Underfire senior pros -- Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwer Pujara, who once were the backbone of the Indian Test side but are going through a lean phase in recent times, could be demoted to group B of the BCCI central contracts for the year 2022 while the likes of Rishabh Pant and KL Rahul, who have done well in the recent past, are likely to get promoted to Group A.
The central contract is an indicator of the player's performance during the last season and when BCCI finalises the new contract list for 2022 in the next few days, the duo of Rahane and Cheteshwer Pujara could be demoted due to their underwhelming performances.
In the recently-concluded three-match Test series against South Africa, the duo has not done anything exceptional and managed to score just 136 and 124 runs respectively. But, it's not about this series, as both experienced campaigners have been struggling for a while now and their poor form has been a matter of concern for the Indian team management.
Barring his match-winning century against Australia at the MCG in 2020, the Mumbai-born Rahane doesn't have too many impactful knocks under his belt and there have been calls to drop him from the Test squad.
In comparison to Rahane, Pujara has done well on overseas tours but his performances have also come in patches. In the last two years, the Indian Test team has suffered a batting collapse many times and the failure of No 3 Pujara is also one of the primary reasons for that.
So, considering all these factors Test specialists Pujara and Rahane, who are in Group A at present could be downgraded to Group B. However, it all depends on the thinking and approach of head coach Rahul Dravid, selectors and BCCI top-brass.
Notably, the BCCI has four categories -- A+, A, B, and C -- which carry annual retainership of Rs 7 crore, Rs 5 crore, Rs 3 crore, and Rs 1 crore respectively.
Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Jasprith Bumrah feature in the A-plus category and they are likely to retain their positions. Kohli, who shocked all by relinquishing his Test captaincy recently hasn't had a great relationship with BCCI in the last few months, and also hasn't performed up to his standards, so it will be interesting to see what BCCI decides about the star batter.
Despite quitting the captaincy, Virat is still one of the top batters for India across three formats and BCCI may consider this factor as well while deciding his future.
Another big talking point for the board will be to upgrade two future captaincy contenders -- KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant in the elite A+ category.
Meanwhile, the likes of Ishant Sharma and Hardik Pandya, who are currently part of group A, could be demoted to category B as both have struggled with their form and fitness throughout the season. On the other hand, all-rounder Shardul Thakur -- the only group B player who impressed everyone with his performances across formats last season, can be promoted to group A.
In the current group, C, Mohammed Siraj, Shubman Gill, and Hanuma Vihari, could expect an upgrade while the likes of Venkatesh Iyer, Harshal Patel, Prasidh Krishna could make their maiden entry in the contract list.
Overall, there could be some serious deliberations among the administrators about the composition of the different groups, before finalising the final contract list for 2022.
Last Season's (2021) Contract List
Grade A+: Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah
Grade A: Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Mohd. Shami, Ishant Sharma, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya
Grade B: Wriddhiman Saha, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shardul Thakur, Mayank Agarwal
Grade C: Kuldeep Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar, Shubman Gill, Hanuma Vihari, Axar Patel, Shreyas Iyer, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Md Siraj.