Money becoming a factor
In December 1996, a few months after Sachin Tendulkar had signed the first multi-million-dollar deal in the history of Indian sport, Tom Cruise, in the film Jerry Maguire, uttered the lines that have become the credo of a new generation of athletes and agents - "Show me the money".
Perhaps now, as we sift through the wreckage of India's worst cricket tour since the misadventure in Australia in 1999/2000, it is time we talked about the money.
When players are accused, often with no evidence to prove it, of putting personal gain before national interest, it makes sense to crunch the numbers.
Last November, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced a new payment structure for a select group of 24 players.
The top nine, including MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar, were given a retainer of 10 million rupees (Dh804,000). The B and C-list players were offered 5m and 2.5m respectively.
Match fees were fixed at 700,000 rupees for a Test, 400,000 for a one-day international (ODI) and 200,000 for a Twenty20 game.
In 2011, Dhoni has played seven Tests, 14 ODIs and one T20 international.
Including the retainer, he has banked 20.7m rupees by playing for India. That's for 50 days of work.
The Chennai Super Kings retained the same individual before the Indian Premier League's player auction in 2011.
We have yet to see transparent accounts from IPL franchises, but according to auction rules, Chennai would have had to pay US$1.8m (Dh6.6m, 81.4m rupees) to hold on to Dhoni.
Given that Gautam Gambhir subsequently went from Delhi to Kolkata for $2.4m, it is safe to assume that the more marketable Dhoni was paid extra sweeteners to stay in canary yellow.
In effect, for 16 days of IPL work, the man who captains the national team in all three formats of the game took home at least four times as much money as he got for playing for India.
Does that matter? Of course it does, to performers with limited time at the top. Remember Ashley Cole having a fit in his car when he heard of Arsenal's "derisory" offer of £55,000 (Dh363,400) a week?
Let's put Dhoni's earnings into some perspective.
In March last year, England's top cricket players refused to sign central contracts because they felt - to quote from the Daily Mail newspaper - "undervalued in comparison with their Australian counterparts".
The contracts they turned down were believed to be worth between £120,000 and £450,000.
Australia's leading players make more than a million dollars a year from their Cricket Australia contracts.
So, let's get this right. The captain of a team representing the richest cricket board in the world has a contract about as lucrative as one given to a fairly junior player in England or Australia.
Let's not confuse the issue by bringing in factors like cost of living and taxes.
Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure did not go to Manchester City to enjoy the weather in the north west of England.
City were prepared to pay them more than either Atletico Madrid or Barcelona.
Toure, an Ivorian, will most likely never win the highest honour in his sport, the World Cup, and he can't even dream of the kind of popularity that Dhoni enjoys. Yet, he banks more than the cricketer every week.
After he blamed the IPL for India's pathetic defence of the World T20 in England in 2009, Gary Kirsten, the then coach, was asked about the possibility of international players skipping the league in future.
"I've seen that happen in other sports," he said. "I know in South Africa they do that in rugby union. Maybe that's something to think of in the future. Whether it is possible, we don't know."
Some of the more powerful figures on the board quietly told him to mind his own business.
The BCCI was after all poacher and gamekeeper - the main stakeholders in the IPL and also responsible for doing what was best for the national team.
It is hard to think of a more flagrant conflict of interest in all of sport.
Asking players to forego the IPL is as unrealistic as asking a journalist not to write for a magazine that pays him five times as much for every word he writes.
They could only contemplate doing that if the retainers they were on were lucrative enough for them not to care.
If Mitchell Johnson can prioritise representing Australia above the IPL or the Big Bash, it is because his central contract gives him that security.
Ishant Sharma's first IPL deal, signed when he was 19 years old, was worth $900,000 for the 14 games.
Every over he bowled brought him $16,000, roughly what he makes these days for five days of toil in India colours.
And the board seriously expects him to regard Test cricket as the pinnacle of the game?
Jerry Maguire needs to have a word.
Published: August 19, 2011 04:00 AM