Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from An Equal Hue: The Way Forward for the Women in Blue by Snehal Pradhan, Karunya Keshav and Sidhanta Patnaik presented at the The Sports Law & Policy Symposium in 2020. The full report was originally published in 2020 and this excerpt is now being reproduced with permission on the back of India’s annual contracts being announced for 2020-’21 that highlighted the disparity in pay scales once again.

Cricket has always been an expensive sport to practise, while rarely being a remunerative one. Female cricketers in India find themselves at a disadvantage as compared to their male counterparts because while they need to spend the same amount to develop their skills, they earn a fraction of what the men do and have fewer avenues of income through cricket. Given these constraints, sticking to cricket past a certain age is a challenge.

In the late 1970s and the 1980s, the pioneers of the sport in India raised their own funds to travel the world. They shared kits and train berths, scrimping and saving to feature in tournaments. Today’s generation, under the BCCI, have come a long way from those days. They travel and live at a certain standard while representing their state and country. More players, coaches and parents agree that cricket has become financially viable as a career choice. However, we remain away from full professionalism.

Professionalism entails more than just a salary and contract: The pay issue for female cricketers is not just about what reaches their bank accounts, but is also a fight against systemic discrimination. Addressing inequalities in pay also involves tackling inequalities elsewhere. In this section, we examine the financial situation of players at all levels and examine what equal pay would entail.

Payment structures

In 2018, the top female cricketers got a raise on annual contracts to become the best paid among
their counterparts in the world.

BCCI annual retainers for women cricketers

Period Grade A Grade B Grade c
2019-'20 / 2020-'21 Rs 50 lakh Rs 30 lakh Rs 10 lakh
2015-'16 Rs 15 lakh Rs 10 lakh -

However, the difference between the men’s and women’s contracts remained stark. Even the lowest paid male cricketer earned twice what the top women earned, and 10 times what her teammates in Grade C earned. And while 27 men were contracted, 22 women made the cut (Scroll.in’s note: The numbers stand at 28 and 19 for 2020-’21).

Updated BCCI annual contracts

 Period  Grade A+ Grade A  Grade B Grade C
Indian women's team Oct 2020 to Sept 2021 N/A Rs 50 lakh Rs 30 lakh Rs 10 lakh
Indian men's team Oct 2020 to Sept 2021 Rs 7 crore Rs 5 crore Rs 3 crore Rs 1 crore

Meanwhile, domestic players don’t have the benefit of a contract. The good news is that they too had their match fees raised recently. The bad news is that the match fees is still a fraction of what the men get.

An overwhelming 84.5% of respondents to a survey conducted by the authors felt their earnings from domestic cricket was not enough as their primary income, without having recourse to another job.

In fact, only 42% of respondents said the fees they earned from domestic cricket even covered the cost of equipment.

The maximum number of matches a senior cricketer can play in a season – i.e. a player above 23, who features in every match for her side, whose team makes it to the final of every competition – is 30. It earns her, as per the 2018-’19 season (with senior one-day tournaments, senior one-day Challengers, senior T20s, senior T20 Challengers competitions) INR 2.75 lakh from match fees alone. Under-23 and under-19 players potentially have more match days because of age-group tournaments, but their fees are lower.

This is why several top cricketers gravitate towards a job in the Railways, the biggest – and at present only – employer for female cricketers.

In addition to the match fees, domestic players get a dearness allowance during tournaments for daily expenses. Young academy talents in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh either get a stipend or have their education and cricket costs taken care of, too. But all of these are only supplementary and offer no security. It is also estimated that out of BCCI’s annual media rights: men’s internationals get 13%, domestic players 10.3% and 2.7% goes to junior players and women.

Akanksha Kohli, Karnataka cricketer, 2017

“I know so many girls who don’t spend their DA. They will not eat enough – they have to eat, playing a 50-over game in these conditions is not easy – saying I need to save up, I need to give it to help my family. They don’t play with a fresh mind, they are stressed, there’s the pressure of performance, thinking about the playing XI, thinking about the family, thinking about saving that Rs 500.”

Other concerns raised by domestic cricketers:

• Fees not reaching them on time, before the start of the new season

• Fees not matching those received by the boys

• Drain on resources when they stay in high-end hotels during tournaments

• Fewer corporate tournaments as compared to the boys from which they can earn additional income

• Drain on family’s resources to travel to train for cricket

This amounts to a massive pay gap when it comes to female cricketers, which is two-fold: the gap between what men and women earn, and the gap between what international women and domestic women earn. Both of these issues need to be addressed separately.

The case for equal pay

Serena Williams, Winner of 23 tennis Grand Slams, 2016

“I do believe that women deserve the same pay. We work just as hard as men do. I’ve been working, playing tennis, since I was three years old. And to be paid less just because of my sex—it doesn’t seem fair. Will I have to explain to my daughter that her brother is gonna make more money doing the exact same job because he’s a man? If they both played sports since they were three years old, they both worked just as hard, but because he’s a boy, they’re gonna give him more money? Like, how am I gonna explain that to her?”

Smriti Mandhana, India opener, 2020

“We need to understand that the revenue we get is through men’s cricket. The day women’s cricket starts earning revenue, I will be the first person to say that we need the same thing. But right now, we can’t say that. The only focus right now is to win matches for India, get the crowd coming in and earn revenues … For that, we need to perform. It is unfair on our part to say that we need to be paid as much as the men.”

According to a 2017 study of 68 disciplines by BBC Sport, 83% of global sports award men and women the same prize money. Cricket is not one of these sports. But, as these opinions from female sportspersons themselves show, the equal pay argument is not a clear cut one. This is more so in cricket, where the men’s and women’s game have developed independently for much of their history, and any comparison is especially fraught.

In India, while women players agree they need to be paid more, there is not yet a push from their side to be paid equal with the men. Arguing for Smriti Mandhana to be paid the same as Rohit Sharma – both of them are vice-captains of the national teams, after all – will be premature without simultaneously also addressing the economic and, more importantly, skills gap between Mandhana and any other 24-year-old representing Maharashtra in the domestic circuit.

This isn’t to say that the demand for equal pay is in itself premature; on the contrary, it is vital to put it in front and centre of the plan to develop women’s cricket, because equal pay demands that a system be fashioned where various other inequalities are also addressed.

The main arguments against equal pay, that:

• the women’s team play less than the men’s team

• the women aren’t as skilled as the men

• the women’s team don’t sell out stadiums or attract sponsors like the men’s team

• the women aren’t as big stars and don’t carry the same pressure of the limelight as the men

Are all factors of historic under-representation and under-funding for the women’s game. The justifications used to pay women less are those missteps from administrators that have kept women as second citizens in the sport; the burden of getting fans and sponsors and revenue flocking to female sportspersons should not be on the player – the player’s focus, as the cliche goes, should be on the process, not the results – but instead on those running and marketing the sport.

Female sportspersons, already being penalised for historic wrongs, are thus doubly penalised by poor pay at present. A movement towards equal pay will shift the onus back onto administrators to market the sport, build long-term sustainability and increase accountability in its development all around.

Anya Alvarez, LPGA pro, 2019

“There is systematic sexism in sports that leads to unequal pay, which starts with how women are marketed by their own leagues... The root of the problem isn’t what women are getting paid: it is the lack of foundation that they have to build from to capitalize on their talent. When we make equal pay the central part of the conversation, we miss all the smaller things that enable a system that hurts women’s advancement in sports and their opportunity to generate equal revenue, and in return warrant equal pay.”


1. Domestic contracts: All state associations should implement annual retainers for their players, with the BCCI setting the minimum amount. (Board president Sourav Ganguly has indicated this is on the agenda.) BCCI should also invest in developmental contracts for junior players.

2. Commitment to equal base pay: Contracts should be split into fixed and flexible components, with no gender discrimination on fixed components. Elements such as match fees and travel allowances should aim for parity across the sexes, at every level.

3. Movement towards parity in prize money: The prize and participation money at World Cups should be the same for men and women, who are both representing their country on the biggest stage. In the domestic set-up, premier women’s domestic events should carry a greater purse, with the long-term aim towards equality, with the same player awards too being distributed. This will also help raise the profile of these tournaments.

4. Renegotiate share of media rights: The present distribution sidelines women, despite the women’s team having consistently broken performance and broadcast records, and having developed their own audience.

5. Financial literacy: The BCCI, along with the new Indian Cricketers’ Association (ICA), should encourage financial literacy among players through counselling. Players should also have access to emergency funds, and the boards should help with small interest-free or low-interest loans that players can access in times of need or to add to their education/qualifications. The board should also help remove financial barriers to enter cricket, as explained further in Section I (full report).

6. Employment: It is difficult to envisage a scenario where domestic cricket can be fully professional, which means players need to take up other employment. Apart from creating opportunities within the system for athletes, the BCCI and Sports Ministry should work to incentivise corporates and public sector units to employ female cricketers under a sports quota, through tax breaks and permissions for corporate tournaments.

7. Commit to investment: BCCI, in collaboration with state associations, must commit funds towards investment in women’s sport for a 5-year or 10-year cycle, setting fixed deliverables of viewership, participation, academies, infrastructure and skills development, to achieve inside a fixed timeframe.

(Note: The complete Equal Hue report has a case study on Cricket Australia’s measures)

The Equal Hue report was authored by Snehal Pradhan, former India pacer turned cricket commentator and YouTuber; Karunya Keshav, journalist and co-author of The Fire Burns Blue on the history of women’s cricket in India; and the late Sidhanta Patnaik, co-author of The Fire Burns Blue, and commissioned by the Sports Law and Policy Centre.

The fifth edition of the Sports Law and Policy Symposium is slated to be held virtually on July 2 and July 3. Registrations will open shortly.