One of the talking points to emerge from the most recent windfall for Indian cricketers in the form of BCCI’s new central contracts (apart from Mohammad Shami and Jayant Yadav) was the disparity between the lowest earning male cricketer and highest earning women cricketer. If you were good enough to make it to Category C among the men in blue, the retainer was worth twice the likes of Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur - the top women cricketers placed in category A. From the last round of contracts, the maximum retainers in the top category for women increased from Rs 15 lakhs (2015) to Rs 50 lakhs this year.

Here’s a break-up of the different categories:

Graphic by Anand Katakam
Graphic by Anand Katakam

The disparity drew plenty of criticism on social media:

But is the comparison valid? Isn’t there more nuance to this issue?

Speaking to Mid-Day, Diana Edulji, former India captain and member of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA), said the comparison is not that straight-forward.

“It is unfair to compare the men and women cricketers. Women’s cricket still has to be nurtured and it will grow over a period of time with more television coverage of their matches. The new BCCI media rights will have women’s cricket covered extensively. Women’s tennis also took a long time to where it has reached today,” Edulji was quoted as saying.

A similar thought was echoed by Snehal Pradhan, former India cricketer turned freelance journalist, who reiterated the fallacy in comparing the likes of Mithali Raj and Virat Kohli. Writing for The Quint, Pradhan pointed out that there is an issue that needs the board’s immediate attention:

“England women took a pool of close to 20 players, and invested heavily in them, while their county cricketers saw no real increase in payments. The approach won them a World Cup in the short term, but they have a problem of finding quality replacements in the long run, with the gap between domestic and international cricket yawning. Similarly, the Indian women’s team, the top of the pyramid, is now looked after financially. But domestic match fees need to keep increasing, to a point where players need not look to government jobs for financial security. While these fees have been raised from Rs 3,500 per day to Rs 12,500 per day (half of that for T20s, lower amounts for age group cricket), it is still not nearly enough to allow players to train full time.”    

On the other end of the argument, senior journalist Dileep Premachandran, argued that while disparity is understandable, the extent of it is disappointing. Writing for News18, Premachandran wrote:

“A fringe player who may not play for India in the foreseeable future will be paid twice the retainer that one of the greatest women’s cricketers will be. Yes, we know that comparing men’s and women’s cricket is like mixing apples and oranges. Yes, it’s the men who command the millions of eyeballs that bring in the revenue. Yes, it’s the Indian Premier League (IPL) – contested by the men – which has put obscene sums of money in the BCCI’s bank accounts.

But there lies the rub. The cricket board is not a for-profit enterprise. The bottom line shouldn’t be its priority, especially when it enjoys such riches. The fact is that individuals like Mithali and Jhulan, who have done so much to raise the profile of Indian women’s cricket while earning far less than 50 lakhs over the duration of such long careers, deserve so much more.”