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As it happened - Oval Test cancellation due to COVID anxiousness and tight scheduling of IPL

The high-drama, enthralling Test series between England and India took an unexpected turn as the 5th Test was cancelled post multiple COVID positive results within India’s support staff.

Head Coach Ravi Shastri tested COVID positive

During the fourth Test at The Oval, India head coach Ravi Shastri, along with his contingent consisting of Nitin Patel, Bharat Arun and R Sridhar, went into immediate isolation post COVID positive results after attending his book launch event which is believed to be the source of the bubble breach.

Assistant Physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar tests COVID positive

However, it was when the assistant physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar, who was closely working with an array of players namely Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma, tested COVID positive on Wednesday, did the panic set in.

India players expressed reluctance to play following the developments

The said players were interacting within the bigger group and ascertaining exposure became vastly tricky. Although players tested negative in the RT-PCR test on Thursday, it was the “incubation period” – possibility of a result coming positive and spreading within the camp that unsettled players. It has been reported that the players were up till 3 am on Thursday night following discussions with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) regarding their reluctance to play the Test.

Tom Harrision, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), when asked about the situation, stated in an interview with Sky Sports that "It wasn't an outbreak of COVID, it was a perception of what might happen post the physio testing positive.”

Lengthy quarantine (extending to three months) strains India players

Cricket over the past year has been largely demanding with players coping with heavy workloads and being moved from one bubble to another. After spending close to three and a half months in England (add to that half a month of quarantine in India before commencing the tour) in what has been termed as a “managed environment”, the Indian team were set to fly to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with only a gap of four days for the Indian Premier League (IPL) to start there, post the conclusion of the fifth Test at Old Trafford in Manchester.

Former India wicketkeeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik, who has been on commentary duty for Sky Sports, mentioned in a show aired by the United Kingdom (UK) based channel that the possibility of undergoing another 10 days of quarantine post a challenging series would be almost a tipping point for many players within the team.

"You also have to understand, as soon as this finishes, they have the IPL and soon after that the World Cup, and soon after that the New Zealand series and we are talking about literally one-week turnarounds. How many bubbles can they do? When they left, when they rather assembled in India, they assembled on May 16. It's four months, almost four months. That's a lot of time already."

Moreover, BCCI was worried about the financial fallout if the IPL would once again be required to be rescheduled or cancelled due to COVID spread within the setup.

Former England skipper Nasser Hussain gave his views on the cancelled match. He said: "Initially, the BCCI was always very concerned about this Test match. They wanted everything moved to make sure the IPL is a huge financial issue hanging over the game, over Indian cricket. They have already moved it, then moved it half of it this time around. Of course, this is about the IPL, but this is about players who are thinking: If we get COVID positive here, we have to do another 10 days of quarantine.”

Harrison stated, "It has been a long night. It is just really sad. You cannot be flippant about issues of mental health, and this is what this is about. India have been wonderful tourists, but they have been here for a long time."

ECB, BCCI finally call off the Test two hours prior to the scheduled start

The ECB and BCCI had long discussions through Thursday night and Friday morning before finally calling off the Test at 8:45 am local time, a few hours before the scheduled toss. The ECB were keen to get the game underway but it seems that the reluctance of the players to participate in the Test resulted in the final word.

During the discussions, the possibility of delaying the game for further two days (sitting out the incubation period) was suggested by the ECB, but BCCI could postpone it by only one day due to the tight scheduling of the IPL set to re-start on September 19 in the UAE.

With the negotiations being carried out on the morning of the Test, the boards finally weighed in on the possibility of a one-off Test (expected to be scheduled in Old Trafford) to be conducted at a later time as compensation.

"The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) 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. The BCCI and ECB held several rounds of discussion to find a way to play the Test. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 in the Indian team contingent forced the decision of calling off the Old Trafford Test. In lieu of the strong relationship between BCCI and ECB, the BCCI has offered to ECB a rescheduling of the cancelled Test," BCCI said in an official statement.

"Both the Boards will work towards finding a window to reschedule this Test. The BCCI has always maintained that the safety and well-being of the players is of paramount importance and there will be no compromise on that aspect. The BCCI would like to thank the ECB for their co-operation and understanding in these trying times. We would like to apologise to the fans for not being able to complete an enthralling series," the statement concluded.

Rescheduling expected next year

Most likely the Test will be conducted after the limited overs series leg scheduled to be held in July 2022. It must be noted here that England will be occupied with a Test series against New Zealand in June 2022.

This will not to be in continuation of this series and the decision to adjudicate on the result of Pautadi Trophy is currently with ICC. India are currently leading the series 2-1. The cancellation of a Test due to COVID is within the playing conditions of the World Test Championship (WTC) guidelines. Percentage points will be allocated to the teams with India having currently pocketed 26 WTC points and England 14 from the series.

Financial Implications for ECB

The cancellation of the Old Trafford Test has several implications. Not only does it stand as a huge let down to the fans who have been hooked to the closely-fought Test series and a chance for India to bank another historic away Test win, but also as a huge financial loss for the ECB who will be expected to return spectators’ tickets costs, incurred hospitality expenses for the venue and TV rights. The loss is being estimated at any figure between £20-30 million. Although some of the costs would be shared through insurance, it nevertheless is a huge financial burden.

Lancashire CEO Daniel Gidney expressed his disappointment. “Obviously, there are significant financial implications. Obviously, we have reputation issues as well, I mean, Old Trafford has a proud history of hosting Test cricket going back to over 100 years. We are absolutely gutted and devastated. I feel for all our staffs, suppliers, stakeholders, partners and sponsors, and our guests today, but above all the ticket holders,” he said.

“I am truly sorry that those fans have been left so disappointed,” he added.

Workload management comes to the forefront

With the disappointing end to the series, questions are to be asked about the overarching workloads of the players, the tight scheduling and importance of Test match cricket within the wider scope of the game, all of which has come to the forefront post what can only be seen as a loss to cricket and its spectators.


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