The gripping test series between England and India came to an unsatisfactory conclusion on Friday when the fifth and final test was cancelled before a ball was bowled amid health concerns among India’s players following a coronavirus outbreak in their camp.
The match was called off about two hours before the scheduled start of play at Old Trafford because India was “regrettably unable to field a team,” according to the England and Wales Cricket Board, due to fears of more cases inside the group.
The final result of the series remained up in the air, with the leadership of both the England and India teams in negotiations about rearranging the match.
India leads 2-1 and the ECB quickly amended an initial statement that said the tourists forfeited the test, which would have meant the series was drawn 2-2.
It’s not just world test championship points at stake, or the kudos for India of winning a test series in England for the first time in 14 years and fourth time in its history — less than a year after a memorable series win in Australia.
The result is also important because of financial implications linked to insurance, with the cost of losing a test match hitting the ECB in the pocket to the tune of 20 million pounds ($27.7 million) — another blow to the governing body during the pandemic. It was a devastating blow, too, to the host of the match, English county Lancashire, which is not staging a test match next year when New Zealand and South Africa visit England.
Nearly 80,000 tickets had been sold in advance for the first four days.
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison raised the prospect of a standalone test match to make up for the cancellation, though that is unlikely to happen in the near future. India doesn’t return to England until next year, for six white-ball games over the summer, and there is little room for manoeuvre in an already-packed schedule for the England team across all formats.
Harrison’s comments indicated the current test series was over, and would go down as a 2-1 win for India.
India’s entire touring party was forced to isolate in its Manchester hotel on Thursday and cancel its last pre-match practice after assistant physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar was the latest person to test positive for the virus. Previously, India coach Ravi Shastri, bowling coach Bharath Arun, fielding coach Ramakrishnan Sridhar and main physio Nitin Patel tested positive around the fourth test and were isolating back in London.
“I have a lot of sympathy with the Indian players as they’ve had two physios (test positive) and the second one would have been treating all the players with some sore bodies ahead of a fifth test match,” said former England captain Nasser Hussain, who works for British broadcaster Sky Sports.
The threat of cancelling the match appeared to recede when a fresh round of COVID-19 testing among the remaining members of the India squad came back negative on Thursday evening.
However, India’s players still had concerns.
“The BCCI has always maintained that the safety and wellbeing of the players are of paramount importance and there will be no compromise on that aspect,” the body said.
“The BCCI would like to thank the ECB for their cooperation and understanding in these trying times.”
Casting a shadow over any attempts to reschedule the match is the lucrative Indian Premier League, which features players from both teams and is resuming on Sept. 19 in the United Arab Emirates.
The competition was suspended in May because of a rise in COVID-19 cases in the IPL teams.
There was set to be just four days before the end of the fifth test in Manchester and the resumption of the IPL in the UAE.
Harrison said there was no link between the cancellation of the test and the IPL.
“This is not a situation that has been recreated by the rescheduled IPL,” he said. “I fundamentally do not believe that for one second.”