Like last year, the 25-strong final list of BCCI-contracted male cricketers was prepared by the five-man national selection panel led by MSK Prasad. The selectors have opted to reward players who have taken significant strides over the last year and have been key performers consistently.
Who is the biggest gainer?
Rishabh Pant. He wasn’t part of the 26 contracted players in 2017-18, but has forced his way in, and all the way into the second bracket, following his exploits in international cricket since his Test debut in England last year.
Picked in place of the injured Wriddhiman Saha, Pant cracked a century in his third Test on a debut tour of England. More recently, Pant made 159 against Australia during the New Year’s Test in Sydney, having taken 11 catches in the series opener in Adelaide, the most by an Indian wicketkeeper in Tests.
Pant is currently auditioning for India’s World Cup squad. He is part of Grade A, which carries a retainer worth INR 5 crore. Pant aside, the category has R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Kuldeep Yadav.
What are the other major changes
The A+ category, worth INR 7 crore, has just three players: Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Rohit Sharma. Bhuvneshwar and Dhawan, both in the same bracket last time, have dropped to Grade A. The A bracket has 11 players compared to seven last year, with Ishant, Shami and Kuldeep Yadav moving up from Grade B.
ESPNcricinfo understands Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar were not retained in the A+ category because they did not consistently feature in all three formats last season. Dhawan struggled for form in the Test format on the tours of South Africa and England and was eventually dropped for the Australia tour, with the selectors picking Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal as alternatives. Bhuvneshwar was injured at the start of the season, and although he was included in the Test squad for Australia, he did not play in the four-match series that India won 2-1.
Where did M Vijay go?
Out, for now. Having failed to make an impression on comeback, Vijay was left out after the second Test in Perth in December. He lost his Test spot to debutant Agarwal, who was incidentally a replacement for the injured Shaw. Earlier in 2018, Vijay was dropped after the second Test at Lord’s. Shaw struck a hundred on Test debut against West Indies, and followed it up with a half-century in his next outing.
Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal – have they made the cut?
No. The two of them, along with Vijay Shankar, haven’t been included. Shaw was part of the Test squad for the Australia tour, but had to return home after a freak injury while fielding during a tour match. Agarwal made two robust half-centuries in three Test innings in Melbourne and Sydney, after being called-in midway through the tour. Vijay, who clinched India a thrilling last-over victory with the ball in the Nagpur ODI against Australia earlier this week, has given healthy headaches to the selection panel, which has put him in the pool of 18-odd players shortlisted for the World Cup. But no contract for him yet.
What happens to Wriddhiman Saha?
Having missed a lot of cricket through 2018 because of injuries, Saha, who only started playing again a few weeks back, has been moved from Grade A to Grade C. There were some new entrants to C too: Ambati Rayudu, Hanuma Vihari and Khaleel Ahmed.
Who have fallen out of favour?
Along with Vijay, Axar Patel, Karun Nair, Suresh Raina, Parthiv Patel and Jayant Yadav – all part of Grade C last time – have been omitted. Among them, Nair and Jayant didn’t feature in a single international game during the contracted period.
What’s the update on Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul?
The two players, who were suspended by the CoA briefly for their alleged misconduct on a TV chat show, will continue to be part of Grade B (INR 3 crore). On Thursday, the CoA asked Justice DK Jain, newly-appointed BCCI ombudsman, to investigate the allegations against Pandya and Rahul.. As per the BCCI constitution, the ombudsman is the final authority to adjudicate on such issues. Pandya is not part of the ongoing ODI series against Australia because of a back injury, but his stock has gradually increased over the last 18 months with the management backing him to play in all three formats as the primary allrounder.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.