Who Is the Highest-Paid Cricketer in the World?
In our mind’s eye, a cricketer is a gentleman dressed in the somewhat sombre, all-white uniform worn during traditional five-day test matches. He’s probably well-off and privately educated – the kind of person who can afford to play the game for love, not money.
With that stereotype in mind, it’s natural to assume that even the highest-paid cricketer doesn’t make that much money from the game itself. After all, cricket has never really been associated with luxurious mansions and gold-plated Ferraris the way sports like football, tennis, and basketball are.
Until recently, that is.
In this article, we’ll look at how cricket has evolved from an amateur sport into a multimillion-dollar industry and identify some of the individuals who have made a pretty penny in the process.
Amateurs and Professionals: Worlds Apart
It might surprise you to learn that, until 1962, the richest cricketers in the world were those who didn’t get paid. If this seems counterintuitive to you, remember that cricket’s origins are heavily intertwined with the British class system, in which you were either born rich or had to work like a dog just to survive.
Upper-class amateurs – known as “gentlemen” on the cricket field – enjoyed a privileged status within the game. They were given better food, nicer changing rooms, and fancier hotels; in contrast, the professionals – who came from working-class backgrounds and played for a salary to put food on the table – were expected to treat the gentlemen as their superiors while doing most of the work on the field.
To boot, the professionals were ineligible for captaincy roles even if they were the top cricket players in their team at the time. This led to farcical situations where county teams were captained by amateurs whose only qualification for playing was their bloodline; they barely had any understanding of cricket, let alone the tactical nous to lead their team to victory.
Like all class divisions, the distinction between amateurs and professionals proved to be ridiculous long before it was abolished. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of Dr WG Grace, cricket’s first megastar and officially an amateur.
Grace got paid a per-match fee that would today be worth around £1,600 despite his gentleman status. That was in the 19th century when the average professional cricketer’s salary was a fraction of what Grace earned.
International Cricketers and Central Contracts
Nowadays, the ludicrous professional/amateur system is well and truly a thing of the past, and cricket is much more of a meritocracy than it used to be. The world’s best players from the top 10 or so cricketing nations are typically paid annual salaries, plus match fees for their international performances.
In 2017, The Cricket Monthly investigated how these payment structures vary between countries. Unsurprisingly, cricket’s three most powerful nations – Australia, England, and India – pay a much higher average cricket player salary than the rest.
For example, Steven Smith, Australia’s captain at the time, reportedly had a central contract worth 1.47 million USD, plus substantial match fees worth more than $17,000 per test, nearly $5,500 per One Day International, and almost $4,000 per Twenty20 International.
As you can see, even the figures for one of the top cricketers in the world at the time aren’t even close to the world’s highest sports salaries earned by behemoths like Ronaldo, LeBron James, and Lewis Hamilton. In 2021, players from weaker cricketing nations such as Zimbabwe and Bangladesh earn cricket salaries worth a mere fraction of what Steve Smith was raking in four years ago.
Shakib Al Hasan, undoubtedly Bangladesh’s greatest-ever cricketer and widely considered the best all-rounder of the 21st century, made just $140,000 plus match fees in 2017. Even as the national captain, Shakib earned less than a tenth of Smith’s wages. What’s more, it’s estimated that Bangladesh’s lowest international contract in 2017 was worth just $15,000, which isn’t even above the minimum wage in many countries.
Taking all these variables into account, it’s incredibly difficult to answer a seemingly simple question: “How much do professional cricket players make?”
Financial Instability Means On-Field Disaster
Let’s take a look at some examples of payment-related issues in cricket around the globe.
South Africa’s English Dilemma
To see how strong the relation between money and success is in cricket, look no further than South Africa. Once a powerhouse of the game, years – if not decades – of political and financial turmoil have brought it down a dozen pegs. Substandard salaries, racial quotas, and virtually no job security forced many of South Africa’s finest cricketers to move abroad, either to play for other countries or lucrative offers in English county cricket.
Players in the former category include Tony Greig and Kevin Pietersen, who moved to England for a more secure cricketer salary and eventually captained their adoptive country. It’s a running joke that England could field a team of South African-born players that could compete with most international outfits. In English county cricket, players like Kyle Abbott and Duane Olivier forfeited their right to play for South Africa by signing lucrative Kolpak deals. However, Brexit means they are now eligible to return home.
Sri Lanka and the Missing Money
Sri Lanka is another example of what happens when the money runs out: The small island nation has always punched above its weight on the cricket field, but its administration is notorious for incompetence and corruption. The Sri Lankan cricketers’ wealth took a massive hit in 2011 when they simply weren’t paid for months.
At the time, Sri Lanka had arguably the best white-ball line-up in world cricket, with all-time legends like Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Dilshan, Murali, and Malinga bringing them within touching distance of a second World Cup victory. But it was all downhill from there – over the next few years, the legends retired, the investment in grass-roots cricket was insufficient, and the corruption in the country’s cricket administration reached obscene levels. The average Sri Lankan cricketer’s net worth fell, and nowadays, the plucky South Asian nation struggles to compete on the international stage.
Pakistan’s Payment Problem
Pakistan is another case study on the same topic. Perhaps the most enigmatic cricketing nation both on and off the field, Pakistan has an unfortunate history of match-fixing: Teams or players deliberately underperforming in exchange for payoffs from bookmakers.
The problem came to a head in 2010, when captain Salman Butt convinced young bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir to bowl no-balls for money in a match against England. All three received lengthy bans.
New Zealand: A New Hope?
The exception to these problems is the southern nation of New Zealand. In 2017, the country’s captain and richest cricketer – Kane Williamson – earned just $250,000 plus modest match fees. Yet in that relaxed, no-nonsense manner typical of both himself and his nation, Williamson has led New Zealand to the pinnacle of cricket.
In 2019, the Kiwis were desperately unlucky and lost the World Cup final on a technicality. In early 2021, after a near-perfect 2020, New Zealand became the #1 test team in the world for the first time. In June this year, the Black Caps will face off against India in the final of the first-ever World Test Championship. The team’s success is a much-needed reminder that money isn’t everything.
The Top 5 Richest Cricketers in the World
5. Brian Lara, West Indies – net worth: ~$60 million
4. Ricky Ponting, Australia – net worth: ~65 million
3. Virat Kohli, India – net worth: ~$93 million
2. MS Dhoni, India – net worth: ~$111 million
1. Sachin Tendulkar, India – net worth: ~$120 million
Despite Morris’s surprise payday, he’s not even close to making this list. Why? Because the greatest cricketers in recent times have made the vast majority of their money through sponsorships and advertising deals. It’s for that same reason that four of the top five cricketers on our list are retired; evidently, the bucks don’t stop flowing when the runs do.
Who is the highest-paid cricketer in the world?
You might have assumed that the richest cricketer in the world right now is Chris Morris, given that he recently sold for a record 2.25 million USD in the IPL auction. However, he’s way off the mark. Among current cricketers, Virat Kohli is the highest-paid overall and the only one to make it onto the Forbes highest sports salary list, having reportedly earned 26 million USD in 2020, with the bulk of that coming from sponsorships and endorsements.
Who is the richest cricketer in the world in 2020?
Ironically, the richest cricket player in 2020 last played an international match in 2013. Sachin Tendulkar, the leading run-scorer in cricket history, has continued making millions long after retirement thanks to sponsorship deals. As the highest-paid cricketer of all time, we’re betting he’ll be hard to displace from the top of this list.
Who is the king of cricket?
That would have to be King Kohli, wouldn’t it? Although we’re betting that West Indies legend Chris Gayle, also known as the Universe Boss, might have something to say about that.