Cricket, much like life, is a game of great uncertainty. This element of unpredictability is, under ordinary circumstances, limited to the field of play. But these are extraordinary times and, hence, the possibility of off-the-field drama can no longer be ruled out. The events leading to the ‘cancellation’ of the fifth and final Test match between India and England after Indian players refused to take the field fearing a further spread of Covid-19 infections in their rank and file given that several members of the support staff, including the coach, had contracted the virus were both unprecedented and dramatic. An initial statement by the England and Wales Cricket Board — that India were “unable to field a team and will instead forfeit the match” — was quickly changed to a rather benign pronouncement in which the word, forfeit, did not find any mention. Whether this is an instance of the camaraderie shared by members of the English cricket board with the wise men who run the Board of Control for Cricket in India or yet another example of the BCCI — it has the deepest pockets in world cricket — barrelling its way out of a sticky pitch remains a matter of conjecture.
The ‘result’ in Manchester would come as a disappointment to fans of both teams who had followed, their hearts in their mouth, an enthralling, ‘yo-yo’ series in which fortunes swung from one side to the other. The word is that the match will be rescheduled in the future. But by that time, given the chock-a-block nature of the international cricket calendar, this series would have lost its lustre. It is perfectly acceptable for the BCCI to prioritize the health of the players. But some questions must be raised for the sake of the cricket fan. Why did the coach, captain and other members of the Indian team get away with attending a crowded public event? They did so without the necessary clearance. Will the board examine this breach and show the spine to discipline errant players since the event, it is believed, was the source of the infection? Would the BCCI have endorsed the players’ refusal to play had the Indian Premier League — its favoured cash cow — not been on the horizon? Covid-induced isolation of stars may well have robbed the IPL of its glitter.
There is, in this strange incident, something for the International Cricket Council to ponder as well. Cricket is likely to be played under the shadow of the pandemic for a while. Does this merit a change in the forfeiture rule — the ICC’s regulation for Covid-19 does not include forfeiture for the World Test Championships — so that teams guilty of lowering their guard — Indian players did so by taking the risk of attending a book launch — can be penalized? A mechanism should be put in place to prevent such embarrassing lapses from taking place. The BCCI and the ICC owe this much to cricket lovers.