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By Sunil Gavaskar
There has hardly been any good news after the World Cup. It is as if the Gods decided that ok, you have had so much now let us take something away from you. So we have not only lost the Test and one day series in England, but also the number one ranking in Test cricket. Off the field too India lost some of its greatest sons and daughters and personally it has been quite saddening to lose some who were dear friends, and some who were absolute heroes, and some who in their own way helped the Indian cricketing fraternity. The World and not just India is the poorer for the passing away of Shammi Kapoor, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, my class mate and ace photographer Gautam Rajadhyaksha, the ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh and Bhagwat Jha Azad. There will be plenty of eyebrows raised at the last name for he was more known as the Chief Minister of Bihar, and then a central minister as also the father of Kirti Azad who was part of the Indian team that won the World Cup in 1983.
Very few know the role that the late Bhagwat Jha Azad played in getting the tax concessions for the Indian cricketers. Way back in the late 70s we were trying to persuade the government to allow some tax concessions for representing India in any sport not just cricket. There wasn’t the kind of money there is in the game today and the tax slabs did not help save as much as it does nowadays. All players starting their careers had to spend a fair bit on their own for their kit, training, travel etc before they came to the international level after which they got some fees. So there was quite a bit of expense which not everybody could afford, and which was hardly taken into consideration when a player became an India international. It was this point that the late Mr. Azad emphasized to the then Finance Minister, R. Venkataraman when he took Chetan Chauhan and me to meet in the finance minister’s chamber.
The late Mr. Venkataraman took a kind view and then allowed some exemptions including zero tax on one day internationals for which Indian players were then getting Rs. 1,000 only and there were only one or two internationals played in a year so there was no great loss to the exchequer. Unfortunately though we had taken up the matter of tax concessions when playing for India for all sports only the cricketers got the benefit since there was no direct representation from other sports. Of course it was understood that if a player went to play in the English Leagues he would pay the full tax on what he earned, and the tax concessions were only for playing for India. That concession was there for almost two decades till somebody in the department realized that now India was playing about 30 one day internationals and the fees had increased to a lakh of rupees per game. So Mr. Bhagwat Jha Azad’s contribution must not be forgotten as also the late Mr. Venkatraman's.
Today thankfully there is good money in the sport and good tax rates too, and so cricket is now a serious career option. A player does not have to be a Test or international player to earn a living. A Ranji player today can get more annually than if he had been employed in a bank or airline or even private companies. The IPL is of course a huge plus for not just the Indian cricketers, but also for those from other countries. That is why you don’t hear much about player burnout from the players' associations as was the case before the IPL began its innings in 2008. The associations have realized that if they push the players they will have no members left, and so have not talked about burnout anymore. The fact is that a T20 game is for three hours and is not as tiring as a 50 overs game or Test matches are. It is the travelling involved which can take a toll of the players energies for the packing unpacking, getting up early to catch a flight after a game that could well have finished a little before midnight, and by the time the player gets back to his hotel and falls asleep, could well be a couple of hours later.
It is not just the fees that the players are signed for but also the mindboggling prize money that adds to the players bank balance. The just concluded Champions League had prize money of US six million dollars with the winner’s cheque being two and half million dollars. Most franchises have an agreement with their players that any prize money will be split with the owners, but am pretty certain that Mumbai Indians would not only have let the players keep the entire amount but could well have given them bonuses for winning a long awaited trophy. They would dearly love to add the Indian Premier League trophy too but what they have shown with this win is that sometimes not playing in the shadow of stars allows others to take responsibility and flourish. For Harbhajan Singh the win would have been even sweeter since he was dropped from the Indian team and his last experience of captaining the Mumbai Indians a couple of years back was not a pleasant one. He also bowled well and has responded to the omission by taking wickets and batting responsibly. It could well be a blessing in disguise for it will allow him some time to reflect on what he needs to do to take his game to another level.
The one day series with England is an opportunity for the selectors to look at some new players and thus have a good bench strength for any situation like the current one where many senior established players are injured. Yes sometimes we don’t see the blessings when they are right before our eyes.