Green Park Cricket Stadium in Kanpur. © flickr.com

Uttar Pradesh women’s cricket representative Iti Chaturvedi has reasoned the COVID-19 pandemic for the delay after former cricketers raised their voice over pensions. She said that the process to complete the membership with the Indian Cricketers’ Association (ICA) was on but this pandemic halted everything.

“Due to the lockdown over the last three months, the scrutiny has been delayed a bit but so far we have identified 37 genuine cricketers, who come under the pension scheme. We are expecting pension for them soon,” said Chaturvedi. She also said that so far as many as three cricketers, including Shikha Chatterjee (Kanpur), Kashmira Jain (Lucknow) and Farzana Begum (Kanpur) have been given one-time benefits by the ICA.

Earlier in January, in the very second meeting of the Apex Council at Ferozabad, the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association (UPCA) had agreed to a pension scheme and Indian Cricketers Association’s representatives in the state – Ashok Bambi (men’s cricket) and Chaturvedi (women’s cricket) – were assigned the jobs of finalising the list of genuine beneficiaries.

“Yes, we are waiting for a response from the UPCA and I have been assured to get the things done soon,” Bambi said. “Have already submitted the list of the beneficiaries to the UPCA and even my suggestions in this regard, but now they are silent over the issue. Even a few among the listed beneficiaries have passed away during the last five months. Financial aid to veteran cricketers in this pandemic COVID19 would be a big help.”

He, however, said that even he advised UPCA to give Rs 10,000-20,000 to all such beneficiaries in advance, and the money should be deducted from their accounts when the pension scheme is approved. “If UPCA can Rs 50 lakh to the government’s relief fund it can also give financial help to its veteran heroes. It’s not going to be Rs 1.10 crore a year to run this scheme properly.”

In 2009, UPCA had distributed Rs 50,000 each to veteran cricketers in its maiden endeavor before handing over a similar amount to those beneficiaries as the second installment after a few years, but it never bothered to introduce any pension scheme. “In many states, cricket bodies are giving even pension to their domestic players, who are getting pensions from the BCCI, but here in UP we are struggling for a routine system.”

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Hari Daas Bhandari, the former UP cricketer who played nine Ranji Trophy matches over four years in the 1960s said the ‘biggest earning for him was pride and satisfaction playing for his state’ instead of money. The Kanpur-based player earned Rs 5 per match totaling Rs 45.

“Money was not the issue, it was pride and passion and I enjoyed my four seasons with the UP team with full enthusiasm and excitement,” said Bhandari. “The passion for the game was such then as I used to travel to Lucknow to play Sheesh Mahal Cricket Tournament and for that, I used to get trouser, shirt and even shoes from my teammates.”

Retired as an executive director from Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) now, Bhandari has been a strong voice for the pension to the former cricketers. Now 83, the former junior state selector Bhandari wants that contribution of all 120-odd former cricketers of the state should be recognised by the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association in the form of monthly pension.

“A token amount of Rs 5,000-10,000 as pension to veterans won’t make a big difference to the coffers of the UPCA as they have been getting huge money from the BCCI. They (UPCA) should also copy other state cricket bodies, who have been giving pension to their former cricketers, including those who could play just one match,” said Bhandari.

Former Ranji cricketer and selector Neeru Kapoor was also too strong in his voice over the delay in pension to the veteran cricketers of UP. “I don’t understand the reason behind this delay. Many of us have been facing financial hardships in this crisis situation and this is the right time when UPCA should given financial support to its former cricketers,” said Kapoor.