Domestic circuit is the backbone of Indian cricket and not just the players, a lot of other individuals such as teams’ support staff and groundsmen are also dependent on it for their livelihood.
With the majority of the 2020-21 domestic season unlikely to happen due to coronavirus outbreak, many associated with the sport now find themselves in major distress.
For many working with the J&K cricket team, the situation is even worse as they have not been paid a penny for their services for the whole of the previous season (2019-20).
"We travelled with the teams for multiple events last season but while players have been paid their match fees, we are yet to receive any money," says Mujtaba Ahmad Wani, a senior video analyst who travelled with J&K’s Under-19 team for the Cooch Behar Trophy.
The overdue salaries and the added fear of no tournaments happening this time, says another member of the support staff, is hard to deal with.
"We are yet to get any money from last year and when there will be no events this time either, how will we survive?" asks a worried Sheikh Suhail, who was a part of J&K’s Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare Trophy contingent last season.
"We are wholly dependent on cricket and when there is no cricket, what are we supposed to do?" added Suhail, a BCCI-certified video analyst.
BCCI Yet to Release Funds From Last Season
The Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA), despite requesting BCCI multiple times, have not received the money they were supposed to pay the support staff.
“They (BCCI) haven’t released the money yet. We sent down thousands of mails and calls but nothing happened,” an official at the JKCA told The Quint.
"JKCA forwarded bills last February and another February is almost here but the payment is yet to arrive. Players though already received the money, " the official added.
Although the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) recently decided to hold the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (T20s), it is uncertain whether there is time to play other tournaments this season which has put countless people, apart from players, at great financial risk.
"We have given our entire life to cricket and these are the events (domestic tournaments) that give us an opportunity to earn and make a living. With little or no tournaments happening at all, we surely will be left hanging," says Suhail, a Srinagar native.
How Will BCCI’s Cancelled Season Compensation Be Decided?
Meanwhile, the BCCI, at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in December, decided to ‘compensate players, match officials and others involved in cricketing activity if tournaments are cancelled due to COVID-19’. While the move itself was welcome by all, there is no clarity on how the compensation amount will be distributed and many associated with teams fear they might not get a share.
“When we are yet to get the money for our last year’s work, how can we expect to receive the compensation money?” asks Mujtaba.
With the private sector almost-defunct in Kashmir and rare government jobs for sportspeople, these domestic events are the sole hope for those associated with the sport.
"Outside Kashmir, the majority of sportsmen are well settled with a proper job and salary, but here only a few departments recruit on sports quota. So, most of the cricketers are unemployed. Our only hope is to participate in these tournaments," says another individual who was associated with J&K coaching staff last year.
"Cricket represents me and that is all I have done in my life. Had I not been into cricket, I might have set up a business or something earlier, which could have helped me right now. But having put everything on cricket, we have nowhere to go. BCCI is known in the whole world and they should at least clear our last year dues," he added.
Players Too Have Concerns
The situation is no different for players. Apart from fearing a financial crisis, the uncertainty around a Ranji Trophy season this time does leave them with a fear over their hopes of someday playing for the national team.
"When someone plays in T20s (Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy), if he does well, he gets an IPL contract. But to play international cricket, Ranji Trophy is the yardstick. We have seen in the last 4-5 years, those who do well in Ranji get to play for zone, India 'A' and ultimately for India," remarks Owais Shah, who has 14 first-class matches to his name.
Highlighting the lack of private and government jobs for J&K cricketers, Owais says Ranji Trophy becomes much more important to them.
"As Ranji (Trophy) is a 4-day format, obviously we get more match fee. Since there are almost no jobs here for us, the professional players have to arrange everything out of what they earn from these tournaments. Cricket is a very expensive game; the kit, bats and other stuff cost in lakhs. So, when a player used to play a full domestic season, he was somehow able to both afford these gears and earn a living," the 30-year-old added.
The impact of a trimmed domestic season is not limited to financial calamity but has an equal share on players' mental health as well.
"Players sweat it out for the whole year just to play in the domestic competitions and when there is no hope of these events taking place, one loses motivation. For example, right now it seems only T20s will happen, so those who couldn't make it to the squad were shattered. Not because of their exclusion from the team but because they know there will be no more competitions. This surely impacts the players mentally," says Waseem Raza, a senior campaigner who has represented J&K in 26 First-class, 34 List-A and 26 T20 matches.
The cancellation of events, according to Waseem, ultimately harms the game itself.
"See, if a player is in good touch after having worked extremely hard, when he doesn't get a chance to make it count just because of the cancellation of an event, it hits him hard. His motivation to work harder just diminishes and he ends up losing interest. Hence this is very harmful for the game of cricket," Raza remarked.
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