In an ironical twist to the ongoing issue of commercial rights, the Indian players are getting increasingly agitated about being "taken for granted" by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which itself is in combat mode against the International Cricket Council to protect its commercial rights.
Several members of the Indian team are upset at the manner in which the BCCI has struck commercial deals without consulting them, and they are particularly anxious about the state of their personal rights in regards to the sporting apparel deal with Nike and the formal wear deal with Pantaloon.
While players understand the broad rationale behind these deals and are ready to cooperate with the board, their concerns stem from the lack of openness from the BCCI. Many leading Indian players have personal endorsement deals with rival companies and are unsure about the extent to which the deal with Nike is likely to affect them.
The matter has come to a head with Nike beginning to sell t-shirts bearing the names of players who are not, at least to their knowledge, receiving a percentage from the sale, which is a norm worldwide. Players like Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag are contracted to Adidas while Rahul Dravid, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are with Reebok.
The players are also upset about being asked to wear the team-sponsor logo on their trousers unlike their Australian counterparts who are obliged to only sport t-shirts with the logo of the official sponsor. Adam Gilchrist or Ricky Ponting, wear Puma and Kookaburra respectively on their trousers, while the team is sponsored by Adidas.
The matter of the logo on the trousers cropped up during the Pakistan tour earlier this year, and according to a player, they wore Nike trousers as a goodwill gesture. But now the players feel that the goodwill they have shown is not being reciprocated. "We wore the Nike logo on the trousers even though we did not really have to," said one player. "We thought the board would be more understanding in the future and consult us before signing fresh deals. But that doesn't seem to be the case."
A senior BCCI official revealed that during the pre-season camp in Bangalore several members of the team had approached Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, and Professor Ratnakar Shetty, currently the administrative head, with concerns about merchandising. It is believed that the players and the officials reached an informal agreement that something would be worked out - ie a percentage of earnings from shirts bearing specific names being shared with the player - before the merchandise was rolled out.
Informal agreements aside, the board is bound to take the players into confidence, and consult them, before signing deals that could affect pre-existing individual sponsorships. This is a part of the contract the BCCI has signed with its players.
With the Nike deal causing a bit of a brouhaha, the players were assured that no further deals would be entered into without them being consulted. Then, to their surprise, the BCCI announced that it had struck a deal with Pantaloon, a clothing manufacturer, pertaining to the formal wear the team would be attired in during tours and other official events. The players are yet to even see this contract.
"See, we realise that a certain amount of give-and-take is inevitable," another player said, "but now we are being pushed into a corner and there is a sense of frustration that the board is not taking us into confidence." This feeling also extends to the scheduling of matches, which is a key issue in which the board is meant to consult with the players, and has failed to do so. Although no player is, as yet, taking on the board on these issues, it is learned that several are losing patience with the current situation.
When Shetty was asked if the board and the players had reached an agreement on a percentage of earnings from merchandise bearing specific names of players being passed on to the relevant individuals, he said, "No, there is nothing like that." When pressed further, he said, "I am not aware of this and can't tell you more off-hand." Repeated attempts to reach Niranjan Shah and Lalit Modi failed.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo