years.
BCCI chief administrative officer Ratnakar Shetty told ESPNcricinfo, "this is a message - that Test cricket is important, it's the most important form of the game in the world."
In 2009, India played only six Tests but finished the year as the No. 1 team. To keep MS Dhoni's men at the top, the BCCI invited South Africa and Australia for a two-Test series each outside the ICC's Future Tours Programme. India's rise in the Test rankings, Shetty says, "has something to do" with the BCCI's focus on the long game. "The players were taking the initiative, they had worked hard, we wanted to make sure there were more Tests, that is why we talked to Australia and South Africa."
According to BCCI treasurer MP Pandove, the general mood within the board following a meeting in late October was, "that the boys were doing well in the Test matches, they were No. 1, they should be encouraged to play more Tests. It was decided we had to re-look at the contract structure."
This re-examination meant trying to re-apportion the BCCI's revenues given out to players. According to the BCCI's rules, 26% of the BCCI's annual revenues goes to the players, of which 13% goes to the internationals. Shetty explained: "If you see the ratio was something like 10 Tests and 30 ODIs on average and it meant that an ODI player could play 30 days of cricket and earn much more than a Test specialist who may have played 50 days of cricket, in Tests." By last year's pay scale, a VVS Laxman could earn Rs 25 lakhs for playing 10 Tests, but an ODI specialist, for example Praveen Kumar, could earn up to Rs 54 lakhs for 30 ODIs.
The restructuring of the graded contract also serves to establish an equilibrium between the three forms of the game. Shetty said when the player contracts were originally formulated, "the plan was to get the contracts down to 20 (eventually). It is something which has to be earned by the player like it happens in other countries."
The BCCI had four grades of contracted players for the past two years, which also coincided with the existence of the breakaway Indian Cricket League (ICL). The intention to reduce the number of contracts arose the moment the ICL was rendered insignificant by the massive success of the IPL in 2008. Getting rid of the Rs 15 lakh per year contracts for a Grade 'D' fringe player has also freed revenues to distribute to its most elite players.
The overall retainership hike serves two goals: from a cricketing standpoint, it separates the elite from the rest of the pack. BCCI secretary N Srinivasan told the Hindustan Times, "We didn't want too many people ... to be a contracted player is a big thing, so we felt that one has to really perform to earn it ... it's not an easy club to get into." Financially, it reduces the surplus revenue to be distributed across all players as a handout, which in the past, Shetty said, depended mostly on number of matches played rather than on ability or achievements.
Between now and the end of its tour to Australia in 2011-12, India will play 15 away Tests, under one of the best match fee scales in the world. It will be their chance to see if, other than re-asserting the primacy of Test cricket, India can retain their primacy in Test cricket.