The fifth and final Test between India and England at Old Trafford in Manchester was “cancelled” on Friday morning over Covid fears, immediately sparking a blame game.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is determined that India should not be able to claim it won the series 2-1, and initially suggested the result was 2-2 because “India are regrettably unable to field a team and will instead forfeit the match”.
But this statement was later amended to: “Following ongoing conversations with the BCCI, the ECB can confirm that the fifth LV= Insurance Test between England and India men due to start today at Emirates Old Trafford, will be cancelled. Due to fears of a further increase in the number of Covid cases inside the camp, India are regrettably unable to field a team. We send our sincere apologies to fans and partners for this news....”
Former England captain Mike Atherton said on Sky TV that he thought “the match will go down as abandoned, not forfeited by India”.
BCCI honorary secretary Jay Shah countered the ECB. “The Board of Control for Cricket in India along with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have jointly decided to call off the 5th Test match scheduled at Manchester in ongoing India’s tour of England 2021,” he said in a statement.
British correspondents are suggesting the Indian players were more concerned about the IPL.
The BBC’s cricket correspondent, Jonathan Agnew, said the cancellation was “quite bizarre because last night the players all passed their PCR tests. We went to bed thinking the match would go ahead. I suspect the IPL would have a lot to do with this. It starts in 10 days’ time. The players are on huge contracts. The IPL is worth £300m to the BCCI. They are desperate to protect their product and the players (to) protect their contracts. This stands to cost the ECB £20m, one assumes there would be some negotiations about that with the BCCI. It is a shame Covid has interfered with a brilliant series.”
Virat Kohli at the book launch Telegraph picture
Wisden editor and Daily Mail cricket writer Lawrence Booth had predicted that “with the fifth Test starting at Old Trafford on Friday, and India’s IPL contingent set to take a charter flight to the UAE the day after that game ends, any more positive tests could cause havoc for both events.”
Booth had broken the story that Indian head coach Ravi Shastri, skipper Virat Kohli and other players had attended a programme at the St James’ Court Taj Hotel in London without clearing this with the ECB. The gathering was to launch Shastri’s new book, Stargazing: The Players in My Life.
The British are holding Shastri principally responsible for breaching the Covid guidelines. India’s head coach tested positive during the fourth Test win at the Oval, forcing bowling coach Bharat Arun, fielding coach Ramakrishnan Sridhar and physiotherapist Nitin Patel to isolate. Another member of the backroom staff, physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar, tested positive on Thursday.
India cancelled Thursday’s training session but a subsequent round of testing showed no positive results among the players. It was declared that the Test would go ahead as planned — until the cancellation announced at 8.44am on Friday, two hours before the game was to start.
In his report, Booth emphasised: “England’s lucrative series against India has been compromised after the tourists’ head coach Ravi Shastri tested positive for Covid-19 following a book launch at a London hotel.”
He added: “Sportsmail understands the Indians did not seek dispensation from the ECB to take part in the event at the St James’ Court Hotel in Victoria on Tuesday night, when attendees included India captain Virat Kohli and other members of his squad.”
Booth quoted one guest who told him: “It was horrid. No one wore masks, apart from waiting staff. It left me feeling very uncomfortable. Everyone there went over to Shastri to meet him.”
Booth said: “The ECB are understood to be bemused that the tourists chose to put themselves in such a vulnerable position, with London recording over 21,000 positive Covid cases last week.”
In Britain, there is a worrying increase in the number of Covid patients in hospital despite the success of the vaccination programme.
On Thursday, there were 8,085 people in hospitals across the UK, a 6 per cent increase on the previous week. On that day, 38,013 new cases and 167 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported across the country.
Shah, the BCCI honorary secretary, added in his statement: “The BCCI and ECB held several rounds of discussion to find a way to play the Test match, however, the outbreak of Covid-19 in the Indian team contingent forced the decision of calling off the Old Trafford Test match.
“...The BCCI has offered to ECB a rescheduling of the cancelled Test match. Both the boards will work towards finding a window to reschedule this Test match. The BCCI has always maintained that the safety and well-being of the players is of paramount importance and there will be no comprise (sic) on that aspect.”
The Guardian’s Ali Martin estimated that the ECB was “staring at a £30m financial black hole”.
On Friday, the Manchester India Partnership (MIP), an organisation set up to attract Indian investment to the Greater Manchester area, was to take several guests to the Test following a business summit on Thursday.
Daniel Gidney, chief executive of the Lancashire County Cricket Club — he is on the board of the MIP — said: “As a club, we are absolutely devastated about the late cancellation of the Test at Old Trafford. After the last 18 months we’ve all experienced through the pandemic, it’s a fixture cricket fans in the North West have looked forward to for the best part of 18 months. You can’t underestimate the work that goes into preparing for a five-day Test match.”
Former England skipper Nasser Hussain said: “It’s an evolving situation; it’s a mess. There’s still a bit of debate about the actual result — that hasn’t been clarified. The ECB will work that out with the BCCI and the ICC in time. There’s been no forfeiture.
“The ECB have said there will be a refund on ticket sales, but you can imagine how many people have waited to come here and watch this Test match — and it was set up beautifully. It’s a real shame the series has to end on such a low note.”