Perhaps the brightest lining on the clouds of controversy hanging heavy above the current Indian Premier League (IPL), (fixing, Bollywood brawls, post-match parties and molestation charges) is that the tourney Playoffs have become the venue for the powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) extraordinary gesture of awarding one-time payments to former players. The Board is digging into a substantial Rs 70 crore surplus to award ex-greats for their service to the game. While the BCCI has drawn up a list of former cricketers to be honoured in different categories (see box) including widows of deceased players, it has bypassed former women players who played in an era, when they got Rs 0 for playing for the country and paid out of their pockets to be able to travel and play.
While some women claim they are shocked at the exclusion, others believe the Board’s munificence might extend to them — if not immediately, then in the near future. Mumbai’s Diana Edulji, one of the best-known names in women’s cricket says that, “This is definitely such a good gesture by the cricket Board, it is making so much money and one of the reasons why the Board has made this kind of money is because of the cricketers. So, it is worthy of applause when they decide to give back something to the cricketers. There are so many who need financial assistance and even the widows of cricketers are awarded, which is wonderful. I wish though that the Board had thought about us (women cricketers) who have only played because of the love for the game. In the 1970s, when we used to play we got nothing at all as match fees, in fact, we used to pay out of our own pocket to play. On my first overseas tour in 1976 to Australia-New Zealand, only those who could pay the airfare went, in a way, we literally bought our places in the team.”
Diana remembers the 1981 World Cup in New Zealand where there were four players from Maharashtra —V Bhagat, D Edulji, S Kulkarni and A Pendharkar. “We had no funds, so we approached the Chief Minister A R Antulay at that time. I recall, Antulay landing on the tarmac of the Delhi airport, where he gave us a cheque and then we were off to New Zealand to play the World Cup!” Talk about advance preparation! Playing for nothing except passion and pride, the women are now bitterly disappointed that the Board has passed them up when it comes to money from the surplus. “Since the BCCI has been so generous and given us too a pension like they do the male players, I think the Board must reconsider and show their trademark generosity this time too,” ends India’s celebrated former player.
The word shocked does not figure in former cricketer, Chennai-based Susan Pallikal’s lexicon, but “surprise” certainly does. And, it is certainly not pleasantly surprised, in this case. “I was just talking to the others and we all are a bit surprised at this omission. Especially since the BCCI has included women in its pension scheme every month. They are so efficient. Every month, we need not fret or send a reminder. We get a message and the amount of pension is credited to our account. So, to be left out of this, first we thought it must be a miss, it must have slipped their mind. We wrote a letter to the Board too a fortnight ago. They got the letter but there has been no reply,” explains Susan.
Susan says that the women too are a part of the BCCI. Incidentally, the men and women both are administered by the BCCI, so the women's cricket too comes under the BCCI umbrella. “We are not on a warpath,” clarifies Susan, “We just want to request the Board not to forget us. We have also played for India with pride, so if India’s powerful cricket body recognises us too, that would be good.” Susan turns the clock back to the days, when women played simply to wear the baggy India cap with pride. “We had no sponsorships and no money. We would travel unreserved in trains to different venues of the country, staying in hotels nobody has heard of. One M K Sharma, used to run from pillar to post, collecting funds for us to travel.” Says the all-rounder, who would open the bowling and come in to bat at about 4-down for India about the team's travails, “Sometimes, we would stay all night at the Delhi train station. Once, I remember we lit a bonfire on the Itarsi (Madhya Pradesh) station, as we waited to change trains as it was so cold.” Incidentally, Susan’s daughter, Dipika Pallikal, is a well-known squash player. Dipika trains in Australia, and her mother, laughs a little wryly as she ends, “Thank God she plays squash and not cricket.”
Shantha Rangaswamy though simply says that it would have been, “nice” if the Board had thought of them, but “I am sure they will recognise us I am willing to bide my time, till they do. Money is important for an individual but the game is supreme, it comes first,” says the Bangalore-based former player. Shantha is positive that the Board will recognise them in time, since women’s cricket too is part of the BCCI. Meanwhile, she has a message to the Board, “Re-introduce the U-16 section for women’s cricket as a woman cricketer’s career span is very short. By keeping only the U-19, it is too late by the time a player peaks. Women usually then, move on to other responsibilities like marriage and a family, so their time is very limited. Not everybody is single like Diana (Edulji) and me.” Shantha also echoes a common sentiment, “Women should play more Test matches, instead of concentrating on T20s and 50-over games. We must have more Tests; let them play a two-day format. At least that is vital to hone technique in the game. Maybe, we need to interact with the Board differently and handle this surplus situation differently with the large-hearted Board,” ends the Arjuna awardee.
All-rounder Shashi Gupta, who is also on the BCCI panel currently representing the women’s committee says, “It is up to the BCCI to decide about this. A letter has been sent to them, we cannot say what will happen.” She then trains her guns on this reporter saying, “If you are so worried about equality, why don’t you media give equal importance to women’s cricket? So many games are being held and so much is being done in the women’s game, but it is not given any publicity. There is nobody to speak up or help us even when talented players are not selected — if players are dropped and not given a chance to prove themselves, they will give up cricket, get married and start making rotis,” ends Shashi who one hopes displayed the same aggro when she played on the field between 1984 and 1993. Non-player Anuradha Misra, also part of the BCCI and representing the women’s committee prefers the wait ‘n’ watch approach, “I am optimistic that a decision will be taken soon, sometimes things take a little time. Maybe, we have to put forth our demands in a co-ordinated and proper way,” signs off the Delhi-based official.
When Sudha Shah would stroke the ball for a celestial cover drive “her favourite shot” the ball, hitting the sweet spot of the willow, it all sort of clicked for this woman who used to bat at No 3 for India between 1975 and 1991 and coached the Indian team between 1999 and 2010. Sudha says it would be “nice” if the BCCI included them in this initiative. “They have thought about us in the pension scheme, so it would really help if we could be included here too,” opined Sudha. Mumbai’s Anjali Pendharkar has left her playing days behind, but she continues to be involved with the game. Anjali is part of the Women’s Committee of the BCCI and represents the West Zone. There is one Convenor from each zone — the North, South, East, West and Central. Says Anjali, “Overall, the BCCI has Rs 70 crore as surplus. Has the BCCI said that this is the final list of players? They haven’t — so we (the women) are staying positive. We have approached the BCCI and the Women's Committee has put this across to them, in the unlikely event of they not including us, then, we will see.”
For Shubhangi Kulkarni it would not be out of place for the BCCI to do this, “As they are looking after other aspects of the women’s game and its welfare.” The former leg spinner and middle order bat, cites the pension as how the Board is looking after the women’s game. Going by the principles of natural justice, the women too, deserve a slice of the BCCI pie. The omission is certainly hurtful. If it is an oversight, it needs to be rectified. After all, one cannot live on love and fresh air alone, even though that love for the game burnt in these women like a bright, orange bonfire on a desperately cold Itarsi train station.
Board Bole Toh!
Says N Srinivasan, president, Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), “I cannot say anything. The Indian Premier League (IPL) surplus is being given to the men cricketers and widows of male cricketers. I can only comment on the decision that has been taken.
” When asked if there were any plans to include former women cricketers, Srinivasan stonewalled the query simply reiterating, "I can only comment on the decision taken."
The BCCI pension scheme
Some years ago, the Board initiated a pension scheme for former Test players and umpires. According to this scheme, players who have represented India in Tests for a certain number of years, get a certain amount of money every month from the Board. They are entitled to get this for life. Women cricketers too, are included in the pension scheme.
Revenue to Former Players
The Playoff matches of the DLF IPL 2012 witnessed a tribute by the BCCI. The surplus revenue to BCCI from IPL and CL-T20 was utilised to make a one-time payment to international and first-class cricketers who retired before 2004, in recognition of their services to Indian cricket.
A total of 70 crore has started being distributed amongst these stalwarts. Even widows are eligible for the one-time payment.
The beneficiaries have been divided into the following categories:
A category: Cricketers who have played more than 100 Test matches. Rs: 1.5 crore.
B category: Cricketers who have played between 75 and 99 Test matches. Rs:1.0 crore.
C category: Cricketers who have played between 50 and 74 Test matches. Rs: 75 lakh.
D category: Cricketers who have played between 25 and 49 Test matches. Rs: 60 lakh.
E category: Cricketers who have played between 10 and 24 Test matches. Rs: 50 lakh.
F category: Cricketers who have played between 1 and 9 Test matches and who have played their last international match before 1970. Rs: 35 lakh.
G category: Cricketers who have played 100 and more First Class matches. Rs: 30 lakh.
H category: Cricketers who have played between 75 and 99 First Class matches. Rs: 25 lakh.
Three One Day Internationals (ODIs) will be considered the equivalent of one Test match. Accordingly, a cricketer who may have played say only one Test, but a 100 ODIs, will be considered part of the 'between 25 and 49 Tests' bracket.