Equal Pay for Women Cricketers: Gaps to be Filled after BCCI's Baby Step

Now that the euphoria about BCCI's announcement of equal pay for women cricketers is settling down, it's time to point out that there is still a yawning gap in the annual contract amounts

Equal Pay for Women Cricketers: Gaps to be Filled after BCCI's Baby Step

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Is women’s cricket in India finally moving towards gender equality? The positive vibes at the news of BCCI announcing equal match fees for women’s national teams across all formats makes one believe that it’s a step in the right direction.

For those familiar with the chequered history of the Women in Blue, just short of a half a century old in India (the first women’s nationals were held in Patna in 1973), it’s a landmark decision. All the buzz over the decision, coming in the wake of the formal announcement of the Women’s IPL starting in March 2023, showed that the likes of Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana are doing something right.

The tipping point was possibly the 50 overs World Cup in England in 2017, where the Indian women’s team finished as the runners-up, but this recognition of their worth is the culmination of a long journey that began with the likes of Shanta Rangaswamy and Diana Eduljee and was continued by Anjum Chopra, Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami and others.

Speaking to National Herald, Goswami, the highest wicket-taker in ODIs (one-day Internationals) in world cricket felt it was a watershed moment in the history of the women’s game. “The transition has happened before my eyes during my two-decade-long career.

BCCI, the richest cricket board in the world, was the third to implement (a measure of) pay parity, after New Zealand and Australia. The changes will certainly make a significant impact in the earnings of Harmanpreet Kaur & Co: fees for each Test match have been raised to Rs 15 lakh from Rs 2.5 lakh (which is on par with men) and for ODIs and T20 Internationals to Rs 6 lakh and Rs 3 lakh, respectively, from Rs 1 lakh earlier.

But now that the euphoria is settling down, it’s also time to ask if the new benefits will trickle down to levels below the elite 20-odd players of the national team.

There is still a yawning gap in the annual contract entitlements of men and women players. Grade ‘A’ male cricketers (like K.L. Rahul and R. Ashwin) make Rs 5 crore a year while the ‘A+’ men (the elite trio of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah) earn Rs 7 crore. A woman ‘A’-grader (Harmanpreet), on the other hand, gets Rs 50 lakh, and those in Grades ‘B’ and ‘C’ earn Rs 30 lakh and Rs 10 lakh, respectively.

There is, of course, a marked difference in their workloads, the volume of cricket in the FTP (Future Tours Programme) of India’s men and women cricketers. The Women in Blue are scheduled to play two Tests, 27 ODIs and 36 T20Is during their FTP cycle of 2022-25 and the T20 World Cup in South Africa early next year.

The Indian men’s team, in contrast, are scheduled to play 32 Tests, 33 ODIs and 41 T2OIs as bilateral fixtures during this period, according to the FTP released by the ICC. This apart, they will figure in two World Cups (50 overs in 2023, T20 in 2024 and the 50 overs Champions Trophy in 2025).

Goswami, who has seen women’s cricket struggle through some dark phases in her initial years (till the Women’s Cricket Association of India merged with the BCCI in 2007), says the move to equal their match fees is a good start, and that other entitlements will also gradually follow.

“We can’t expect everything in one go, as women’s cricket is still far behind the men’s game in terms of viewership. Even in tennis, it took a long struggle to reach pay parity. We have been taking baby steps to improve the lot of women cricketers. Our central contract system was introduced in 2015 and now this has happened,’’ Goswami says.

Will the ‘pay parity’ move, then, make a significant change in the earnings of her tribe? “We can certainly do with more Tests, but barring England and Australia, most nations want to play white ball cricket for commercial reasons. This, in turn, reflects in our FTP,’’ Goswami says.

The announcement of a Women’s IPL, which senior women cricketers had been demanding for quite some time, is another move that will both deepen the talent pool and improve the lot of women cricketers down the supply chain.

The three-team affair at a single venue, which the BCCI had been shoehorning into the men’s IPL for the past few years, was a nonevent, but the plan to have five teams play on a home-and-away basis will be a more credible affair.

In private conversations, BCCI officials express doubts about the readiness of the women’s game for a full-fledged IPL. There isn’t a large enough pool of uncapped women players nor enough potential sponsors, they say.

For the proposed event, each team is expected to register a minimum of 12 Indian and six overseas players, which will create a pool of 60 homegrown players.

‘’It could be a life-changing experience for uncapped players, but we need to take one step at a time,’’ Diana Eduljee, former India captain and erstwhile member of the Supreme Court-appointed committee in charge of BCCI, said recently.

Goswami, however, is quite upbeat about the depth in grassroots talent. “It’s a wrong notion that there isn’t enough talent in domestic cricket. It often goes under the radar that the 30-odd states and Union Territories have their own teams taking part in domestic competitions and there shouldn’t be a problem creating a supply line of 60-odd players,’’ she says.

The women’s domestic calendar for 2022-23, scheduled between October 2022 and March 2023, has 11 white ball fixtures—betraying a clear bias for the shorter formats. Figures released by the ICC, after the last edition of the T20 World Cup for women in Australia (2020), saw global viewing hours increase from 55.9 million (2018) to 113.5 million—a 103 per cent increase; India accounted for 76 per cent of total viewing hours.

Not unexpected really, given that the Indian women made it the final, where they went down to the hosts.

The key takeaway from these audience figures is that interest in the women’s game will only increase if the Indian women’s team continues to do well, and those prospects, in turn, can only improve as the talent pool widens and there are more opportunities for upcoming talent to share a stage with some of the best in the international arena.

Going by the experience of the men’s IPL, that is more than likely to happen. And as more money comes into the women’s game, so will the BCCI surely loosen its purse strings.

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