LAHORE: The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) promoted wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Rizwan and fast bowler Hasan Ali in Category A of central contracts announced for elite 20 players on Friday. The duo join Pakistan skipper Babar Azam and pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi in the top category. The contracts determine pay and other benefits for the 20 players, with the aim of retaining talent in Pakistan. The latest list is also a timely birthday gift for Hasan, who turned 27 on Friday. Hasan missed out on a contract last year through injury, but has made a great comeback in all three formats –– taking 10 wickets against South Africa in February and another nine against Zimbabwe three months later. Rizwan has also been playing well, scoring maiden Test and Twenty20 centuries this year. The PCB has also included three emerging cricketers in the central contracts, in which match fee across all formats has been equalised. Seniors like Wahab Riaz and Shoaib Malik still remain out of the list like last year. Senior top-order batter Azhar Ali, meanwhile, has been demoted from Category A to Category B. He might consider himself unlucky given that he averages 50.76 in nine Tests since Pakistan’s tour of England last year. Former captain Sarfaraz Ahmed has managed to retain his contract, though he has dropped down from Category B to C. He was originally dropped from the Pakistan side in 2019, across all formats, but he has been travelling with the squad of late, due to the requirement of larger touring parties in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, deputising for Rizwan who is the first-choice wicketkeeper. Sarfaraz has played just one ODI and two T20Is since the start of 2020. The list was finalised by the panel that comprised Director International Cricket Zakir Khan, Chief Selector Muhammad Wasim and Director High Performance Nadeem Khan, who also consulted head coach Misbahul Haq and captain Babar Azam as part of the process. The provisional list was then shared with Chief Executive Wasim Khan, before it was approved by PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani. The 12-month contracts will run from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022. The PCB has upped salaries for all the contracted players, with ‘A’ category players getting Rs.1.375 million ($8700) a month. Faheem Ashraf, Fawad Alam, Mohammad Nawaz and Nauman Ali have been offered central contracts in recognition of their contributions and performances in the 2020-21 season. Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain, who were in the Emerging Category last year, have been promoted to Category C. Senior players Shan Masood, Mohammad Abbas, Asad Shafiq, Usman Shinwari and Imad Wasim are not part of the list, as well as exciting youngsters Haider Ali and Naseem Shah. “However, they remain firmly in the selectors’ plan for the season ahead and have the opportunity to earn contracts for the 2022-23 season, subject to performances during the 2021-22 season,” said a spokesman for the PCB. Naseem, who is 18 years old, and Haider, who is 20, had been considered among Pakistan’s strongest future prospects before they were axed from the contracts list. Haider made two half-centuries in his first three T20I innings but has regressed since then, his current average in the format a modest 19.69 after 15 matches. More recently, he was suspended from the PSL final for breaching Covid-19 protocols. Naseem made a strong start to his international career too, becoming the youngest bowler to take a Test hat-trick and the youngest fast bowler to pick up a five-wicket haul in the format. He won an Emerging contract last year but his career has slumped of late, with fitness concerns and a subsequent loss of form. He was dropped for a large part of the year before being recalled to Pakistan’s squad for the Test series in the West Indies next month. PCB chief executive Wasim Khan said the equalisation of match fees meant that all players who walk out together to represent Pakistan would receive the same match fees irrespective of which category they were in, or whether they had a central contract or not. “Despite the challenging economic climate, we believe that it is important to continue to show advancement and significant progress in contracts,” added Wasim Khan. Central Contracts Category A: Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Hasan Ali. Category B: Azhar Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Fawad Alam, Shadab Khan, Yasir Shah. Category C: Abid Ali, Imamul Haq, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Nauman Ali, Sarfaraz Ahmed. Emerging Category: Imran Butt, Shahnawaz Dahani and Usman Qadir.