The series-deciding Test between England and India was sensationally cancelled on the morning of the match after the tourists were unable to field a team due to concerns over Covid-19.
The fifth LV= Insurance Test was due to get under way in Manchester at 11am but little more than two hours before the scheduled start a statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed the game would not be taking place.
The ECB initially said that India will “forfeit the match”, although that wording was removed in an updated version, suggesting negotiations between the respective boards remain ongoing. The BCCI later said the decision was a joint one and that it was open to rescheduling.
Concerns over the viability of the fixture first appeared on the eve of the match, when India cancelled their final training session and failed to complete their mandatory press conference.
It later emerged that the squad was confined to its hotel after a new positive case was returned by one of their backroom team.
Head coach Ravi Shastri had previously tested positive for the virus during the fourth Test at the Oval, where he remains in quarantine with bowling coach Bharat Arun and fielding coach Ramakrishnan Sridhar.
The threat appeared to recede when a fresh round of PCR testing among the remaining members of the travelling party came back negative, but after intense negotiations between the ECB and the Board of Control for Cricket in India the game was cancelled.
It is understood that a number of Indian players harboured concerns over the spread of the virus and were unwilling to take the field, meaning the tourists could not put up an XI.
The revised ECB statement read: “Following ongoing conversations with the BCCI, the ECB can confirm that the fifth 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, which we know will cause immense disappointment and inconvenience to many. Further information will be shared in due course.”
England completed their own pre-match preparations on Thursday, planning for business as usual. Vice-captain Jos Buttler acknowledged there was some uncertainty given India’s no show at the ground but was left hoping for the best.
“At present we’re fully expecting the game to go ahead and we’re preparing to play – fingers crossed the game will go ahead,” he said on Thursday.
“We don’t know too much to be honest. It would be naive to speculate too much on stuff I don’t know about. Things are all fine in our camp.”
Former England batsman Mark Butcher said the cancellation was a shame and acknowledged the restart of the Indian Premier League on September 19 would be a talking point for fans.
“There are also other factors to think of and I’m sure people will be talking about the fact the IPL restarts in the UAE on the 19th and any postponement would push that back beyond the start of the competition,” Butcher told Sky Sports.
“I’ve got a little bit of sympathy in terms of the Indian players, most of whom have been on the road before the Australian series over Christmas and New Year. They did go home to play England but they were in strict bubbles then.
“I can imagine some of those players locked up in their rooms at the moment have had an absolute gutful and want to get out. But that does not dim any of the disappointment for fans and the amount of money involved in putting these Test matches on.
“India are 2-1 up in the series and Virat Kohli as a captain is a man responsible for rekindling the love and the engagement of the Indian public with the Test match game.
“This decision would not have been taken lightly. It’s certainly not the case they are hightailing it without having given it proper due consideration. It’s a really sad day for the game.”
Former England captain Nasser Hussain added: “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.
“My actual sympathy is with the crowd. People would have taken days off work, booked hotels and you can imagine how people would have come here to watch this Test match with it set up perfectly – India 2-1 ahead and England looking to bounce back.
“It’s a real shame that it has to end on such a low note.”
Lancashire released a statement which read: “As a club, we are absolutely devastated about the late cancellation of the Test at Emirates Old Trafford.
“We’d like to unreservedly apologise to ticket holders and all those that have or are due to travel to Emirates Old Trafford. A full refund will be issued, but we appreciate for many supporters, attending this Test match is more than just the monetary worth. 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.
“We are working closely with the England and Wales Cricket Board on next steps and the finer detail that will follow as a consequence of this cancellation. The club will contact ticket and hospitality holders.”