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How IPL transformed the dreams of budding cricketers in India

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Last updated on 20 Apr 2023 | 10:09 AM
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How IPL transformed the dreams of budding cricketers in India

For the longest time, cricket in India wasn’t viewed as one to feed a family but the inaugural edition of IPL changed it all

“Cricket soru poduma (Will cricket feed you?)” was a quintessential saying for all the aspiring cricketers prior to the envisioning of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Until the advent of the IPL, cricket was viewed as a mere passion in several Indian households.

Domestic cricketers' toil was tough, and it wasn’t even guaranteed that their hard work would transform into economic success. That was really when the term “playing for India is the ultimate dream” became clichéd. 

You either played for India, or you dreamt of playing for India, given how the health of the sport was. Even the ones who had played international cricket had to be dependent on other avenues to feed their families but in 2008, everything changed. 

“Compared to the small entitled group of international players, the life of the average player on the domestic circuit is tough. On the road for months, he faces serious financial insecurity,” wrote former BCCI administrator Amrit Mathur in a column for Hindustan Times.

“The money isn’t bad but harsh conditions apply— without contract, salary, regular job or stable income he is solely dependent on match fees, which is subject to selection.”

305 players have toiled hard, and in return, have gone on to play the longest format - Test cricket - for the nation but that hasn’t guaranteed riches to any of them, as the IPL has since 2008. Stable income was no longer a dream, it was a reality that was waiting for these players to realise. 

In the pre-IPL era, domestic cricketers who were regular in their respective setups earned approximately 10% of the base price (INR 2 lakh) per year. Since 2014, when the data for all uncapped players sold is available, the average money that was spent by the various franchises on uncapped players was INR 40.97 crore in an Auction window, with the highest being in 2022 - when franchises decided to shell 109.2 crores, and the lowest being in 2015 when only 8.8 crores were spent.  

Back in 2014, when the franchises had to build a core unit for the next few years, INR 37.84 crores were spent on uncapped talents, with Karn Sharma going for INR 3.75 crores. Over the next few years, the amount reached INR 40 crores in 2016, jumping nearly three crores more.

Later when the franchises were tasked to set up a core in 2018, the amount jumped to 97 crores, showing the value of uncapped talents in a competition such as the IPL. In the last Mega Auction that we had (2022), the sum grew in magnitude to 109 crores, which was the peak for any season, with 93 players being bought by the franchises. 

Indirectly or directly, the success of the IPL has in return helped to increase the pay of the domestic players but still, playing in domestic tournaments isn’t quite appreciable. While some cricketers travel across the country, playing various private tournaments, others opt to travel the world seeking opportunities. 

How IPL changed lives - a case study

In December 2019, 17-year-old Yashasvi Jaiswal was snapped at 12 times his base price, earning INR 2.4 crore. Until the age of 11, Jaiswal just had a dream, and a ticket to Mumbai. In a tent adjacent to Muslim United Sports Club, the southpaw did it all - from selling paani puris to selling fruits - to make ends meet. 

But the grand success of IPL showed him that there was a light at the end of his cricketing tunnel. In an otherwise world, the southpaw would still have had to continue his pursuit to play for the national team for economical viability. But overnight, just a sign on the IPL contract changed his life. 

Just a couple of years before Jaiswal realised his dream, there was Mohammed Siraj, son of an auto driver, who also had his eyes set on fulfilling a career in the sport that saw millions pumped into it. Sunrisers had shelled INR 2.6 crore for the speedster, who saw his life turn around and since then, his dad stopped driving an auto. 

While playing for India was still his biggest dream, he no longer had to depend on it as a source of income for himself and his family, IPL had played the perfect feeder to those dreams. In 2022, that sum of INR 2.6 crore increased multi-fold, as the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) retained him for a sum of INR 7 crore, fulfilling a big dream of his. 

Toil, sacrifice, drama and plenty of dedication - demonstrate Thangarasu Natarajan’s journey as a cricketer. Growing up, his back was always against the wall, with his father working as a daily wage labourer, but he never gave up the sport. His mom too had a stall, where she would sell chicken pakoda in Chinnappampatti. 

In fact, it was only at the age of 20 when he made a switch from a tennis ball to a cricket ball did he realise that there was a life in front. Jump to 2017, there was an INR 3 crore paycheck waiting for him, something that then not only helped him fulfill a dream but also propelled him to fulfil other dreams as well. 

“Most of the boys come from struggling families. So, me (Natarajan) and Jayaprakash try our best to take care of them. From buying balls to mats – we take care of everything. If they bring shoes and whites, that’s enough,” Natarajan said in a conversation with Arun Venugopal on his YouTube channel Gethist Creative. 

“So, if those players have any gear which they don’t use, we tend to pass it onto the boys in Chinnapampatti. Till I’m here, I’ll try my best to take care of the needs of the boys at the academy,” Natarajan added.

Sure, playing for India is still the biggest dream for budding cricketers but no more is it the only dream that could help them meet ends. Look at Pravin Tambe, who made his IPL debut at the age of 42. Only once in his entire career before playing IPL had Tambe been close to a Mumbai call-up, in 2000. 

The leg-spinner made ends meet desperately with a job and a condition: that he would continue to play cricket. It wasn’t something that won him bread anymore, the sport was just him merely continuing a passion. Tambe kept chipping away at the sport, and in 2013, when he trialled for Rajasthan Royals, he was 41. 

Over the years, IPL has definitely shaken up the broadcasting scene in India but alongside that, it has also given the budding cricketers a chance to dream. A dream that no longer requires cricketers to represent India in order to meet ends.

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