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BCCI Central Contracts: Doors closed for Iyer, Kishan and Pujara?

Last updated on 29 Feb 2024 | 04:19 PM
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BCCI Central Contracts: Doors closed for Iyer, Kishan and Pujara?

The top tier remains the same, with each of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja retaining their lucrative contracts

The financial year 2023-24 is nearing its end. As most of us are busy filling up our self-reviews, something similar is also happening in the BCCI. The Board of Control for Cricket in India has rolled out the central contracts for the Indian players. Last year, the board handed out the contracts to 26 players. The pool has been expanded to 30 players this year across four categories - Grade A+ (INR 7 crore per year), Grade A (INR 5 crore), Grade B (INR 3 crore) and Grade C (INR 1 crore). 

The top tier remains the same, with each of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja retaining their lucrative contracts. Hardik Pandya, India’s prime seam all-rounder, is placed in Grade A. 

Grade C has 15 players and is loaded with T20 specialists with the exception of Rajat Patidar, KS Bharat, Prasidh Krishna, who recently played Test cricket for India, and Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur, who have played red-ball cricket before. 

Yashasvi Jaiswal has fetched his maiden contract, owing to his swashbuckling form in T20 cricket, alongside scoring two double hundreds in the Test series against England. He gets straight into the Grade B category. Rishabh Pant, recovering from his accident in December 2022, is retained as a contracted player but is demoted from Grade A to B. 

Dhruv Jurel, the player-of-the-match during India’s Test win in Ranchi, hasn’t broken into the contracted player’s list yet, but will do so in all probability after the Dharamshala Test, which he is bound to play if fit. 

Moving on from the highlights, here are some key takeaways from the list of contracted players. 

The Iyer, Kishan fiasco

Shreyas Iyer and Ishan Kishan are the main highlights of this contract announcement. The two played across all formats for India in 2023. Kishan also made his Test debut in July 2023. But both have faced the axe due to off-field issues. Various media reports have circulated of late highlighting the same. 

Kishan asked for a break during the Test series in South Africa and hasn’t joined the team yet. Head coach Rahul Dravid stated that Kishan will have to play in the Ranji Trophy to seek a comeback in the national team. However, the left-hander skipped the season and returned to competitive cricket only during the recently started DY Patil T20 tournament in Mumbai. 

There is a whole other story with Iyer. He had complained of a stiff back during the second Test against England in Visakhapatnam. But BCCI didn’t issue any statement on Iyer’s absence from the squad for the remaining three Tests. It was a clear sign that Iyer was dropped, but the right-hander has returned to domestic cricket after being named in the squad for the Ranji Trophy semi-final against Tamil Nadu, starting March 2 (Saturday).  

After the Rajkot Test, the BCCI Secretary Jay Shah wrote a letter to the centrally contracted players, asking them not to prioritize the IPL over current commitments with the state and national teams. 

“Performance in domestic tournaments remains a critical yardstick for selection, and non-participation in domestic cricket will carry severe implications,” Shah wrote in the letter. 

The ouster of Iyer and Kishan, who have played over 25 international matches for India over the 12 months, seems to be the “severe implication” that the BCCI Secretary mentioned in his letter. 

The BCCI have pulled the trigger to set a precedent for other players in the future. 

Doors closed for Pujara and Dhawan? 

You seldom see paperwork being done on a player’s permanent exclusion from the side. This appears to be the case with Cheteshwar Pujara. The right-hander last played Test cricket for India in the World Championship Final in June 2023. Since then, India have featured in eight Tests across three different series. Pujara has not been a part of any of these games. 

India had the opportunity to recall Pujara during the ongoing Test series against England. With Virat Kohli unavailable and several other senior players injured, India were thin on experience. Meanwhile, Pujara has been scoring heaps of runs in the ongoing Ranji Trophy. In Saurashtra’s campaign that ended in the quarter-final, the 36-year-old mustered 829 runs with three hundreds. 

Yet, India preferred youngsters doing well in domestic cricket over Pujara, thus prioritizing the transition process. While that was a good enough hint that Pujara won’t be considered for future Test matches, this development sort of clears that India have moved on from their premier number three batter. 

There is a similar case with Shikhar Dhawan and Umesh Yadav, who last played for India in December 2022 and June 2023, respectively. 

In the previous cycle, Pujara was contracted in Grade B, while Dhawan and Umesh were a part of Grade C players. 

KL, Gill, Siraj promoted

KL Rahul, Mohammed Siraj and Shubman Gill have earned the Grade A category promotions. All of them were listed in Grade B in the previous cycle. 

The trio has been among India's standout players. Gill was long-eyed as a future three-format player. He has not appeared in the T20s consistently, but Gill has played in most international fixtures for India since 2023 - 54 games. 

The Punjab-born became a pivotal part of the ODI and Test side. In 50-over cricket, Gill has 2,222 runs since 2023 at an average of 65.4, with six hundreds, out of which one was a double ton against New Zealand last year. Gill’s Test numbers have been dodgy in this time period - an average of 34.2 - but Gill's second innings’ exploits keep him a Test team regular for the time being, translating into a Grade A contract. 

Rahul earned his spot in the Test team during the series in South Africa, where he bagged a hundred on his comeback as a wicketkeeper batter. That gig was based on Rahul’s exploits in the same role in the ODI side. Barring the game missed due to injuries, Rahul was a regular in the 50-over setup, smashing over 1000 runs in 2023 alone, averaging 66.3. He is far from the T20 setup, but being a frontline option in two formats has elevated Rahul from Grade B. 

Two of India’s all-format players have been elevated a step above - Siraj from Grade B to Grade A and Kuldeep Yadav from Grade C to Grade B. 

Owing to workload, Siraj has played only two T20Is since 2023 but has achieved great heights in ODIs and Tests. In ODIs, Siraj reached the number one ranking in ICC’s bowler’s rankings. Meanwhile, Kuldeep can feel a bit unlucky not being a part of the Grade A players. 

Since 2023, Kuldeep has featured in 43 matches for India, including three Tests, 10 T20Is and 30 ODIs. However, the three Tests listed here were all during the ongoing Test series against England. But given that Kuldeep has leapfrogged Axar as the secondary spinner with three consecutive Test caps against England, one can say he has sealed his spot in the Test side for the time being, which should have resulted in a Grade A contract. 

Axar slides down

Axar Patel has played as many games as KL Rahul but is demoted into the Grade B category. The all-rounder was a regular part of the side in the white-ball setup. However, Axar missed the 50-over World Cup due to an injury. 

The left-hander’s bowling numbers have taken a hit since 2023. It was his batting that kept him floating in India’s player pool across formats. However, Axar has been dropped from the Test XI in the ongoing series against England. Losing his place to Kuldeep in the Rajkot and the Ranchi Test may have played a role in his demotion to Grade B. 

It is a sign that he isn’t a regular in the Test XI anymore, even though he is a part of the squad and is moved behind Ravichandran Ashwin, Jadeja and Kuldeep as the fourth preferred spinner in the longer format.

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