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Hardik Pandya retains place in Category A of BCCI’s annual players’ contracts for 2023-24

Board on Wednesday decided to crack whip by dropping Shreyas Iyer and Ishan Kishan from annual retainership for ignoring domestic cricket

Indranil Majumdar Calcutta Published 01.03.24, 10:21 AM
Hardik Pandya

Hardik Pandya File picture

Hardik Pandya should consider himself lucky to have retained his place in Category A of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)’s annual players’ contracts for 2023-24.

The Board on Wednesday decided to crack the whip by dropping Shreyas Iyer and Ishan Kishan from the annual retainership for ignoring domestic cricket.

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Pandya played 20 ODIs and 11 T20Is in 2023 before being sidelined with an injury in the middle of the World Cup. However, he too has been guilty of not making himself available for the Ranji Trophy in the recent past.

Sources told The Telegraph that the national selectors wanted to demote Pandya in the contracts’ category, considering that he’s not an all-format player, but the Board stepped in as it didn’t wish to send out any wrong signal. The all-rounder is the vice-captain in white-ball cricket and is tipped to take over from Rohit Sharma.

The rest of the players in Grade A — Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, KL Rahul and Shubman Gill — play all three formats.

The last time Pandya featured in a Ranji match was in December 2018 and there is talk that he prioritises only Internationals and the IPL. Since his back surgery in 2020, he has turned down calls to feature in the longer format saying his fitness doesn’t permit red-ball cricket.

Pandya’s inclusion in the A category was a matter of much debate during the final processing. It was learnt that he assured the Board he would be playing in the domestic limited-overs formats — Mushtaq Ali T20 and Vijay Hazare Trophy — if there were no international commitments during the same period.

Pandya is yet to be cleared by the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore and is expected to report there next week for a final assessment before the IPL.

There is a growing perception that several players are trying to avoid injury by not playing in the domestic circuit ahead of the IPL. The BCCI wants to give precedence to participating in domestic tournaments since that will help grooming players at the grassroots level.

What has really put Kishan in the dock is his refusal to turn up at the NCA in Bangalore or establish contact with Jharkhand, his home state association, since his return from South Africa ahead of the Test series. Instead, he was seen practising with Mumbai Indians captain Pandya in Vadodara.

Iyer too incensed the selectors and the powers-that-be in the Board by turning up for his franchise KKR at the pre-season camp in Mumbai. He, however, didn’t play the Ranji quarter final citing back spasms during the same time. The medical team at the NCA had certified him as ‘fit’.

The Board thinks that Iyer and Kishan’s exclusion will send out the right signals and a player will have to think twice before skipping Ranji Trophy from next season. The selectors do not wish to buy into the idea that white-ball players have the liberty to skip Ranji since they do not play the longer format.

Only recently former captain and head coach Ravi Shastri had floated the idea of including Arshdeep Singh as the third seamer in overseas conditions since he felt the left-arm pacer had the skills to succeed in Tests.

The message sent out in the media release on Wednesday was pretty clear. “The BCCI has recommended that all athletes give precedence to participating in domestic cricket during periods when they are not representing the national team,” secretary Jay Shah said.

Despite being eligible for a pro-rata contract, it is unlikely that both Iyer and Kishan will be offered a retainer to set a strict example for those who put IPL above other domestic competitions.

Selection committee chairman Ajit Agarkar has proved to be a tough taskmaster in dealing with players’ whims and is open to giving rookies an opportunity at the expense of experienced hands. The chances of Iyer and Kishan making it to the T20 World Cup in June on the back of a rollicking IPL seem bleak.

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