In an indication that they may no longer figure in Indian cricket's scheme of things, the senior trio of opener Virender Sehwag, pacer Zaheer Khan and spinner Harbhajan Singh were on Thursday dropped from the BCCI's list of contracted players for the year 2013-14.
In the list, pruned to 25 players from the previous year's 37, only five have been kept inside Grade A, under which players draw in Rs one crore per annum. The five in the top group include skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, rising batsmen Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina and off-spinner R Ashwin. Also there in the list is Sachin Tendulkar, who has been retained despite retiring at the end of his 200th Test which is currently being played in Mumbai against the West Indies.
All these players were there in the list last year as well.
The axing from the list of contracted players could be the beginning of the end for Sehwag, who has not played a Test since March this year, and Zaheer, out for almost a year due to fitness issues.
Opener Gautam Gambhir, who has been dropped from the team due to poor form, and all-rounder Yuvraj Singh were demoted to Grade B, which draws a fixed salary of Rs 50 lakh. Dashing opener Shikhar Dhawan, batsman Murali Vijay, all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja and pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar were rewarded for their good performances in the season gone by as they were promoted to Grade B from C.
Surprisingly, gangly pacer Ishant Sharma was retained in Group B despite a string opf ordinary performances which led to him being dropped from the ODI team recently.
Harbhajan, who is trying to make a comeback with good performances in the ongoing Ranji Trophy season, and injury-ravaged pacer Irfan Pathan are the only other players from Group B who have been altogether dropped.
Grade C has been massively pruned from 20 to a mere 9 this year.
"The players who do not figure in these lists will be placed in Grade C if they represent India in Tests/ODIs/T20 Internationals during the season," BCCI Secretary Sanjay Patel said in a statement.
In this group, rising pacer Mohammed Shami is the new entrant after making an impression in the ongoing Test series against the West Indies. Others in the list include batsman-cum-wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik, Ajinkya Rahane and pacer Vinay Kumar.
All-rounder Yusuf Pathan and spinner Piyush Chawla were the notable absentees in the latest list.
The grade-wise list is as follows:
GRADE A (Rs one crore): Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virat Kohli, R. Ashwin, Suresh Raina
GRADE B (Rs 50 lakh): Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Umesh Yadav, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Rohit Sharma.
GRADE C (Rs 25 lakh): Dinesh Karthik, Amit Mishra, Wriddhiman Saha, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Vinay Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Jaydev Unadkat, Mohit Sharma.