In a move best described by a domestic player as a "Christmas gift", the BCCI has begun to disburse the match fees it owes hundreds of domestic cricketers - male and female - for tournaments that had to be shelved due to Covid-19 in the 2020-21 season.
ESPNcricinfo understands that players from those associations who have duly sent in the filled in invoices have begun to be compensated 50% of their regular earnings.
A number of players are yet to receive payments because of procedural delays with regards to invoices raised. The delays are understood to be due to issues at the state associations' end. These are expected to be cleared soon upon receipt of invoices.
The Ranji Trophy was cancelled
for the first time in its 85-year history in 2020-21 for the senior men. In the women's category, the T20 tournament was shelved due to the severity of the second wave of the pandemic in the country.
The compensation payments are in line with the formula worked out by the Mohammad Azharuddin-led
seven-member working group, which was tasked with formulating compensation for the Covid-19-affected season by the BCCI.
A player who featured in eight games in the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy, for example, received INR 11.20 lakh (USD 15,000 approx.), the match fee per day for the four-day tournament being INR 35,000 (USD 470 approx.). For 2020-21, under the compensation structures drawn up, the same player will receive INR 5.10 lakh (USD 6,800 approx.).
Players who didn't make the XI for certain games in 2019-20 will be compensated for 2020-21 on a pro-rata basis. For example, if a player was part of a team's XI for four games and on the bench for four games in the 2019-20 season, for 2020-21 he will be compensated with 50% of the match fees for four games and 50% of the corresponding fees for players outside the starting XI for the remainder of the games.
The clearing of payments coincides with the start of the new Ranji Trophy season from January 13 to March 17 across seven venues, even as confusion reigns among certain players over further tweaks to the scheduling owing to the rise in Covid-19 cases across the country, accelerated by the Omicron variant.
Earlier in the week, the BCCI was forced to postpone the Under-16 tournament
, the Vijay Merchant Trophy, because "participants are still not vaccinated and as such, are vulnerable" as per BCCI secretary Jay Shah. Those below 18 years of age are still not eligible to take the vaccine in the country; eligible recipients in the age group of 15-18 years will only be administered Covid-19 vaccines starting from January 3.
Regarding payments for 2021-22, the board had earlier announced a significant increase in match fees for domestic players. The new pay slabs, which will be in place from this season, will have the senior men earning between INR 40,000 and 60,000 (USD 540 to 810 approx.) per day of cricket while senior women will earn up to INR 20,000 (USD 270 approx.) per day.
That hike is a small one for the players in the first category (under 20 matches) but an almost 100% hike for more experienced hands (40-plus games), while those who have played between 21 and 40 matches will earn INR 50,000 (USD 680 approx.). Earlier, senior men's cricketers earned INR 35,000 (USD 470 approx.) per day for first-class and one-day games regardless of how many caps they had, and INR 17,500 (USD 240 approx.) per game for T20s.
For the senior women players, who earlier earned INR 12,500 (USD 170 approx.) per one-day match and INR 6,250 (USD 85 approx.) per T20 match, the pay has been raised to INR 20,000 for playing XI members and INR 10,000 (USD 135 approx.) for those on the bench in both limited-overs formats. There currently isn't a first-class competition for women in India, the last multi-day women's tournament in the country - the 2017-2018 Senior Women's Inter-Zonal Three-Day Game - having been held in March-April 2018.
While the hikes have been welcomed by the playing fraternity, there's disgruntlement at a significant reduction in the number of matches
. In 2019-20, for example, each side played eight group matches in the Ranji Trophy followed by three knockout games (if they made the final). This time around, teams will play just five group matches, which significantly reduce the net increase in pay.
Players across the country are hoping to address this issue at the conclusion of the current season, when the BCCI organises their annual captains and coaches conclave.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo