There was no play in Manchester, but the interplay of opinions and statements to explain the status of the match and the resultant speculation about the way forward played havoc with one’s understanding of the rules of cricket.
Terms such as “refusal”, “cancelled”, “postponed”, “forfeited” made a merry-go-round all through the day.
Officially, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has said that the match has been “called off” and that both the Boards are working to find “a window to reschedule this Test match”. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) concurred with the proposal, at least officially, through a revised statement after creating quite a stir earlier in the day with their initial claim that India had forfeited the match after being unable to field a team.
It is no secret that while the ECB wanted to go ahead with the game, it was the India players who refused to take the field citing the possibility of more Covid-19 infections within the team.
Was the ECB wrong in its forfeiture assessment? If one goes by the laws of cricket, they weren’t.
Law 22.214.171.124, as laid down by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), states that, “a match shall be lost by a side which… in the opinion of the umpires refuses to play. If so, the umpires shall award the match to the other side.”
The game was a part of the ICC World Test Championship (WTC) and its Playing Conditions echo the MCC law. WTC’s Rule 126.96.36.199 states, “a match shall be lost by a side which…. in the opinion of the ICC Match Referee refuses to play and the ICC Match Referee shall award the match to the other side.”
So under the laws, with India refusing to play despite all its players returning negative Covid-19 test results, the match should have been awarded to England. The five-match series in that case would have ended 2-2.
However, with the world in the grip of a pandemic, the WTC Playing Conditions also enlist a separate scenario, which says: “Any matches that do not take place due to the Acceptable Non-Compliance of one or both Parties (as defined in the World Test Championship Competition Terms) shall not be taken into account in the calculation of the Points Percentage.”
This point takes out the possibility of a forfeiture and perhaps allowed the BCCI to stand its ground that even though they refused to play the game, India would not forfeit the match.
The ICC’s competition terms for the World Test Championship is a contractual agreement that all teams sign.
But the question is: Do India’s reasons for not playing fall under “acceptable non-compliance”? Herein comes the ICC. It’s their responsibility to put an end to all debates and say whether a match stands abandoned or postponed or if it is a case of forfeiture. Because the result of the match is needed to decide the result of this series — either it’s 2-1 for India, or 2-2 with the teams sharing the honours.
Playing it smart
There has been only one instance of a forfeiture in Test cricket’s long history. In August 2006, Pakistan were adjudged to have forfeited The Oval Test to England after they refused to take the field in the post-tea session on the fourth day of the game following a ball-tampering controversy.
It is unlikely that India would be the second team on that list given the BCCI’s stake in world cricket. The BCCI has been smart in pushing through the postponement proposal. That way, it has denied England the chance to benefit from a forfeiture, at least for the time being, and also protected itself from claims of lost revenue from the ECB.
Reports say that if the game is deemed abandoned due to Covid-19, the ECB will not be able to claim insurance payouts since such an eventuality is not covered in its deal. The ECB has been left to lick its wounds.
Be it a turner or a seaming pitch or the negotiations table, it seems India rules over England.