Test a risk, onward to Indian Premier League
Long before it was officially announced that the final Test in Manchester had been cancelled, the Indian cricketers knew that there would be no play on Friday. They had been restricted to their rooms and had been told by the team management not to venture out.
Most of the Indian players had been awake till the wee hours of Friday. They had spent the night in virtual meetings with Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) mandarins expressing their apprehensions about playing the Test at Old Trafford. With several of the senior players travelling with their families, their well-being was of utmost importance to them.
Captain Virat Kohli and limited overs vice-captain Rohit Sharma led the consultations and made it clear that they weren’t willing to play under the circumstances. The entire contingent returned negative RT-PCR tests on Thursday, but a second round of testing was done to avoid any further confusion. Those results are still awaited.
There is a growing fear that more cases could emerge since there’s a gestation period of 96 hours for the virus to show symptoms. The players even sent out a mail to BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah expressing their concerns.
The BCCI accordingly informed the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) that they wouldn’t be in a position to field a team because of the players’ reluctance. The BCCI insisted on cancelling the series while the ECB made it clear that any refusal to play would be interpreted as forfeiture.
The BCCI refused to accept it since it would mean England would square the series 2-2. Moreover, the BCCI could become a party to claims of revenue loss from the broadcasters.
It was only after several rounds of discussions that the ECB agreed to budge though both boards have differed on the interpretation of the decision.
The World Test Championship rules allow a match to be cancelled if there’s a Covid-19 outbreak within a team. The BCCI wants the current situation to fall into that category with four positive cases in their contingent.
The ECB’s contention has been that none of the Indian players have tested positive for the virus and thus it cannot be interpreted as such.
The ECB though shouldn’t complain.
Only last December they had abandoned a limited overs tour of South Africa following a breach at the team hotel. The players had refused to play because of safety concerns. Besides the hotel staff, two England players returned positive test results which were later found to be false.
“This is not a Covid cancellation,” Tom Harrison, ECB chief executive, said in Manchester. “The match was cancelled because of serious concerns over the mental health and well-being of one of the teams.”
The BCCI “has offered to ECB a rescheduling of the cancelled Test match”, a media release said. Harrison observed
the Test could be considered a standalone match in that case. If the boards refuse to agree, the matter will go to the ICC’s Dispute Resolution Committee.
The fear factor that gripped the Indian contingent followed assistant physio Yogesh Parmar returning a positive RT-PCR test on Thursday morning. Parmar had been in close proximity with several of the players after his senior Nitin Patel isolated himself despite returning a negative test. Patel had been identified as a close contact of head coach Ravi Shastri, who tested positive during The Oval Test.
Bowling coach Bharat Arun and fielding coach R. Sridhar, the other immediate close contacts of Shastri, also tested positive and are in isolation in London.
Shastri’s role in organising a book release function without permission from the BCCI or the ECB is increasingly coming under the scanner. The team’s administrative manager, Girish Dongre, is believed to have asked the players to attend the function at the Taj St James’ Courtyard in London, a day before the fourth Test.
There’s talk that the BCCI didn’t want the IPL, which begins on September 19 in the UAE, to be affected and insisted on the Test’s cancellation. The BCCI is learnt to be preparing to get the players of the franchises out of the UK by Sunday since a six-day quarantine now seems necessary.
“Yes the IPL is an issue. If a player tests positive, he is quarantined for another 10 days in the UK. That will be at the back of their minds. They will not want to continue even if there’s a slight risk. This has already been a long tour. This bubble-to-bubble movement is not sustainable,” a source told The Telegraph.
It is for this reason that the BCCI had unofficially requested the ECB to tweak the itinerary and move this Test forward by another seven days. That couldn’t be done because of the tight schedule of the Hundred. Just a five-day gap between the last day of this Test and the start of the IPL was never an ideal situation.
⚫ Why did the Indians refuse to play?
A sense of panic gripped the contingent after assistant physio Yogesh Parmar returned a positive Covid-19 test on Wednesday. Being the only one available after senior physio Nitin Patel isolated himself as a precautionary measure, Parmar had been in close contact with several players. The players even wrote to the BCCI expressing concern and apprehension about playing in Manchester.
⚫ If all of them have returned negative results why could they not have played?
The entire contingent returned negative RT-PCR tests on Thursday, but results of a second round of testing performed later on Thursday are still awaited. There is fear of some more positive tests emerging. Players were also wary of the repercussions if someone tested positive in the middle of the Test.
⚫ Even if a 96-hour gestation period of the virus is considered, why couldn’t the Test be pushed back by four days? Why cancel it?
The IPL begins on September 19, five days after the scheduled end of the Test. If pushed back by four days, it would leave only a day’s gap between the two events. Besides, other logistical issues also came into prominence.
⚫ Did the IPL play a part?
The BCCI didn’t wish to risk the safety of the players ahead of the IPL. Any Covid-19 issue could affect the IPL bio-bubble. The players too have been mentally drained after a long tour and didn’t wish to run the risk of spending another 10 days of quarantine in the UK.
⚫ If Indians refused to play, and England wanted to play, why won’t the MCC laws come into effect? MCC laws are supreme and override all other playing conditions.
Ideally, the MCC laws would have come into play and in that case India’s refusal would have resulted in a forfeiture of the Test. But with BCCI and ECB agreeing to postpone the match to a later date, it can possibly no longer be termed as a “refusal to play” and so the MCC laws did not come into effect in this case.
⚫ Why did the ECB retract their statement on forfeiture?
There is no official version. While the BCCI insisted on cancellation, the ECB wanted to interpret any refusal to play as a forfeiture. The BCCI strongly opposed such a move though the brass insists that nothing of that sort cropped up during discussions. The World Test Championship competition terms state that a Covid-19 outbreak within a team is an acceptable reason for a Test to be abandoned and not forfeited.
⚫ Why did the ECB agree to BCCI refusing to play?
The ECB could do little in such a scenario. The England players had abandoned a limited overs tour of South Africa last December in similar circumstances. This wasn’t a precedent and the boards had to respect the cricketers’ feelings in these troubled times. The ICC has made it clear that ensuring the mental and physical health and welfare of players is of utmost importance. Had the boards not agreed to the postponement, the series result would have gone into the hands of the ICC Match Referee, Chris Broad.
⚫ Who wins the series?
Not decided unless we know the status of this Test. If the remaining Test is treated as a one-off match, then the cancelled Test will mean India have won the series 2-1. In case the boards refuse to agree, the matter will go to the ICC’s Dispute Resolution Committee.