The BCCI announced the annual players’ contract on Thursday night, in which the cricketing body trimmed down the top bracket of Grade ‘A-plus’ to just three individuals – skipper Virat Kohli, vice-captain Rohit Sharma, and seamer Jasprit Bumrah. Last year, when the category was first announced by the Supreme Court appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA), there were five players in the top bracket.
Here is a look at what all has changed in the players’ contract from last year.
Grade A Plus (Rs 7 crore)
New contract: Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah
In 2018, the Supreme Court-appointed CoA introduced a new category of Grade ‘A-plus’ in BCCI’s annual contract list. As per a BCCI release, the idea was to indicate that “the performance and position of Indian Cricket need to be recognised with the fee structure comparable to the best in the world.” Introduced for the first time, five players made it into the category – Kohli, Sharma, Bumrah, Shikhar Dhawan, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. A year later, the BCCI has removed Kumar and Dhawan from the top bracket.
Kumar has seen a year riddled with injuries and has been away from the red-ball cricket. He was not included in any match during the four Test series against Australia in December. On the other hand, Dhawan, too, has become limited to shorter formats, after poor form in Tests in South Africa and England last year. He was not included in the Test squad for Australia, and at 33, a return to the longest format appears highly unlikely.
Grade A (Rs 5 crore)
BCCI has handed a Grade ‘A’ contract to 11 players this time, four more than the previous year. Former skipper MS Dhoni, and spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have, expectedly, retained their spot, along with Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. Many expected Pujara to get a bump to the top bracket after the Test series against Australia in which he finished as the top scorer with 521 runs in 7 innings at an average of 74.43. Rahane, on the other hand, has been away from the limited-overs squad since failing to perform in South Africa last year and is not expected to make it to the upcoming World Cup squad either.
Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar dropped to Grade ‘A’, while Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, and Kuldeep Yadav, who all were an integral part of India’s bowling unit last year, have been upgraded from ‘B’ to ‘A’ category. India have not given any contract to Murali Vijay, while Wriddhiman Saha, who was away for the most part of the year due to a back injury, has dropped down to ‘C’ category.
In Saha’s absence, wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant has grabbed the opportunity and has proven himself to be a worthy successor to MS Dhoni behind the stumps. In his first Test series, he scored a ton in England, and then followed it up with another ton in Australia. The 21-year-old was the second highest run-scorer in the 4-match Test series Down Under, scoring 350 runs in 7 innings at an average of 58.33. He is expected to be Dhoni’s understudy at the upcoming World Cup. On the back of the breakthrough year, Pant, who did not have any contract last year, has directly been given a Grade ‘A’ contract with Rs 5 crore annual income.
Grade B (Rs 3 crore)
New Contract: KL Rahul, Umesh Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Hardik Pandya
The BCCI has also significantly trimmed down Grade ‘B’ category, with Kuldeep, Ishant, and Shami getting promoted. Wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik, who has been overshadowed this past year by Pant, has been downgraded to the ‘C’ category. KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya, who both had a troublesome year, overshadowed with poor form, injuries, and controversies, have retained the spot in the bracket, along with Umesh Yadav.
The big surprise in the category is the retention of Yuzvendra Chahal. The leg-spinner has seen a steady rise in form since last year in the limited-overs cricket and has replaced Jadeja and Ashwin as the preferred spin option along with Kuldeep. In 17 ODIs last year, Chahal has taken 28 wickets at an average of 26.89. He is also the only Indian bowler to take a six-wicket haul in both ODIs and T20Is. But despite his plaudits, he has not been given an upgrade.
Grade C (Rs 1 crore)
Previous contract: Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey, Suresh Raina, Axar Patel, Karun Nair, Parthiv Patel, Jayant Yadav
New Contract: Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Ambati Rayudu, Hanuma Vihari, Khaleel Ahmed, Wriddhiman Saha
There are significant absentees and newcomers in the Grade ‘C’ category, indicating the mindset of the selectors for the year ahead. While Axar Patel, Karun Nair, Parthiv Patel, and Jayant Yadav have been dropped; Ambati Rayudu, Hanuma Vihari, and Khaleel Ahmed have joined the list. Rayudu is likely to be India’s no. 4 in the World Cup squad this year, while Vihari, who scored a fifty on Test debut in England, is likely to continue being a part of India’s squad in red-ball cricket this year.
The left-armer Ahmed has not been too impressive overseas. But with India having limited options of left-arm seamers, he has been given a central contract, hinting that India could try and continue with the experiment at least for another year.