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Cash cracks cricket cradle
- Rebel league’s lakhs prompt Ranji players to defy BCCI

Aug. 16: The rebel Indian Cricket League has struck the game’s official body a “bolt from the blue”, luring away seven Hyderabad Ranji Trophy players with annual salaries they cannot hope to earn in an entire career playing domestic cricket.

Last night’s deals are the first the Zee-promoted league has struck with current players, signalling that the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s threats may not deter the Ranji cricketer who is paid just Rs 60,000 a game.

The ICL contract, reported to be worth Rs 90 lakh, assures a player Rs 30 lakh a year even if he doesn’t play a match and compares with the pay packets of Team India’s juniormost cricketers. (See chart)

Among the signings were 21-year-old batsman Ambati Rayudu, a former teen prodigy who had in recent years belied expectations of becoming “the next Sachin” but kept his Team India hopes alive with regular India A appearances.

The operation was cloaked in secrecy, with the three-year contracts signed in Chennai where the Hyderabad team is to play the Buchi Babu tournament.

A stunned Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) president, G. Vinod, termed it “desertion”, summarily sacking the seven players and asking them to return home. “It is a bolt from the blue and a major shock,” he said.

Vinod added that the association would wait for the BCCI to take a decision about these players at its August 21 AGM.

The board, which had first threatened lifetime bans on ICL recruits but later vaguely spoken of depriving them of “benefits”, wouldn’t comment although its officials kept in touch with the HCA through the day.

“We have only heard about it from TV reports. We have no comments at this stage,” BCCI chief administrative officer Ratnakar Shetty said.

A PTI report quoted unnamed ICL sources as saying that the Rs 30-lakh-a-year offer was for “an average” Ranji player — it could go up to Rs 50 lakh for those with international experience.

Rayudu’s team-mates who signed up are Vinay Kumar, Ibrahim Khalil, I.S. Reddy, Anirudh Singh, Kaushik Reddy and Shashank Nag.

“We felt it was our best bet,” said one of the players who didn’t wish to be named. He added that the politicking in the game’s official bodies made cricketers insecure about their future.

There was more bad news for the Indian and Pakistani boards. Unconfirmed reports said senior Pakistani players Abdul Razzaq and Mohammad Yousuf — international cricket’s most successful batsman last season — had signed up, too.

Former captain Inzamam-ul Haq and batsman Asim Kamal are said to be considering offers and opener Imran Farhat today confirmed doing so.

A PTI report said current Delhi players Ashish Nehra, Aakash Chopra, Amit Bhandari and Mithun Manhas had been approached, but the cricketers could not be contacted for comment.

The Hyderabad players are the “property” of the state association, Vinod thundered. “They joined the ICL in Chennai last night but informed us only this morning. I don’t know why they have left.”

The HCA was once seen as a Jagmohan Dalmiya supporter, but is understood to have switched sides and started supporting current BCCI president Sharad Pawar. So, today’s developments are an embarrassment for Pawar.

It’s not insignificant that the HCA secretary, Shivlal Yadav, was made the National Cricket Academy director in place of Dalmiya appointee Brijesh Patel. This happened within weeks of Pawar assuming office in end-2005.

The Chennai signings are a huge step forward for the parallel league, which has already signed West Indian Brian Lara and approached Australian Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne — all retired legends.

One big headache — how to get stadiums for the matches — has already been solved by Lalu Prasad’s offer of the Railways’ 30-odd grounds across the country.

With the ICL finding one heavyweight backer after another — Digvijay Singh has taken up its cause with Pawar — the air is buzzing with talk of a compromise with the board.

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