I'd asked Ryan ten Doeschate about what it's been like in the Netherlands dressing room since he started going back home with his IPL riches. Were his teammates jealous? He responded delicately: "There will be guys who are far better first-class cricketers than I am, but have not made their mark on T20 cricket, who will feel aggrieved that 'a slogger' is getting paid these disproportionate sums of money."
In India, for sure, the existence of the IPL has created distinct classes of haves and have-nots among cricketers - quite different from the earlier classification when you either played for the Indian team or didn't. Now, forget the ones who make it to the national team, there is a disparity of sorts even within the domestic scene. Indeed, some who were unable to make the cut in the 'days' format are on the other side of the fence now, with the 'haves'. As for the 'days' successes, unable as some of them have been to make the IPL cut, very little has changed.
Take Debabrata Das, for instance. He has finally made his Ranji Trophy debut for Bengal this season. He had played domestic Twenty20s in the past, but was never considered good enough for the four-day format. But chances are that he is better known and richer than, say, Anustup Majumdar or Rohan Banerjee, both regulars with Bengal. The reason: Das has become a regular for Kolkata Knight Riders.
I don't mean to begrudge the IPL players their good fortune and it's hard not to be glad for Das, for instance. Here's what he tells me about his past: "It was very tough on my parents. I wasn't told anything then because I was so young, but I found out later that there were days when all that my mother ate through the day were a few slices of bread while I ate rice. There must be so many things that I was never told." This story is not an aberration for players who have come up the ranks from underprivileged backgrounds. There's many a similar tale in Ranji cricket too.
And so, to return to the moneytalk, while Das now earns anything between Rs 10-20 lakh for his place in the KKR ranks, what do Majumdar or Banerjee earn? For an entire season of cricket for Bengal (if they play all the matches) and, occasionally, for East Zone, they earn less than Rs 10 lakh.
Things had brightened up after the first season of the IPL, in 2008, when first-class cricketers were earning around Rs 40,000 per day. That's because apart from the Rs 10,000 all players are guaranteed for a day's work, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has been doling out a share of their profits, which, in the first year of the IPL, was massive. But since then, the profits have dipped - or so we assume, because the money paid to domestic cricketers has dipped.
Let's look at the scenario for an average player in the reworked domestic format, where every team is assured eight games in the Ranji Trophy. On an average, a player plays, say, six games. That's 24 days of work, which gives him Rs 2,40,000. Throw in 26 more days (for easy calculation) of cricket in the Ranji Trophy limited overs games (Rs 10,000/day for one-dayers and Rs 5000/day for T20s), the Duleep Trophy, the Deodhar Trophy, the Irani Cup and the other tournaments, and the player earns another Rs 2,60,000, rounding it off at Rs 5 lakh.
In 2008, the percentage of profit being handed to first-class players was so large that a player actually stood to earn a big amount for every game that he played, taking the season's earnings to over Rs 10 lakh. But now, with the percentages coming down, a player earns around Rs 2 lakh over and above the Rs 5 lakh, bringing his earnings down to around Rs 7 lakh for the whole season.
Remember, the IPL boy still earns at least Rs 10 lakh if he gets a contract - not necessarily a game - with one of the teams.
Which brings us to the daily allowances domestic cricketers are given. Well-off associations may pay cricketers good pocket money, but the average is Rs 500 per day. This includes everything, even dinner. A cricketer from the Himachal Pradesh team tells me, "We are happier when we don't stay in good hotels, because then every single meal costs much more than Rs 500. We eat at roadside eateries then."
Why? Well, the money that players are due comes into their hands only at the end of each tournament; for players like the one I spoke to, taking home Rs 1000 after each game is a job well done from the point of view of his family.
Admittedly, a lot has improved for the domestic cricketers. Most often, they fly around the country for their matches, stay in good hotels, play at decent venues with acceptable practice facilities. And a cricketer from the 1950s or 1960s will usually turn around and say that he played the game for the love of it and money didn't matter. He will also say that the lot of the domestic cricketer is a lot better today than it used to be even a decade ago. And he won't be wrong. But there was no IPL then - no one was earning much, so the class divide wasn't as glaring.
Is there a solution? Probably not, because the BCCI and the associations can only pay out so much money and the IPL, including all that's good, bad and ugly about it, cannot be wished away. The disparity will, therefore, remain. Unless, sooner rather than later, the authorities bring a bit of sense into the salaries - both in the IPL and in first-class cricket - to stay in tune with the changed circumstances. Because the one thing that hasn't changed is that for a cricketer, the end of his primary source of income is just one bad season or one bad injury away.