Shoaib and Kaneria earn top contracts

In a fitting indication of the extremes within which Pakistan cricket operates, Shoaib Akhtar has been awarded a central contract for 2009 and been placed in the top of three categories. This time last year, Shoaib had been demoted to a special retainership category for players whose form and fitness were in doubt. He refused to take it and instead responded angrily, sparking a sequence which eventually saw him being banned and fined by the board.

Shoaib played just three Twenty20s in a four-nation tournament in Canada and missed all of Pakistan's other commitments through injury or the ban. But under another new administration and team management he has been reinstated to the premier rank of Pakistan's players.

Mohammad Asif, as expected, finds himself out of the picture altogether, with no place in any of the categories. He is currently suspended by the PCB after testing positive for steroids during the IPL last year. It was another controversial year for Asif who was also held at Dubai Airport on suspicion of possessing a recreational drug, before being released after 19 days with the charges dropped. His fall has been as swift as Shoaib's rise: at the beginning of last year, he had been promoted to the top category.

The contracts were awarded after inputs from Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam, Abdul Qadir, chief selector and Yawar Saeed, the team manager. The other winner in the new contracts - and another example of the vague criteria applied by the administration - is Danish Kaneria. Last year, Kaneria was demoted to category C, a decision which prompted considerable criticism at the time. Yet, without playing a single match for Pakistan in 2008, Kaneria finds himself in category A this year.

Salman Butt and Umar Gul also move up after impressive years. But Sohail Tanvir, Pakistan's best ODI bowler in 2008, will rightly ask why he is in the same group as Yasir Hameed, Faisal Iqbal and Mohammad Hafeez, none of whom played for Pakistan last year.

Seniority, said the PCB, played a significant role this time. Last year, a mix of seniority, performance, fitness and discipline had been factored in while awarding the contracts. "The central contracts were devised by coach Intikhab Alam, manager Yawar Saeed and chief selector Abdul Qadir and the main criteria was seniority of the players," Salim Altaf, chief operating officer PCB, told reporters.

Salaries for each category remain the same, a boost given speculation in recent weeks that the board would cut down salaries in the face of a severe financial crunch. That means category A players receive Rs 250,000 per month, category B Rs 175,000 and category C, Rs 100,000.

The retainership category has been removed this time and no winning bonuses will be on offer as they were last year but match fees for Tests have been increased from Rs 250,000 per match to Rs 350,000.

Category A Shoaib Akhtar, Younis Khan, Danish Kaneria, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Misbah-ul-Haq, Salman Butt, Umar Gul

Category B Yasir Hameed, Faisal Iqbal, Mohammad Hafeez, Sohail Tanvir

Category C Rao Iftikhar Anjum, Abdur Rehman, Yasir Arafat, Fawad Alam, Khurram Manzoor, Saeed Ajmal, Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz, Samiullah Khan Niazi, Sarfraz Ahmad, Nasir Jamshed, Umar Amin, Azhar Ali