Mumbai: Offspinner R Ashwin has replaced Harbhajan Singh in the Grade A level – the highest – of the BCCI's list of central contracts for 2012-13. The annual retainers are worth Rs 1 crore for Grade A, Rs 50 lakh for Grade B and Rs 25 lakhs for Grade C.
Ashwin, who took over the mantle of India's Test spinner from Harbhajan last year, has joined the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and the Indian opening pair of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir in the top bracket. Irfan Pathan is also a major beneficiary of the BCCI’s scheme, earning a Grade B contract after previously being ignored for the past two seasons, while Ishant Sharma has been demoted a level from Grade A and Ravindra Jadeja and Praveen Kumar from B to C.
Ashwin has cemented his place as India's premier spinner with 49 wickets in eight Tests since being handed a debut after Harbhajan had a forgettable year. Harbhajan was dropped after failing to make an impression on the tours of the West Indies and England in 2011, and his form in domestic cricket was not encouraging either. He was called back into India's Twenty20 squad recently and marked his return with a four-wicket haul in a big win over England in the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka.
Irfan, 27, made his international comeback in December 2011 after more than two years and has been a feature of India's ODI and Twenty20 team since. In that time, he has taken 21 wickets in 13 ODIs and 12 wickets in eight T20s.
Cheteshwar Pujara – see as the successor to Rahul Dravid in Tests – has moved up from Grade C to B, as did Ajinkya Rahane and Umesh Yadav, but Saurashtra fast bowler Jaydev Unadkat, who was previously in Grade C, has not received a contract. Sreesanth too has not been given a contract after being dropped after the England tour.
Bengal's Ashok Dinda was awarded a Grade C contract after an impressive domestic season in which he was the leading Ranji Trophy wicket-taker and earned a recall to India's limited-overs squads. Joining him in Grade C was Tamil Nadu seamer L Balaji, who returned to India's Twenty20 side in Sri Lanka after a strong IPL season, and Yusuf Pathan.
Grade A: Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin.
Grade B: Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Irfan Pathan, Umesh Yadav.
Grade C: Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Vinay Kumar, Munaf Patel, Abhimanyu Mithun, Murali Vijay. Shikhar Dhawan, Wriddhiman Saha, Parthiv Patel, Manoj Tiwary, S Badrinath, Piyush Chawla, Dinesh Karthik, Rahul Sharma, Varun Aaron, Abhinav Mukund, Ashok Dinda, Yusuf Pathan, Praveen Kumar, L Balaji.