Following the roaring success of IPL, cricketers have got richer by many times. But
the life of workers who work long hours to maintain grounds and pitches has not taken any noticeable turn for the better. TNIE Sports Desk explores the state of the groundsmen...
A pat on the back feels good. Acknowledgement of performance is a requisite for consistency. It keeps one going and one can indulge in a bit of self-aggrandizment too, if the praise comes from a well-known figure. But it doesn’t take long to come back down to earth if the appreciation of good work stops with that pat on the back.
In a nutshell, that’s the story of the people who perform a crucial duty to keep cricket going. In every venue hosting international cricket, IPL or any other match of consequence, groundsmen work long hours under the sun and rain. They prepare and maintain the sleek outfields where the ball speeds away and the pitches which shape the destiny of stars and teams. Yet, for all the toil away from the spotlight, occasional words of praise continue to be their biggest incentive. Their world seems to be far away from glitzy planet that is Indian cricket, where fortunes have experienced an exponential growth over the last decade or so.
This is not to say that all of them are pathetically paid, across the country, under every state association which employ them. There are places where the seniors earn Rs 40,000 a month. But that is in pockets and for a few. The reality for a majority of these workers who have spent close to 20 years in this profession is around Rs 20,000. For others, it is between Rs 10-15,000. Many are sole breadwinners in the family. In the period over which IPL riches have changed concepts in Indian cricket, those who roll pitches and run in to cover it during rain interruptions have not seen any significant improvement in their standards of living.
From around Rs 8 crore a year in 2007, the share of the state units from the BCCI’s profits has risen to close to Rs 30 crore (will be more after last year’s record IPL deal). From around Rs 6000 a month 10 years ago, Rs 20,000 is a proportionate jump arithmetically, but hardly the right reflection of the changes in the stature of the recipients. Not all groundsmen are on the payrolls of the state bodies and thus outside the ambit of leaves, PF and other benefits. The Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) has contractors handling the hiring of this workforce. In different ratios, the associations of Karnataka, Delhi and Hyderabad also have a mix of permanent and contracted employees.
Ganesh (name changed) is an employee of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) and works at Chinnaswamy Stadium. His eyes light up when he says Rahul Dravid used to pat him on the shoulder and tell him ‘the wicket is a good one’. He also has pictures with him. His voice drops when he says that after 19 years of service, he makes Rs 18,000 a month to run a family of three in Bengaluru. He says raises have been few and the last time they got one in 2017, it was 10 per cent. “There has been no betterment in living conditions or improvement in working conditions. On match days during IPL, we have to report at around 7 am and work ends after 1 am. Better increment and medical insurance which facilitates treatment in private hospitals would be welcome.”
The highest pay is more in Delhi, where someone who has spent over 30 years in the profession earns Rs 40,000 a month. Those with 10 to 20 years of experience get between Rs 15-20,000. The long-drawn administrative unrest in the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association has not made things easier for the groundsmen at Feroz Shah Kotla, who say that the newly-elected governing body has hardly changed things. “Hikes are not regular. We even went on a strike during Ranji Trophy last season. Lots of problems have emerged since the new committee came to power. From not receiving bonuses to IPL overtime to kits, there were a lot of complaints. A few of our demands have been accepted after we went on strike, but some of the things are yet to come,” says Babulal (name changed).
Delhi is no exception. Groundsmen under the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) had resorted to stop-work just before IPL in 2017. Rise in pay, timely payment of bonuses and overtime dues were the demands and their agitation bore fruit. Most of their problems were taken care of and they have had one more raise since. Only after that has average pay come up to the Rs 20,000 mark. Content with that and the fact that most of them are staff of the HCA with related benefits, those tending to the grassroots at the stadium in Uppal have stopped complaining. They also acknowledge that when the HCA’s YL Chandrasekhar won the Best Curator award in the IPL from 2014-16, the groundsmen had received a ‘handsome’ bonus.
Some of the state associations say not receiving their share of the BCCI’s profits since November 2016 for not obeying Supreme Court orders has restricted their activities and prevented them from doing more for the groundsmen. “We are just about managing because we have not received any subsidy from the board. If they release funds, it is going to help. However, there has been no problem regarding the payment (of groundsmen), as we have kept a fixed deposit, which is used for the purpose,” says KSCA secretary Sudhakar Rao.
“Groundsmen have a very hard job. If they prepare a good pitch, they don’t get appreciation. If it’s bad, then all the blame falls on them. They ‘ve to be looked after. We are looking into what can be done for them,” says KCA secretary Sreejith Nair. “We realise that groundsmen need better pay. We hand over a good remuneration to contractors . It’s they who give it to the workers. We are spending `1.75 lakh per ground, per month.”
Many groundsmen under the KCA are migrant workers earning between Rs 10,000-15,000. Tired of daily chores and the struggle to make ends meet, some of them seek refuge in thoughts of how once an overjoyed Rishabh Pant had praised them after a 48-ball Ranji Trophy century in Thiruvananthapuram.
Inputs from Ayantan Chowdhury (New Delhi), Ashim Sunam (Bengaluru), Vishal Vivek (Hyderabad),
Martin Joseph (Kochi)