USD 66,600 or approximately Tk 56 lakh—that is the difference between the yearly salary of the highest graded women cricketers of India and Bangladesh. Indian cricketers receive a daily payment, for their participation in domestic cricket, of Rs 12,500. Bangladesh's cricketers, on the other hand, get paid Tk 600 as match allowance in domestic leagues. That is basically what cricketers who aren't in the national contract play for.
No. This isn't a call for the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) to match its vastly experienced neighbours. However, recognising the stark difference in payment is necessary to realise the sheer importance of Bangladesh's Asia Cup win.
Talk to the cricketers, the coaches or even the BCB directors, and they will all tell you that winning the Asia Cup this year was a feat that they wouldn't have even imagined. The target of the team prior to the tournament, going by the captain's statement, was to make it to the final of the competition.
Even that seemed out of reach considering the 5-0 thrashing that they had suffered at the hands of South Africa right before the Asia Cup. And a defeat to Sri Lanka in the tournament opener would have further subdued the confidence of the Tigresses.
Now, there's a reason why winning the Asia Cup seemed almost improbable. While Bangladesh have managed to eke out wins against higher ranked teams like Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the past, beating India—a team that has aced the last six editions of this competition and has played more matches in the last two-and-a-half years than what Bangladesh have throughout their career—was always going to be a very difficult task, both tactically and considering the experience of the Bangladeshi players.
One could argue that the luck factor is quite high in T20 cricket, the shortest format of the game, and that results could go either way. However, the most amazing aspect of Bangladesh's win was the fact that they didn't beat India just once in the tournament, but twice.
The magnitude of this win is one-of-a-kind and at this juncture there's no reason for the BCB to continue neglecting Bangladesh women's cricket. It does not matter even if Bangladesh go on to lose the next 10 matches or even if they fail to qualify for major events in the near future. Bangladesh's Asia Cup win should be a clear cue for the BCB to be more dynamic as far as their efforts to develop women's cricket are concerned.
For starters, it needs to form a good domestic structure by encouraging players outside the national team. While the pay scale of the 20 players in the national team was hiked a week ago—immediately after the Asia Cup win—with the highest graded player getting paid Tk 50,000 per month, players outside the national team don't get paid enough to devote themselves to the game.
Earlier in March this year, all-rounder Rumana Ahmed who was the star performer in the final of the Asia Cup, in an interview, with The Daily Star said that the allowance that players are given in the domestic format is embarrassing.
“Look, it's very simple. We are professional cricketers. We call ourselves cricketers and not women cricketers. We play on the same pitch and the same ground as the men and we work as hard as them. For the amount of work that we do, we don't earn enough. If the board helps us, it will be really good,” she had said.
Even the chairman of the BCB's women's wing Shafiul Alam Chowdhury, in March this year, admitted that the BCB had in fact neglected women's cricket for some time.
“It's true that we have all ignored women's cricket to a certain extent, whether or not people admit it is a different issue. But I can't change everything in just one season. We will change things for the better gradually,” he had said.
The board has often complained that it does not get sponsors for the women's cricket team. It needs to understand that the Asia Cup win, if marketed properly, can do wonders for women's cricket.
The government's decision to reward the cricketers for their performance on Wednesday was highly appreciative. However, one needs to understand that women's cricket cannot run on rewards that are given solely based on good results. Whether or not they perform well in the immediate future, the BCB needs to create a self-sustainable structure to support women's cricket.
The other aspect that the board needs to work on is developing age-level cricket. Bangladesh's football has fared a lot better in this regard with the country's under-14 and under-16 teams producing fantastic players. In cricket, however, the board has only begun the process of forming age-level teams. It is still working on a strategy to begin school cricket in the beginning of the next season.
Yes, logistically speaking, football may be a more economical sport and hence, it has been easier for the age-level teams to develop; however, there's no excuse for the new Asian champions to not have a proper age-level structure. Truth be told, the reason why Bangladesh's men's team has developed so much is because players such as Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Tamim Iqbal have come through the age-level teams.
Whenever talks of developing women's cricket surface, the board shifts the blame on the lack of funding and interest. This directly affects the amount of game-time that the likes of Salma Khatun and Rumana get. The cricketers then complain that if they don't get to play enough matches, they won't be able to improve. It's a vicious cycle with no end.
Bangladesh's Asia Cup win, however, has given the board and the cricketers a chance to break the deadly cycle. What remains to be seen is how this opportunity is utilised.
Naimul Karim is a former Sports Reporter of The Daily Star. He writes for The Star Weekend magazine.