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Are Sri Lankan cricketers underpaid?


By Theekshana Somaratna | March 8, 2013

The World Cup finalists have been forced to take a pay cut. © AFP

The recent conflict between SLC and players over central contracts has become a very emotional topic. For the cricketers in particular, this must be a difficult topic to handle; dealing with the worth of their work in a very public stage. For some fans, this is almost a sacrilegious topic; how can one actually put a number on the audacity and flair of Dilshan’s dilscoop? Can we actually measure the joy a Kulasekara in-swinger brings, especially when it crashes into Michael Clarke’s middle stump?

Be that as it may, we live in an increasingly commercialised world, and the current operative adjective for national cricketers is professional. We have to take a look at the numbers, but it is unfortunate that interested parties are promoting numbers partial to their argument, without conveying the complete picture. Others, even more alarmingly, use subjective emotional phrases targeted towards the more malleable parts of the human body. In this environment, it was felt that a basic comparison of the player salaries, potential cricket board revenue and player performance numbers between major cricketing nations could serve as a platform for a more objective approach. This would also help fans on both sides of the argument engage in a more fact-based discussion. The scarcity of financial information published by the SLC and other cricket boards, as well as the complex pay structures of cricket players, hampers an accurate comparison, and hence the analysis below can be best termed as incomplete. However, the available information and approximations there from does provide us with valuable insights.

Country SL Aus Eng Ind Pak Ban NZ
Player Retainer $36K – $140K $230K – $2000K $375K – $600K $46K – $186K $16K – $37K $7K – $22K $72K – $177K
PPP Adj. Retainer $70K – $275K $143K – $1230K $355K – $570K $111K – $450K $37K – $86K $17K – $55K $56K – $138K
Player Income ~$75K – ~$250K ~$2000K (avg) ~$1050K (avg) ~$500K (avg)     ~$160k (avg)
PPP Adj. Income ~$150K – ~$490K ~$1230K (avg) ~$990K (avg) ~1210K (avg)     ~125K (avg)
Revenue Share % 67 24.5 – 27 20 (2010) 26 (2010)     27

The comparison initially looked at four items of data to compare the payment of salaries to cricketers by the cricket boards from seven of the Test playing nations. The four items looked at are annual retainer fees, total player income from national cricket boards and their Purchasing Power Parity adjusted numbers in order to better compare the purchasing power or value of the salaries in different countries. Total player income from the national board (hereafter referred to as Income) includes match fees, performance incentives, sponsorship shares etc in addition to basic retainer, but does not include any money players earn through participation in IPL and other T20 leagues, nor does it include commercial sponsorships players receive individually. Ideally, we should compare the PPP adjusted Income from all countries, but since we only have estimates, if at all, we will have to compare the PPP adjusted retainer fees for some countries. The comparison does not include salary data for South African and West Indian players due to inability to source. The salary numbers for Sri Lankan players are as per their new contracts, which are significantly less generous than the payments in previous years.

When you look at the retainer fees, Sri Lankan players receive a much higher fee than Bangladeshi and Pakistani players in both nominal and real (PPP adjusted) terms. When you look at player Income, it is clear that Sri Lankan players lag far behind Income received by Australian, English and Indian players. However, the gap between the English and Sri Lankan cricketers income in real terms might be actually bridged by IPL income, since the SLC allows players to participate in the tournament, whereas ECB discourages such participation in general. The salaries of New Zealand players are comparable to Sri Lankan players in nominal terms, but in real terms our salary structure is more generous. Overall, Sri Lankan players earn more than Pakistani, Bangladeshi and New Zealand cricketers in general from their cricket boards, while earning less than Australian, English and Indian cricketers.

Revenue Share data indicate a stark difference between the figure for Sri Lankan players and figures for Australian, Indian, England and New Zealand players. This high percentage could be indicative of high player salaries as well as low board revenue. The SLC revenue picture deserves a separate attention on its own, which has been partially addressed here. While SLC unquestionably has to develop more lucrative revenue streams, it should be noted that even if the SLC revenues were doubled, the revenue share figure for Sri Lankan players would still be higher than the figure for their contemporaries abroad.

Country SL Aus Eng Ind Pak Ban NZ
Popularity 1 Top 3 2 1 1 1 2 2
GDP 59,773 1,542,055 2,433,779 1,946,765 230,525 118,693 166,923 390,919
GDP per capita 2,880 66,371 38,811 1,514 1,199 767 35,973 8,078

Note : GDP values are 2012 IMF estimates, per capita figures are 2011 IMF figures both in US$ millions.

We also need to take into account the different economic environments the national cricket boards face when striving to generate revenue. The revenue a sporting body can generate depends to a great extent on a) popularity of the sport, b) the value of the media market it caters to, which influences the broadcasting revenue, and c) the disposable income of the fans, which influences the ticket and merchandise sales. For popularity, we have looked at the popularity rank of cricket in the particular country. Since we don’t have specific information on the latter two indicators, we have looked at Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a proxy for value of the media market and GDP per capita as a proxy for disposable income. GDP is also a reasonable proxy indicator for the value of commercial sponsorships available as well. Since we are utilizing proxies, any conclusions from these two sets of data will be discussed in relative terms rather than on an absolute basis.

In the Indian subcontinent, cricket is far and away the most popular sport, but even in the other countries cricket ranks amongst the top two or three most popular sports. Amongst the Test playing nations, Sri Lanka has the smallest economy by far, and the three countries United Kingdom, Australia and India have GDP at least 25 times bigger than ours. In terms of GDP per capita, we have the fifth-highest figure out of the eight countries. The effect on cricket board revenue from these disparities will be moderated by the foreign revenue generated via bilateral series and multilateral tournaments. What is clear from these GDP numbers is that it is unrealistic to expect the Sri Lankan cricket board to match the revenues or the player salaries of countries like Australia, England, South Africa and India. Going by these numbers alone, and considering the vast disparity in economic strength of these four countries vis-à-vis Sri Lanka, it would be probably futile to expect our player salaries to be even in the same ball park in the near future.

What these numbers also highlights is the importance of playing more matches more frequently with (economically) top four cricketing nations. And that in turn accentuates the importance of being in a virtuous cycle of performance, better play opportunities and resources. The third set of data takes us on a related direction in looking at the current ICC ratings for Test nations, in line with the principal that, everything else being equal, player salaries should be commensurate with their performance. We need to note however that everything else is not equal and that the ratings below provide only a snapshot in time.

Country SL Aus Eng Ind Pak Bang NZ WI SA
ICC Test Ratings 92 117 118 105 104 0 78 91 128
ICC ODI Ratings 110 116 117 119 107 78 82 86 112
ICC T20 Ratings 131 102 118 119 119 84 98 126 114


It is important to note the differences in objectives among countries, where cricket bodies like CA and ECB are focused on Test performance, whereas some of the other countries, due to strategy or lack of it, are focused on the shorter versions of the game. Sri Lanka’s recent Test performance has been mediocre at best, while we are very competitive in the shorter versions of the game. Logically, our opinion of the fairness of the player pay with respect to performance will depend on the importance we ascribe to different formats of the game. If we value Test performance, our player income can be termed as excessive, but, if we consider the shorter forms of the game more important, one could argue that our players deserve a salary structure comparable to the other top performing nations.

What is also interesting from these numbers is that the economically top four cricketing nations do not have a rating below 100 for any of the formats, perhaps highlighting a resources and performance link. The competitive performance of Pakistan across all formats is also to be noted, a testament to the talent and resilience of Pakistani players in spite of their low salaries and other challenges they face. They would likely emerge top if we calculate a rating/player salary ratio.

Overall, Sri Lankan players’ salaries are in the middle of the pack, with all the countries who pay better salaries facing vastly better economic conditions, while our overall performance can also be termed as average. While these numbers taken together suggests that the Sri Lankan player salaries are fair, it is not the intention of this article to come to a definitive answer to the question in the title. That requires more detailed information, which is perhaps not available in the public domain and more in-depth analysis. But it is to be hoped that this information would inform a more constructive exchange of opinions on the matter, and perhaps remind us to take a look at the numbers first before we shout, comment or tweet.

Theekshana Somaratna also blogs here.

© Island Cricket

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