There is not much difference between players on the brink of national team and players who comprise the team. However, the latter are millionaires while the domestic cricketers currently are nothing more than 'daily labourers' although the contract system may make a difference.
Domestic cricket matches are regularly played to empty galleries. However, football, considered a lesser game in India, attract crowds at least in some parts of the country. Cricket's is a top down system and a top down system is bound to collapse at some period of time.
I would not say cricket does not have roots among the masses in India. If I did, players like Irfan Pathan, Virender Sehwag, and Zaheer Khan will prove me wrong. But, have you ever seen a hoarding or a newspaper advertisement announcing a domestic cricket match where one of the international players is playing? I am sure most of the domestic matches go unnoticed due to lack of proper marketing.
United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) introduced 20-over matches to pull in dwindling crowds for domestic cricket in South Africa. Novelties included a earpiece through which the commentator could contact the fielding captain, a device to measure the heartbeat of batsmen when facing fast bowlers, and cheer girls. The experiment was a success as it pulled crowds as intended.
But many die-hard cricket fans, who would watch even a Test match ball by ball, protested that 20-over matches were killing cricket as it favoured batsmen and turned cricket into a slogger's game. True, a 20-over match will bruise the egos of bowlers much more than a One-day match, which is already being called a batsman's game.
The solution as I see is, use 20-over matches as a marketing tool for domestic cricket. Hold 20-over matches in venues where domestic tournaments like the Ranji trophy are held. Extend the icings of the 20-over match cakes to other forms of domestic cricket, like the commentary through the public address system and communication of the commentator with captains. That would appeal to a crowd accustomed to live commentary in televised matches.
Packaging is essential in the modern world to sell anything. So my suggestion is, package domestic cricket as a glamorous sport and provide 20-over cricket as an icing on the cake. It is not a new thing. One-day Internationals are marketed as one of the most glamorous sporting events in the world. The target should be to raise domestic cricket to a level where it would be what it should be, a sibling international cricket would like to show off, not hide.
Only such a move would raise the status of domestic cricketers and pull in real talent to cricket. I can bet that if domestic cricketers get a fraction of the recognition and fame their international counterparts get, cricket will move out of its traditional strong holds like Mumbai and champion teams will emerge from states like Kerala. A change in the current structure of domestic tournaments to enable them to remain in public memory would be welcome. Television channels, which are fighting for a piece of international cricket, may well turn their attention to domestic cricket, a move beneficial to everyone.
The gap between international cricket and domestic cricket should be filled at any cost. A mere raise in wages of players as announced by Board of Control for Cricket in India and then denied by its officials would not improve domestic cricket by itself. Recognition is more important and the entire process of making domestic cricket into a mass sport in India should focus on it. Heroes in domestic cricket should get their due.