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The final Test between England and India was today called off at just three hours’ notice — with an estimated cost of £40million to the ECB — when the tourists were “regrettably unable to field a team” due to “fears” over Covid, despite returning a full round of negative tests.
Thousands of fans who had paid for tickets, accommodation and travel were left in the lurch by the cancellation, which ECB chief Tom Harrison described as a “really sad day for Test cricket globally”.
India lead the series 2-1, after an outstanding win at the Kia Oval on Monday, at which point there was already Covid in their camp. Head coach Ravi Shastri and two members of the backroom staff tested positive during The Oval Test, having attended a launch for Shastri’s new book in London 10 days ago.
The players took the field for day five awaiting the results of PCR tests, which eventually came back negative the morning after they completed victory. Shastri and the isolators remained in London while the group headed to Manchester.
Yesterday, there was another twist when India’s final training session was cancelled and the team were put into isolation in the Radisson Hotel, because a fourth member of the backroom staff had returned a positive tests. Players were tested again, with the results coming back negative late night, which appeared to signal that the game could go ahead. But India’s players were said to still be uncomfortable with the situation and the Test was cancelled.
The Indian players’ concerns may be linked to the restart of the IPL, which was postponed in the spring, on September 19. Players from both teams are due to fly to the UAE for the tournament on Wednesday. It was unclear this morning if that would be brought forward.
An ECB statement released shortly after 8.40am read: “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, which we know will cause immense disappointment and inconvenience to many.”
What happens next remains unclear. This morning there was wrangling over the result of the series, a decision that will have significant financial implications for the ECB. For insurance reasons, the ECB need the game to be “forfeited” by India, as they could not field a team. Initially, the ECB’s statement said that India had “forfeited” before it was amended, with the Board of Control for Cricket in India disputing the wording.
If it is decided that the game was called off because of Covid, the ECB will not be entitled to compensation. They say the players decided not to play and the game was not called because of the virus. India have as many as 20 players with them in Manchester.
This morning, discussions were ongoing, and intervention from the International Cricket Council may be required, especially as the fixture is part of the World Test Championship. The ICC have a dispute resolution committee for such matters.
The idea of rescheduling the fixture is a growing possibility after the BCCI offered it to the ECB. Next summer, India tour England for six white-ball fixtures and Old Trafford is not a venue for any of England’s six Tests, although Harrison implied that any rescheduled fixture would be standalone, rather than part of this series.