x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Financial disparity is being felt on and off the cricket pitch

If the money gap gets any wider, results like India's 5-0 sweep of Zimbabwe will hamper the competition, writes Osman Samiuddin.

Zimbabwe team captain Brendan Taylor, right, leaves the field with teammates after losing to India. Jekesai Njikizana / ATP
Zimbabwe team captain Brendan Taylor, right, leaves the field with teammates after losing to India. Jekesai Njikizana / ATP

There was a report in the Indian Express last week, disturbing and revealing in equal measure, that laid bare the full extent of the fragility of cricket's economy. The piece centered on India's series of one-day internationals against Zimbabwe, which ended as expected with a 5-0 sweep.

Nobody doubted, even with what was, in effect, an India A squad, that the result would be any different. This was the world's best limited-overs side, after all, taking on arguably the weakest from the full members. The more intriguing sub-theme, however, was the one brought forth by this article.

This was the world's richest board, with the world's richest players, taking on the world's most dysfunctional board, playing the world's poorest, in charge of the world's least-financially endowed players.

What was revealed were the gruesome details of this divide. The Zimbabwe national side could not eat meals at the team hotels because their board, Zimbabwe Cricket, could not afford the tab. Instead, the team would travel to the stadium for their three meals.

After the first three ODIs in Harare, the teams moved to Bulawayo. Zimbabwe's players, according to the report, had to arrange car pools and use public transportation. In Bulawayo, though they were staying at the Holiday Inn, they were still going to the stadium three times a day for their meals.

More facts: while Virat Kohli, India's captain, earns nearly US$186,000 (Dh683,000) a year from his central contract alone, the Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor earns around US$6,000 a year. That is barely more than what every member of the Indian team gets paid as a match fee for a single ODI. Zimbabwe's players do not even get a daily allowance for expenses.

Taylor is among the highest-paid on his team; the others have signed winter contracts for US$500. If they were being paid at all it would be some balm, but as one unnamed player said, their payments are not coming in on time.

These comparisons can be misleading, of course, in the sense that it is pointless to compare the two when almost no point of reference exists between the countries.

India ranks among the biggest economies in the world; Zimbabwe is almost a basket case. A more relevant comparison for Zimbabwe's players would be with the wage of the average Zimbabwean something between $400 and $1,200 annually, according to some reports.

Also, financial inequality exists in all major sports, at different levels of club, country or individual pursuits. It is one reason, for instance, why Uefa are so keen to implement their Financial Fair Play measures in football.

But cricket is so small and its economy so skewed through dominance by the big three or four full members that the disparity might soon become unworkable. Zimbabwe Cricket, their coach Grant Flower admits, is on the brink financially.

No consolation that it has been there, it seems, for so long.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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