et's talk about money. In a week when most cricket conversations have focussed on the club-versus-country debate, why don't we address the real issue? In that context, it was refreshing to come to Hyderabad and meet Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan who leads the Deccan Chargers. Sangakkara is one of the great players of his age, a wonderfully skilled strokeplayer and capable wicketkeeper who also captained the national side to the World Cup final. The Chargers are paying him $700,000, big money but still less than half what his great friend, Mahela Jayawardene, is getting for leading the Kochi Tuskers.
"Why do we shy away from talking about the money?" asked Sangakkara. "No player I know has ever said he won't play for his country. For most of us, it will always be the pinnacle. But we're elite sportsmen. And any sport you take, there's a lot of money at the top. Why should cricket be any different?"
As he pointed out, the Indian Premier League benefits everyone. The Indian board will bank millions from the TV rights alone. The franchises get to keep most of the takings from matches, many of which are sold out. The boards that release players to take part in the six-week event get to keep 10 percent of their fees. For doing nothing more than issuing no-objection certificates, Sri Lanka Cricket's bank account will swell by close to half a million dollars.
On the other side of the world, Chris Gayle's commitment to the Caribbean cause has been called into question. His card has been marked since the day he questioned the primacy of Test cricket. Had he been an insincere hypocrite, he could have carried on regardless. But by vocalizing what many feel privately, he made himself the establishment's enemy No.1.
Gayle has started his IPL adventure with the sort of shock-and-awe century that only he's capable of. West Indies, under the astute coaching of Ottis Gibson and with a clutch of talented young players, will move on, but the criticism of Gayle for the crime of looking after himself borders on the pathetic.
A few years ago, I sat in a dingy club on the outskirts of Bangalore eating an oily omelette with Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, whose 6 for 38 at The Oval inspired India's first Test win in England 40 years ago. The most mercurial and exciting of the legendary spin quartet, Chandra had next to nothing to show for the nearly two decades that he gave to Indian cricket.
I had to blink back angry tears on the way home as I realised that even rookie journalists, many of whom wouldn't have a clue who or what Mill Reef was – Chandra's quicker one was labelled that by teammates, after the 1971 Epsom Derby winner – took home twice what he survived on. Don't tell me there's too much money in the game.
Instead of lining up the soft targets, the players, let's ask some serious questions of the administrators. When you can't pay an international cricketer a fair wage – those that aren't Indian, English or Australian often take home in a season what one of our talentless ham-actors gets for a show – why do you come between them and IPL riches? When more than 95 percent of international cricketers express an interest in being part of the league, why the reluctance to create a window for it?
If you believe in the primacy of Test cricket, show us that you do. When was the last time India played a five-match Test series [West Indies in 2002]? Why do you encourage the abomination that is a two-match series? Compared to the hype machines unleashed every IPL, how much of an effort is made to bring crowds back to Test cricket? You won't get a single satisfactory answer. But you'll get endless platitudes about how players should put country first. They do, but like you and me, they have families to look after and bills to pay. And as long as one IPL game pays as much as a season of international cricket, they'll keep coming back for more.