ECB Chief Executive Tom Harrison attended the London launch for Ravi Shastri’s new book that took place a few days before the India Head Coach tested positive for Covid-19, triggering a sequence of events that led to the cancellation of the final Test at Old Trafford.
Shastri held a launch for his new book Stargazing: The Players In My Life on Tuesday August 31, two days before the Fourth Test between his India team and England at the Kia Oval.
Towards the end of that Test, it emerged that Shastri had tested positive for Covid-19, along with two other members of India’s backroom team.
Yesterday, on the eve of the final Test at Old Trafford, a fourth tested positive. India’s players – despite all testing negative twice – were unhappy to complete the series “due to fears of a further increase in the number of COVID cases inside the camp”, according to an ECB statement.
The cancellation was confirmed just over two hours before the match was due to begin, angering many fans – who had travelled to the ground, as well as shelling out for accommodation – and leaving a £40m hole in the ECB’s finances. What happens next is unclear, but India’s offer to reschedule has been well received by the ECB, even though Harrison admitted today that there is already too much cricket.
Covid regulations were said to be thin on the ground at the book launch in Victoria, which was attended by around 150 people, including members of India’s squad.
The Daily Mail – who made it public first – quoted a guest as saying: “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”.
Standard Sport can reveal that Harrison, the ECB Chief Executive, also attended the event.
It is understood that he received an invitation from Shastri and the Board of Control for Cricket in India and wore a mask throughout, except when consuming food and drink. He had not seen the guest list and expected a Covid-safe event, in line with the safer living guidelines that were laid out for both teams by the ECB this summer.
News of the event has angered many staff at the ECB, who believe that it was not sanctioned by those on the ground organising the tour’s logistics, including Covid-19 guidelines. England’s players feel that they have observed the rules more closely than India this summer. There have even been rumours that India players were out and about in Manchester on Thursday as they awaited the results of their PCR tests that were said to determine the fate of the Test.
When asked about the book launch on Friday, Harrison opted not to condemn it.
“The position we have had is for people to make decisions on what they think they are able to do or not,” he said. “It’s not for ECB to say, in the context of trying to let people live more freely, we’re not influencing how they live their lives in the constraints of those living standards. That’s not how we operate.”
This comes at an awkward time for Harrison. Last month it was revealed by the Guardian that he and other senior figures at the ECB would share £2.1m Long-Term Incentive payments next year, despite the board having to make 62 redundancies. That angered staff, while relations with England men’s players – weary of the demands placed on them by playing in the pandemic – are tense over this winter’s tour of Australia for the Ashes.