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Batting for our cricketers

Faisal Shariff

At a promotional event two days ago, Sachin Tendulkar, attired in a dark gray suit, walked out to bat for his team mates.

"Immediately after losing the last match (against the West Indies at Vijayawada), some of the Indian players were shooting in Panvel," said a scribe, thrusting the microphone towards Tendulkar.

'Whatís wrong with that? As long as they were not shooting during the match or on the day of the match, I donít think it is an issue. Rather than pointing the finger at the players, people should appreciate that they have been doing well,' Tendulkar shot back.

A barrage of questions followed, but that one single response stuck in my mind throughout most of what followed.

They say, these days, that Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand has refused more than one endorsement contract because he cannot concentrate on giving the sponsor his best; and if he does, it will be at the expense of his game. What makes this even more impressive is that Anand does not get anywhere near the kind of endorsement money Indian cricketers make.

Sachin Tendulkar Here are some figures for comparison: Anand's deal with computer education company NIIT is worth Rs 50 million, as opposed to Tendulkarís contract with WorldTel, which nets him Rs One billion over five years.

Tendulkarís estimated net worth is Rs 1.37 billion; Vishwanathan Anand weighs in at about Rs 90.6 million.

You would say, then, that if an Anand can sacrifice an endorsement contract or three, then the higher paid cricketer should certainly be willing to do so.

But wait a moment, and look again.

Anand earns, besides prize-money at the tournaments he participates in, appearance fees that range from $100,000 (Rs 4.7 million) to $250,000 (Rs 10.2 million) per event. He earned $660,000 (Rs 30.1 million) when he became world champion in December 2000.

Or take Leander Paes. Indiaís most outstanding tennis player in the last decade is, arguably, falling off a bit in recent times from the high standards he set himself, at least in part, thanks to his split with one-time friend and partner Mahesh Bhupathi. And yet, till date, he earns more in prize-money than he does through endorsements. In 1999, for instance (and I pick that year because that is the last for which I have figures), he earned $800,000 (approximately Rs 30.7 million) as prize-money, and only Rs four-odd million from endorsements.

As opposed to this, an Indian cricketer -- more accurately, all Indian cricketers, from a Tendulkar to say, an L Balaji, earns Rs 180,000 per five-day Test, and Rs 120,000 per ODI. You work-out the math for the year and compare it against the appearance fee and prize-money an Anand makes in just one tournament.

Done the math and got the figure? Now halve it, because for some weird reason, the BCCI believes that it is the grand pappy of the players. So what it does, it keeps half their fees -- and gives it, as gratuity, to the player on his retirement. In passing, does your company do that to you -- keep half your monthly salary back?

Also, consider this: An Anand, or a Paes, gets to pick and choose the tournaments they will play in, and the ones they will not; no questions asked in the media. If they feel off form, they can take the decision to skip a tournament, or three. Now imagine the outcome if a Tendulkar or a Ganguly were to announce, ahead of the New Zealand series, that he does not feel like going on tour because he would rather rest and get ready for the World Cup. The debate would rage on front pages for days and, inevitably, it would be said that the player is staying back so he could focus on his commercial interests.

The point should be clear: top sportsmen in other fields earn very well from the sport they play. What comes in by way of endorsements is secondary. An Indian cricketer, on the other hand, earns chick feed from playing -- most of the lolly comes in from sponsors.

It is a point to think about when next the topic of the greedy Indian cricketer comes up. Is the administration contributing to that Ďgreedí by earning hundreds of millions through the sweat of the cricketers, and yet paying them a mere pittance?

"Advertising and playing cricket are two different things. What we do on the other side of the rope stays on the field and what we do outside the field stays there. At no point of time does it affect our concentration or our hunger to go out there and perform well and win. We want to win whether we endorse eight products or no products," Tendulkar went on to say.

My argument is, why this constant questioning of what cricketers do with their own time? The question of the players shooting for a contract the day after the India-West Indies final game is a case in point: Would it have been okay if they won the match? Or again, suppose that the day after the final game, the Indian players had spent time with their families, or gone to bed and slept 24 hours straight to shake off their fatigue, would you question it?

Sachin Tendulkar Obviously not. Which underlines the point: the time outside of playing and practicing is private property for the individual player to use as he pleases, so long as it does not have an impact on his performance on the field of play.

When, not so long ago, Jagmohan Dalmiya prevented some players from traveling to South Africa in between two series for a commercial shoot, he was within his rights. That time was for rest and recuperation before another tough outing, and the players didnít need a tiring international sojourn in between. But where is the issue here?

John Wright made the point. This year, the Indian team has a 64 per cent success rate, and in the process, not only won Tests abroad, something that past teams failed to do for 16 years, but also pulled off some stunning one-day victories. So for Godís sake, why are we still on their case?

True, this is not to say we sit back and be complacent, and not ask searching questions. We need to -- so by all means, let us ask questions about this recent India-Windies one-day series, questions designed to find out why we lost. But surely, it is no oneís case that we lost the series because the cricketers had a photo shoot the day after the last match!

Over the last week, Indian cricketers have made several promotional appearances -- not surprisingly. As Tendulkar pointed out, all companies are keen to kick-off campaigns ahead of the World Cup. So what? The ICC is making money out of the Cup, the BCCI is making money, television companies are making money, corporate sponsors are making hay -- so why on earth is there this carping and needling when it comes to the players?

Equally, why is it that no one ever mentions the number of appearances -- well away from the glare of publicity -- that stars make for charity events?

In passing, here are excerpts of other questions thrown at Tendulkar that day, and his responses:

Is the pressure building on you to bring the World Cup to India?

'Expectations are high and we know our responsibilities. We want to go out there, win and come back with the Cup.'

Has the team peaked too early?

'We take it series by series. The New Zealand tour is important for us.'

What is this promotional meeting all about?

'All companies will want their promotions built around the World Cup, which is a big event. Why not?'

Who is the toughest opponent for India?

'Any team on its day. After all, it is the World Cup; you donít take any team lightly.'

Will you open the innings again?

'Each time I answer this question, it raises needless controversy; I donít want to answer this.'

Is it time we stopped experimenting with the team?

'I donít think we have experimented too much. And any ways, we have been winning more than we have lost, plus there have been injuries to established players. One or two experiments should not disturb the combination of the team.'

How will the tracks in New Zealand behave?

'From what I gather, the tracks have been re-laid. I think they will be more on the pacy side with good bounce. Based on what I saw on television, they are look a lot like South African tracks.'

Also see: Player Watch
Photographs: Jewella Miranda

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