After much dilly-dallying and several rounds of confabulation, the Board of Control for Cricket in India announced annual contracts for men and women earlier this week. Predictably, there have been points of debate and discussion – ‘Why is X in this category’? ‘Why does Y not even figure among those awarded contracts’? ‘Why this massive disparity between the men and the women’?
These are inevitable questions that sometimes devolve into heated arguments, but what I find particularly fascinating is the people who arrived at the names, the categories and the numbers.
The office-bearers of the BCCI, acting or otherwise, were steadfastly kept out of the loop, it has emerged. The two-member Committee of Administrators headed by Vinod Rai authorised, we have been told, the MSK Prasad-led national selection panel to make its recommendations, without involving Amitabh Choudhary, the acting BCCI secretary who is the convener of the selection committee. Now, Choudhary has a problem with that, and who is to say he is not justified?
The consensus within the corridors of (snipped) powers in the BCCI is that the CoA is biting off more than it can chew, that it has got its fingers in all pies except the pie that it was supposed to bake. A former India cricketer recently used the word ‘star-struck’ when he referred to the Rai-Diana Edulji combine, parroting what Ramchandra Guha, an erstwhile CoA panelist, had said in his letter of resignation last year. The CoA was established more than a year back to ensure the implementation of the Lodha Committee reforms ratified by the Supreme Court. In all this time, we are no closer to that goal being achieved, even as the CoA has repeatedly dabbled in issues in which it has no mandate, and on matters where its expertise is only second best to the Board officials, however much in contempt the CoA might hold them.
On the face of it, the contracts seem reasonably fair. The push late last year by Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ravi Shastri to get the retainer fees enhanced massively has paid off with monies far more commensurate with the rest of the top cricketing nations. Who is to say that Kohli does not deserve a guaranteed sum of Rs 7 crore per year, in addition to match fees and daily allowances and winning bonuses? The fixed sum is an insurance against injuries as much as form, and especially given how the BCCI pride themselves on being the richest, most progressive cricket board in the world, this is a figure that is certainly acceptable. No one can grudge Kohli that, but can the same be said of some of the other members of the newly-created A+ category?
Kohli apart, those in the A+ category are Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Given that information comes in dribs and drabs, and that the BCCI couldn’t be bothered about explaining to the wider world on what basis players have been slotted into different categories, it is learnt that the occupants of the topmost category are those that are certainties in all formats and therefore must be suitably compensated. Neither Dhawan nor Rohit played in India’s last Test match – against South Africa in Johannesburg towards the end of January. Just saying.
The other nugget that has slipped through is that players in the top-10 rankings in any category have been ‘rewarded’ with an A+ contract. Ravindra Jadeja occupies the No. 3 spot in the ICC rankings for Test bowlers, R Ashwin – clearly India’s most prolific match-winner over the last half-decade – is at No. 6. They have both been put out to pasture so far as white-ball cricket is concerned since August last year. And they both have been bracketed in the A category , not A+. Just saying.
When the annual contracts were out last year, there was a clear, stated emphasis on making sure that the Test players were given the importance that the longest format commands. Therefore, both Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay, neither of whom has been a serious contender in the limited-overs sides, were placed in the highest group in recognition of their standing in the Test match team. This time, like Jadeja and Ashwin, they have been relegated to the second section even though the retainership for all these players has shot up massively. Perhaps, had there been a wider explanation instead of talking selectively, there would have been a greater understanding of the thinking behind these moves. Unfortunately, with that not being the case, one can only second-guess the CoA/national selectors’ thought process, and that is never a good thing.
Dhoni’s presence in group A shouldn’t have created that much of a furore – and it didn’t – because the former captain has been retired from Test cricket for more than three years now. Unlike the others, he is unavailable for one format of the game; the others have been omitted on cricketing grounds, with the proviso that no doors are shut to them. Through this latest list, are the selectors saying that the white-ball doors are permanently closed on Ashwin and Jadeja? Or, in the unlikely event as things stand now of them earning a recall to the 50-over and 20-over teams, they will be upgraded to A+ status?