December 28, 2005

Season to be jolly for Indian cricket.
It’s all about rankings and rakings.
By Gaurav Sethi

Let 2006 bring what it has to, this year is ending on a high for Indian cricket. The 2-0 winning margin against Sri Lanka has earned India the second spot in the ICC Test ratings. Whether India is the second best side in the world is debatable - India’s last two series have been against far weaker teams (Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe aren’t exactly world beaters, right?). Also, Pakistan beating England 2-0 in their recent series have done India’s ratings a world of good.
Then again, the latest ICC rankings include test results since August 1, 2002. And in the 12 series India has played since then, they have won six, drawn four, and lost two - to New Zealand in 2002-03 and to Australia in 2004-05. As series played pre-August 2004 carry only 50% weightage, the impact of India’s loss in New Zealand is greatly reduced. The other series loss against Australia didn't cost India much because of Australia's dominance (teams aren't penalised as much for losing to stronger opponents).
Come 2006 and India takes on a resurgent Pakistan, followed by England and South Africa. But all that can wait. Right now, India is next best only to Australia. So what if there are matters unresolved: like the opening slot and a former captain’s place in the team and the dressing room. It’s the season to be jolly.
ICC Test rankings
Rank/ Team Points

1 Australia 128

2 India 115

3 England 113

4 Pakistan 103

5 South Africa 100

6 New Zealand 100

7 Sri Lanka 96

8 West Indies 73

9 Zimbabwe 27

10 Bangladesh 5

For a while, there might have been some uncertainty concerning the team sponsors. But all that changed with the Indian team sponsorship with Sahara for a record Rs. 313 crore for 4 years – more than four times the previous contract amount. Followed by a mega kit sponsorship deal with Nike for Rs. 196.96 crore – making the Indian team pricier than European football clubs Juventis, Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid. Just imagine: Beckham in Sachin’s 10 no. T, egging the Indian team on – just like Tendulkar did in that MU T-shirt for that ESPN promo. Not hard to fathom now, is it?

Close on the heels of these mega contracts came the new player contracts wherein 15 players were offered the same retainership as last year - Grade A (Rs 50 lakh retainers): Dravid, Tendulkar, Sehwag, Kumble, V V S Laxman, Ganguly, Harbhajan and Pathan. Grade B (Rs 35 lakh): Yuvraj, Kaif, Agarkar, Dhoni. Grade C (Rs 20 lakh): Murali Karthik, Gambhir and Zaheer Khan. From last season’s list of 17 only four players - Akash Chopra, Balaji, Nehra and Parthiv Patel failed to make the cut. Barring Ganguly (in Grade A) and Zaheer Khan, there were no real surprises. While multi-utility players like Pathan (upgraded to A) and Dhoni (entered at Grade B) got their just rewards.

Better still, match fees for both contracted and non-contracted players have been enhanced for Tests. And if a non-contracted player plays five Tests or 15 ODIs (during the period) he will be automatically absorbed into Grade C and paid retainers for the remaining period of the contract on a pro-rata basis. Also, if a player is injured during the contract period, he will continue to get the retainer for the remaining period.

The new match fees for contracted and non-contracted players - Contracted Players: Tests: Rs 2.50 lakh (Old Rs 2 lakh) (Playing 11) ODIs: Rs 1.60 lakh (same as last season) (for playing 12 including Super Sub). The reserves would get 50 per cent of the fees. Non-Contracted Players: Tests: Rs 3.20 lakh (Old Rs 2.70 lakh)(for playing 11) Reserves: Rs 1.60 lakh (Old Rs 1.35 lakh) ODIs: Rs 2.20 lakh (same as last season)(for playing 11) Reserves: Rs 1.10 lakh. Also, 13 per cent of the gross income of BCCI is to be distributed to international players (both contracted and non-contracted). At the end of the year, excess amount, if any, after making payments for retainers and match fees, will also be distributed to the players.

The team to Pakistan looks fine. There’s Dravid (captain), Sehwag (vice-captain), Tendulkar, Kumble, Ganguly, Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Agarkar, Dhoni, Pathan, Gambhir, VVS Laxman, R P Singh, Wasim Jaffer, Zaheer Khan and Parthiv Patel. It appears to be a sound selection 1) 3 openers - no makeshift options in-case of injury 2) five middle order batsmen – options open if either Dada or Yuvraj fail 3) one emerging all-rounder plus keeper who can bat 4) 2 keepers if one forgets keeping/batting 5) 2 world-class spinners 6) 4 medium pacers – one younger/older experienced option.

All said, in a matter of months, Indian cricket has changed - New captain. New BCCI chief. New coach - whether this will bring about a new attitude one can’t say as yet. For the time being however, the pyaas to make mega bucks is still baadi. As for mega bucks from ad endorsements, that’s another story – a possible best seller if India delivers the knock out punch across the border.

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