Delay in contract process benefits Pujara, Vijay

Had it not been for the overtly deferred finalisation of the annual contracts, thanks to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) being muddled in a plethora of legal tangles, Cheteshwar Pujara and M. Vijay may not have been elevated to the top tier, while veteran Yuvraj Singh, included in Grade B, would have found it difficult to even make it to the list.

Cheteshwar Pujara (right) and M. Vijay were elevated to the top tier due to their recent performances   -  File Photo

No doubt that the windfall for India cricketers, announced on Wednesday with a steep hike in annual retainer and match-fees, was long overdue. But the fact that the delay in chalking out nitty-gritty of the 2016-17 annual contracts has resulted in a lot of beneficiaries, thanks to their exploits in the ongoing contract cycle.

Had it not been for the overtly deferred finalisation of the annual contracts, thanks to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) being muddled in a plethora of legal tangles, Cheteshwar Pujara and M. Vijay may not have been elevated to the top tier, while veteran Yuvraj Singh, included in Grade B, would have found it difficult to even make it to the list.

Men in Blues

Ever since the BCCI introduced annual player contracts in 2004-05, the contracts are awarded from October to September. The contracts are finalised by the gradation committee, consisting the BCCI president, secretary and the chief selector. The gradation committee conventionally would be convened soon after the BCCI annual general meeting in September and the contracts used to be announced after being ratified by the working committee either in early November or December.

The norm was followed when the 2015-16 contracts were announced on November 9, 2015. Even when the last time the BCCI hiked annual retainers and match-fees before Wednesday, in 2010, the contracts were declared on November 11.

All along, the BCCI has stressed that the contracts are based primarily on the players' performance during the preceding contract cycle. The gradation committee also factors in the selectors' plans for the cycle. If the 2015-16 performance was a yardstick, Pujara and Vijay would have found it difficult to earn a promotion from Grade B to Grade A.

Pujara scored 495 runs in nine Tests at an average of 41.25, well below his usual career average that has hovered between high 40s and early 50s. He was even controversially dropped for a Test in the West Indies last year, with the team management doubting his ability to rotate strike. Similarly, Vijay featured in eight of India's 10 Tests during the cycle, tallying 374 runs at an average of 34.

However, the fact the duo has been on song during India's long season of Test cricket at home – combined with the growing demand for the need for Test specialists' compensation to match at least the base price of top IPL players – played to its advantage when the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) sat down on Wednesday to prepare the list of contracts.

Yuvraj had lost his place after a forgettable outing in the World Twenty20 last year but made a dazzling recall with a hundred in an ODI against England this January. With the assets that Pujara and Vijay have been to India's bunch in white flannels, there's no doubting that they didn't deserve a promotion. One wonders if the promotion would have been so smooth had the BCCI settled the issue in October or November.

Curious case of Raina’s omission

The most prominent omission from the list of 32 contracted players was that of Suresh Raina. However, considering the fact that Raina has fulfilled the criteria to earn the annual retainer, his omission from the list poses a question on whether it's a slip-up by the CoA.

Till last year, the BCCI had a rule that any non-contracted player who features in India's XI in any of the three formats earns the lowest grade retainer on a pro-rata basis for the remaining cycle. However, the BCCI in November 2015 increased the eligibility from one to three caps.

Raina, who has had an ailment-plagued domestic season, featured in all three Twenty20 Internationals against England earlier in the year. Still, his name was missing from the list announced on Wednesday. Sportstar understands that the message from chief selector to the CoA was Raina no longer “fits into the scheme of things” for the selectors.

Even if that is the case, the existing rulebook shouldn't be kept aside, at least by the CoA.

Ups and downs

Promotions: Cheteshwar Pujara, M. Vijay (Grade B to A), Ravindra Jadeja (Grade C to A), K.L. Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha (Grade C to B).

Demotions: Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu (Grade B to C).

Additions: Yuvraj Singh, Jasprit Bumrah (Grade B), Manish Pandey, Karun Nair, Hardik Pandya, Ashish Nehra, Kedar Jadhav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Parthiv Patel, Jayant Yadav, Mandeep Singh, Shardul Thakur, Rishabh Pant (Grade C).

Omissions: Suresh Raina (Grade B), Stuart Binny, Mohit Sharma, Varun Aaron, Karn Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, S. Aravind (Grade C).

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