After almost a year of knocking on various doors for their grievances to be heard, 17 former BCCI scorers, whose services had been terminated last year without notice or any retirement benefits, have now formally approached their respective state association heads seeking some kind of relief.
The scorers - those whose detailed scorecards form the foundation of all cricket match records - were all past 60 (with the only exception due to turn 60 during the season) and were retired in August 2019, having touched the BCCI's official retirement age. Many of them had been scoring BCCI matches since the 1980s; their pleas, which they hope will ultimately make board president Sourav Ganguly change things, are for "some sort of a pension, or even a one-time retirement benefit", even raising the retirement age to 65.
"We have been kicked out, there's no other way to put it, after all these years of service and sacrifice," Tapash Roy, a 65-year-old Assam-based BCCI-empanelled scorer, told ESPNcricinfo.
Nagaraj M, a 68-year-old scorer from Karnataka, received his appointment letter from the BCCI for the Duleep Trophy opener between India Blue and India Green in Bengaluru, starting August 17 . He got that letter on August 13 but, "within a few hours of being told about the appointment, I was told by a mail from Sports Mechanics, who inform us about our appointments, about my retirement", Nagaraj said. "There was no notice, nothing."
The other 16 scorers who are now out of work were informed by their state associations a few days later, after the latter had received a letter signed by Saba Karim, the BCCI's then general manager (cricket operations), on August 14, 2019.
A senior BCCI official ESPNcricinfo spoke to acknowledged that he was aware of the matter. "Yes, we know this has happened. We can feel bad about it as individuals, but this was done in accordance with the constitution of the BCCI. The retirement age is 60. Everyone is aware of it. There's nothing that can be done unless the new office bearers decide to change something in the constitution."
There was no formal retirement age for scorers until the Justice Lodha Committee recommendations, which mandated 60 as the retirement age for all BCCI positions. The ages of those dismissed makes this clear too: the youngest was going to turn 60 this cricket season, but the oldest, MS Rahman from Jharkhand, was 74 at the time of dismissal.
Unfortunately for the scorers, they are not contracted employees, not even on retainers, but are almost like freelancers, without any claim to benefits. That's just how it has always been, the scorers say, and they have never demanded anything more.
From the BCCI's point of view, scorers contribute 30-40 days of work every year and contracting them wouldn't be practical, as Ratnakar Shetty, the BCCI's former general manager (game development), explained. "Introducing a pension scheme wouldn't be practical. They all get 30-40 matches every year, whether a scorer or a video analyst, and they are all free to work elsewhere. Cricketers are different, but scorers and others are asked to make themselves available when needed, and they can say no," he told ESPNcricinfo.
"No one in the BCCI is contracted, except the international players. Beyond that, it becomes a matter for state associations to discuss. The salaries for scorers have been enhanced many times in the last 15 years, as has been the case across the board. Even for players, there are a lot of criteria, and they need to have retired before 2004 to avail of the BCCI pensions."
Pink slip and after
"I was visiting my son in Germany, and I got a WhatsApp message when I landed there that I had been retired. This was communicated to me by the other scorers," Gautam Roy, a 66-year-old scorer from Bengal, recalled. "We started writing to the BCCI, and to our state associations; someone or the other wrote every day, even to Sourav Ganguly, after he became the president. Lots of BCCI officials, and at CAB [Cricket Association of Bengal], accepted that we had been wronged, but nothing has happened."
The scorers - a tightly knit group given the specialised nature of their work - began sending their letters and emails immediately after getting their termination notice. There has been no progress, and according to an official from one of the associations ESPNcricinfo reached out to, "We can't do much, because while we can discuss the matter, the constitution is what it is".
One letter, signed by Senior BCCI Empanelled Scorers, dated August 29, 2019, went to Karim, calling the announcement "baffling" and "a shocker".
The letter asked for the following:
- The retirement age should be fixed at 65, subject to an annual medical test after 60 by a BCCI-approved medical practitioner with only those passing this test allowed to continue in their job
- All 17 retired scorers be permitted to work through 2019-20, and a permanent retirement policy should be worked out after that
- Consider a fixed monthly pension and/or a one-time payment at the time of retirement of the scorers in recognition of their service to the board
"We believe it when association officials we speak to tell us that they are concerned and trying to find a solution, but we haven't seen anything happen yet," Vivek Gupte (61) of Mumbai said, adding that the latest step, in the form of yet another letter, has only been sent to the 11 state associations the 17 retired scorers represent, "to ask them to put pressure on the BCCI on our behalf".
A letter from Gupte, sent to Ganguly soon after the latter became the BCCI president, is telling: "Though on paper scorers are technically mentioned as 'match officials' along with match referees and umpires, less said about the treatment meted out to the scorers, the better. Though they form an integral part for the conduct of any game of cricket, they are totally neglected and least noticed."
'Scorers don't come from affluent backgrounds'
Gautam Roy is quick to inform us that he doesn't have any financial concerns, but that most scorers do, and many of them leave regular jobs to become scorers - there are almost 150 BCCI-empanelled scorers at the moment - despite the payment, which hasn't always been good.
A bit of background here. Many of the scorers who now fall into the "retired" bracket started out in the late 1980s, and there was no payment to speak of at the time. "Sometimes we would get Rs 50 or Rs 100, but basically we worked for free, for the love of the game, because we had passion," Tapash Roy said.
In 1997 Jaywant Lele, then the BCCI secretary and a former umpire, decided to bring the scorers under the "match officials" umbrella. Tests were conducted, a batch of scorers were taken in - never recruited formally, but given certificates, and appointed on a match-by-match basis - for a fee of Rs 500 per match day. It was only in 2018-19 that it reached Rs 10,000 a day, "which is a fair sum, and we ended up earning around Rs 3 lakh a year," Gautam said.
Two particular incidents, both since the start of 2019 shook the scorers in a big way.
"As long as we are alert and medical tests come out fine, we should be allowed to work"Scorer Vivek Gupte, 61, of Mumbai
The first was the death of Kaushik Saha, a Bengal scorer, from a heart attack. Saha was from a well-to-do family but it hurt the scorers' community that the BCCI didn't do anything to help, as the insurance cover provided by the board doesn't include non-match days.
The second, more recently, had to do with Ramesh Parab, the Mumbai scorer, who had to spend more than a month in hospital after being infected by Covid-19. Parab, who suffers from a respiratory condition, was admitted to hospital on June 12 and returned home only in mid-July. But no help was forthcoming.
"All of us contributed, the entire scorers' community, and some cricketers, and the MCA [Mumbai Cricket Association] gave a large amount, and we managed to raise Rs 2.8 lakh to help Ramesh with his treatment," Gupte said.
'If Tony Choat can, why can't we?'
One of the things the scorers have repeatedly told the BCCI and state association officials they have met is that scorers should not have a retirement age and, as Gupte said, "as long as we are alert and medical tests come out fine, we should be allowed to work".
The example they use most often is that of octogenarian Tony Choat, the longest-serving scorer at Essex, who was nominated by his peers to score three games during the 2019 World Cup, including the final at Lord's on July 14, a month or so before the developments in India.
"If he can, why can't we" - it's a common refrain as we speak to the scorers. What has made the 17 in question here feel unwanted is that, forget everything else, there has been no recognition of any sort of their work.
"Not even a letter acknowledging our contribution. If we had been this bad, why keep us for all these days," Tapash asked.
Shamya Dasgupta is senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo