May 14, 2012

Take a bow, BCCI

The Indian board's decision to acknowledge the efforts of former cricketers with cash rewards is a good and much-needed gesture

The news that the BCCI has decided to dole out a large sum of money earned from IPL playoff games as rewards to ex-cricketers is wonderful.

Contrary to popular perception, cricket wasn't always rich in India. In the old days there was very little in the game by way of financial reward, and in fact, cricket asked a great deal in return from players. All the wealth that surrounds the sport today was unimaginable for cricketers who played in the 1960s, '70s and even '80s, which was when I first got into the game.

When I first picked up a bat as an ardent eight-year old, dressed in prim whites, a cap, shoes that had been bought after weeks of deliberation (and were preserved for nearly a decade), I was full of hopes and dreams. Cricket was perfect innocence; to think of playing it for hard cash was profane. One played only for the love of the sport, nothing else really. In any case, there was too little money in the game for it to be a lure.

During my club cricket days I remember waiting endlessly for the odd bus - perhaps the only one on the route that dared to venture out during the troubled times of the Mandal Commission. For the middle class in Delhi, buses were the only affordable form of public transport, auto-rickshaws being far too expensive. I remember clinging onto the rungs at the back of a public transport bus with a cricket kit bag weighing several kilos on my back. And sleeping on the floor of an overnight train alongside a team-mate to make it to a match in another city; the fact that there were rats, smelly shoes and filth all around did not matter enough to get us off the train or dampen our spirits. Life in those years was about spending time in the nets, hitting the ball well, scoring runs and doing all that it took to move to the next level. The lack of a few hundred bucks couldn't spoil the romance.

That's the thing about passion, struggle: you are so consumed with the thought of making it big one day that everything else seems trivial. That is pure, unadulterated love for the sport, really.

It was a different era. Many old-school romantics like me believed that while it was good to have money, and the things it could buy, it was also wise to keep intact the things money couldn't buy - like absolute love.

Nothing could be more wounding than the feeling that a life spent serving the game had been in vain

But yes, while money isn't everything, it hits you once the romance begins to fade that it is reasonably close to oxygen. Nothing can replace bread and butter on the breakfast table. How far did the Rs 400 we got for a three-day Under-19 game and Rs 1700 for a four-day Ranji Trophy game go?

Still, it wasn't bad enough for the likes of me to contemplate quitting the game to pursue other, more lucrative, career options. This was in the mid-90s; imagine the sort of passion the cricketers of the decades before that would have needed to give the game their best day in and day out, for perhaps Rs 100 or less a game.

Plenty of talented players fell by the wayside, while others were forced to forget loyalties and play as professionals for different state units, play exhibition matches, and also work full-time for banks or public sector companies. There were a few privileged ones like the Nawab of Pataudi, who graciously distributed his match fee amongst the team; most others were not half as fortunate - they just about managed to get by when they were playing but were hardly able to save anything for rainy days. When the sun went down on their careers, they were reduced to being the underprivileged cousins to their young, rich counterparts. The sport, the system, owed them something.

In 2004, the BCCI announced a pension scheme for players who played in the era before money transformed Indian cricket. In 2006, the scheme was extended to include Ranji Trophy cricketers. It was a noble gesture by the board to acknowledge the services of these players to Indian cricket. The mere fact of being remembered made these former cricketers feel a lot better about the time they spent playing the sport; nothing could be more wounding than the feeling that a life spent serving the game had been in vain.

The BCCI has now gone an extra yard and opened its coffers once again. "This is a small thank you to those who have done yeoman service to Indian cricket," said N Srinivasan while announcing the bounty. One can only guess at what this largesse will mean to cricketers who played decades for paltry payments. The money will ensure a steady flow of cash to foot medical bills, and go a long way towards securing their old age and the future of their families.

More than anything, this has been an acknowledgement of the unsung heroes who don't find a mention in the history books. Their game wasn't about surpassing competitors at any cost, but to serve the sport, in good times and bad.

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

  • ketan on May 15, 2012, 13:26 GMT

    amazing article from Akash Chopra.very good gesture by BCCI. BCCI has shown entire cricket world how to take game to greater heights of glory and market successfully and make money .it will be great help to players i have idolized while watching and passionately following the game since childhood .i am sure this is just beginning of great things to come for retired cricketers from the coffers of BCCI.

  • Rahul on May 15, 2012, 6:36 GMT

    BCCI has been at the wrong end of pandits and fans stick for most of the time justifiably some times and unjustifiably on few occasions. But this time they deserve all the applause and kudos coming there way. Being an all powerful body no one could have made them do the right things. But they have taken the initiative and came up with something substantial. The amount announced are very decent and above expectations indicating that it is not a half hearted effort. Like few on this forum I would like to appeal to the likes of Shastri, Gavaskar and even Dada and Dravid to let go of this amount and let others in need get benefited even more.

  • Yogi on May 14, 2012, 21:14 GMT

    This is a great gesture by BCCI. It would be even better if ex-players like Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri, and Srikkant who are earning millions through other avenues decide to give up their benefits for those who really need it. The next move by BCCI should be to dole out substantial scholarships to your cricketers to pursue the game. They should also form an agreement with government and private institutes to offer job security to those who try hard but cannot make it big and therefore have to look for other alternatives.

  • Dummy4 on May 14, 2012, 16:14 GMT

    As said by Chopra, BCCI was not an rich sports organisation in the past. But it was appointment of Dalmiya, which changed the fortunes of BCCI. He was the one who started promoting BCCI aggressively. He was the one who helped South Africa to get back on International Cricket and successfully organised 1996 World Cup. He was the person who identified TV revenues as good source of income and aggressively marketed it too. Then Sourav Ganguly installed fighting spirit in Indian Cricket team as Captain.

    Now the all powerful Bombay-Bangalore Axis seemed to have forgotten them. What is most disheartening is the fans from above said part of Country treating Kolkata in a poor way. I dont know whether Cricinfo is going to publish this comment. In IPL, lot of disheartening comments are published when it comes to KKR, DC, DD, CSK. Wonder why Cricinfo allows such comments to be published on its website.

  • Adeel on May 14, 2012, 8:56 GMT

    Thank you to all the unsung heroes who bought Indian cricket to the level it is now. Doing a full time job and playing cricket is unimaginable. Thanks BCCI for this gesture.

  • Deepak on May 14, 2012, 7:11 GMT

    Glad to see BCCI opening up. This will help a lot of old cricketers who played the cricket just for the love of Game.

  • Karthi Keyan on May 14, 2012, 6:46 GMT

    Fantastic article. Fantastic gesture by BCCI. What AC has said about cricketers is true about so many other professions in India in the 80s and 90s - except that many of them could not have been performed with any great passion. The generation gap (in many many ways) between ex-Cricketers and current players is extremely stark mainly because of the money factor. This gesture should reduce the heartburn among ex-cricketers atleast to an extent as they partake of the prosperity of the game.

  • Nanda Kumar on May 14, 2012, 5:13 GMT

    Qudos to BCCI. Amidst all the bad press (and some of them justified) this is a fantastic gesture. However BCCI could have done with some changes in the method of distributing the amount. They have taken 2003 as the retirement cut off and have given a graded amount based on number of matches played both Tests and Ranji. However it may be pertinent to note that the remuneration in the late 90's and early 2000's was still decent. May be the BCCI could have graded it in a manner that cricketers who have played in the 60 's and 70's when the number of test matches in a year was at best 6 - 7 could have been paid more. There could have been a different band of number of matches for these cricketers may be a combination of number of tests and ranji. these old criceters probably need the money more than the later generation who seem to have alternate avenues of earnings viz commentary, coaching, manager of the team. May merit a re think. never the less a great gesture.

  • Sandip on May 14, 2012, 5:00 GMT

    Good on ya BBCI...!! its Great News for all Cricketers..!!

  • Dummy4 on May 14, 2012, 4:55 GMT

    A wonderful gesture to the people who played a beautiful game.

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