On March 8, 2018, BCCI proudly announced that the top Indian women’s team players will take home Rs 50 lakh per annum. It was a massive hike from the previous retainer contract of Rs 15 lakh. The Board had good intentions and it was the great occasion of International Women’s Day for the announcement. However, the reactions from the ones outside the national team were scornful to say the least.
“Indian women’s cricket’s biggest problem is not the pay gap, but the lack of depth. And it is there that the funds need to go. So, sorry Mithali Raj, I don’t care if you don’t get as much as Virat Kohli,” former India seamer and broadcaster Snehal Pradhan wrote in her column for The Quint soon after.
Thursday’s announcement of equal match fee for men’s and women’s team players didn’t need to be an auspicious day. New Board members were appointed more than a week ago, Diwali was done. It was time to get work done.
For long, equal pay for women has been a burning question for the world’s richest board. Most of the discussion did not have much to do with the female players’ match fee as it has been flat Rs 1 lakh for T20I/ODI since last decade.
“We used to get one lakh for an ODI and for the Tests we played, there was no individual pay as there was a payment done for the team as a whole,” former India wicket-keeper Karuna Jain, who played five Tests, 44 ODIs and nine T20Is from 2004 to 2014, recalls.
For the men’s team, receiving hefty payment was common by the ‘90s before match fee for a single game became the norm.
“In my first tour of Australia in 1991-92, I got Rs 30,000 for the entire series,” former India captain Sourav Ganguly told India Today in a 2010 interview.
Ganguly had only played in the practice game against ACB chairman’s XI in that tour where India played a Test against Australia followed by eight matches in the Benson & Hedges World Series. By the time he retired in 2008, individual match fee was the least-asked question to male cricketers.
“I got Rs 4 lakh in the last Test I played two years ago,” Ganguly said in the same interview.
The country’s obsession with the men’s team meant the women’s team was reduced to token celebrations. Their welfare had become a pertinent discussion only after they reached the 2017 ODI World Cup final.
“It (reaching the World Cup final) was a turning point for a lot of things. You can just compare the amount of matches the team was getting before and after that,” Jain says.
India women had played 14 ODIs in 12 months leading into the 2017 World Cup. In the same year, the team did not play T20Is at all. Since then, there has been a steady increase in the number of games played. They have played 53 ODIs and 79 T20Is and also returned to Test whites in 2019 and 2021 against England and Australia.
However, the gap between the male players of the Grade C category and female players in the Grade A category remains the same. The increased match fee will benefit the ones who are not on the central contract list. The likes of Renuka Singh, Sabbineni Meghana, Simran Dil Bahadur, Dayalan Hemalatha, Yastika Bhatia, Meghna Singh, Kiran Navgire and Ekta Bisht have all played a match or more across both formats, but do not have annual contracts which are set to be renewed before the 2023 T20 World Cup in February.
Seeing with a monochromatic lens, it might just be another small stunt by the BCCI. India women don’t have any matches confirmed between now and February 12, when they will face Pakistan in the T20 World Cup opener in Cape Town. There haven’t been Test matches either at home or away in the last 12 months. Will the players in the domestic circuit match fee, who earn Rs 20,000 per match, receive a hike after this? There are few more questions and years of nurture before a world title, which has remained agonizingly close, becomes a reality.
Australia remains a prime example of the rewards reaped by investing in the women’s game. Cricket Australia (CA) were the first to recognize the pay gap and make amends with a reward of USD 600,000 for the 2020 T20 World Cup winning women’s team. The presence of Women’s Big Bash League and steady investment in the women’s domestic structure has helped them widen the talent pool and sweep all the world titles in the last three years.
From India’s perspective, approving the Women’s IPL and erasing the disparity in match fee are big steps in the right direction for the BCCI. The inaugural Women’s Under-19 World Cup in South Africa next year also offers a great chance for increasing the reserve talent for the country. It should’ve come sooner, but better late than never.