MUMBAI (Reuters) - Five veteran Indian players have been told to plan their retirements by December to avoid unceremonious exits from the national team, Indian cricket board officials said on Wednesday.
"They have been given the next two home series to time a graceful exit following which they are open to the axe," one of the officials, who did not wish to be named, told Reuters.
Cricket-mad India is fiercely debating whether it is time for their record-breaking batsmen Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Vangipurappu Laxman as well as spinner Anil Kumble, the test captain, all well into their 30s, to quit.
Ganguly, 36, India's most successful test skipper, was retained in the squad on Wednesday for the first two tests of this month's home series against Australia along with the other seniors, belying media predictions he could be dropped.
The official said the five players would have to decide on their futures by the end of the home series against Australia, starting on Oct. 9, followed by England.
They have played together for 12 years and have individually or collectively led India to most of their wins, although signs of decline are evident with only Tendulkar still part of the one-day set-up.
"It is not just Saurav," the official said. "Rahul, Laxman, Sachin and Anil have also been put on notice. They have six tests to decide and have been informed about it."
India play four tests against Australia and then two against England. They then tour Pakistan in January.
Indian media reported a 'voluntary retirement' plan had been drawn up by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
"The new president (Shashank Manohar) has made it amply clear to the seniors," one of the officials said.
Kumble, the third highest test wicket-taker, is the oldest at 37 and is being named captain on a series-by-series basis since Dravid abruptly resigned the job last year.
Tendulkar, 35, made his test debut in 1989 but has suffered a spate of wear and tear injuries while Laxman, the youngest, is 34.
The debate over their future has gathered pace due to good one-day performances by a younger set of players and follows a 2-1 test series defeat in Sri Lanka where the batsmen dubbed the "Fab Four" struggled for runs.
Tendulkar needs 77 runs to overtake West Indian Brian Lara as test cricket's highest run-getter and said last week he had no plans to slow down after achieving it.