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On the face of it, Shreyas Iyer’s central contract snub is baffling and harsh

Shreyas Iyer contract snub harsh
by Naman Agarwal 5 minute read

Shreyas Iyer has had a crazy last few months.

Around five months back, he was in a race against time to be fit for the 2023 World Cup. Then he had an all-timer of a World Cup campaign, stacking up unprecedented numbers for a middle order batter, before eventually failing in the final. Next came the South Africa Test tour, where he looked out of sorts, scoring 41 runs in four innings. And now, four Tests into the marquee home series against England, he finds himself dropped not only from the squad but also, surprisingly, from BCCI’s central contracts roster.

While no official explanation has been given for his exclusion, it’s almost an open secret why he has “not been considered for the annual contracts in this round of recommendations.” Over the last few weeks, BCCI had been sending out strong signals about enforcing their new directive of making contracted players prioritise domestic cricket over the IPL.

Jay Shah, the BCCI secretary wrote an email to players warning them of “severe implications” if they don’t participate in domestic cricket. Rohit Sharma, the India captain, then said after victory in the Ranchi Test that players “who show a hunger and desire for Test cricket will be given preference”.

While it’s a sensible and noble idea on the surface, it perhaps didn’t warrant stripping away the central contract of the player who was a first-choice pick in the middle order in Tests and ODIs till two weeks back.

Iyer’s issues with the board seemed to have started around early 2024. Not picked for the Afghanistan T20Is that followed the South Africa series, there were concerns that he might have been dropped from the side. Instead, he was asked to play the Ranji Trophy, which he did. In the second round fixture against Andhra starting January 12, Iyer scored a brisk 48 in the only innings he batted. Soon after, he was named in the Test squad to face England.

With Virat Kohli pulling out of the series due to personal reasons, Iyer’s role in the middle order became all the more important, particularly given his reputation as a spin-basher. However, despite getting himself set on all four occasions across the first two Tests of the series, Iyer failed to cross fifty even once. Consequently, he was dropped from the squad for the last three Tests.

Right before the squad for the last three Tests of the series was announced, however, reports emerged that Iyer complained of back issues. “Iyer has informed the Indian team management and the medical staff that his back gets stiff after playing more than 30 balls and he feels pain in his groin while playing forward defence,” read a report by The Indian Express.

BCCI’s squad announcement, however, contained no mention of any injury. In fact, according to The Indian Express, the NCA’s email to the Indian management regarding Iyer’s fitness read, “Shreyas Iyer was fit and available for selection as per the handover report of the Indian team after the 2nd Test match against England. There are currently no fresh injuries reported as well after his departure from Team India.”

This came after Iyer had opted out of Mumbai’s quarter-final clash against Baroda in the Ranji Trophy, scheduled to begin on February 23, leading to speculations that Iyer might be “faking” injury to avoid playing domestic cricket. To add to that, pictures emerged of him attending a KKR camp during this time, which must have irked the BCCI bosses as it went directly against the directive they had issued, contributing to the eventual decision of taking away his contract. As things stand now, Iyer has made himself available for Mumbai’s semi-final match against Tamil Nadu, scheduled to start on March 2.

Even if we are to believe that Iyer was faking an injury (which, by the way, required him to undergo surgery and miss the IPL last year), to avoid playing a domestic first-class game after having been juggling between three formats in international cricket over the last six months, the punishment does not seem to be proportionate to the crime.

BCCI’s new player retainership guidelines dictate that “athletes who meet the criteria of playing a minimum of 3 Tests or 8 ODIs or 10 T20Is within the specified period will automatically be included in Grade C on a pro-rata basis.” Iyer, in the period under consideration for the 2023/24 central contracts (October 1, 2023 to September 30, 2024), has played four Tests, 12 ODIs, and two T20Is, scoring 145, 582, and 61 runs respectively. In fact, during this time period, only four other Indian batters have scored more runs than Iyer in international cricket.

The BCCI is trying hard to set a strong precedent so that youngsters don’t fall in the very tempting trap of optimising their yearly calendars to keep themselves in the best shape for the IPL. But perhaps Iyer (and Kishan, who is in the same boat as him) acted based on precedent too. High-profile Indian players in the past have put the needs of their IPL franchises ahead of the national team, let alone their state sides, without the bosses batting an eye.

Perhaps BCCI has recognised that and are trying to course-correct, but what should, at most, have been a rap on the knuckles, has turned out to be an amputation of the entire hand. Like everything BCCI, perhaps there’s more than what meets the eye, but nonetheless, Iyer has reasons to believe he has been hard done by.

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