English cricket was plunged into chaos on Friday after the last-gasp cancellation of the fifth Test because of Covid concerns in the India dressing room.
It left the ECB fighting to avoid potential losses of £40million, haggling with their Indian counterparts over the result of the match and, in private, furious at the tourists’ lax approach to Covid precautions. Chief executive Tom Harrison admitted: ‘We’re absolutely gutted.’
The Indian board (BCCI) later offered to reschedule the Manchester Test, though if that proves impossible the ECB will push for a forfeiture and a 2-2 share of the series – a decision to be made by the ICC.
England captain Joe Root walks away from Old Trafford after the fifth India Test was scrapped
England’s Jos Buttler carries his gear out of Old Trafford after the final Test was cancelled
Jack Leach leaves the ground along with his England team-mates following the late decision
ECB chief Tom Harrison speaks to the media amid a row over whether India have forfeited
The fifth Test between England and India at Old Trafford was called off on Friday morning
England v India: What happened and what happens next?
The Test was on when India’s players tested negative on Thursday, so What happened?
It should have been the cue for them to play on but instead a group of players, including captain Virat Kohli, presented a letter to the BCCI at midnight saying they were unhappy about going ahead because their physio had Covid. Cue a night of pandemonium and little sleep for ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, before it was called off around 8am.
What happened next?
Chaos! First the ECB said India had forfeited the Test, then they withdrew that while crisis talks between the boards continued. Now it will be down to the ICC to decide if India have won 2-1, it’s a 2-2 draw or the teams come back to Old Trafford next year to play a decider.
Ultimately the sell-out crowds miss out, even though they get a refund on tickets, and the ECB are left with a £30million black hole unless they can convince insurance companies — or the BCCI — to pay out. Lancashire are left with a £7m bill, too.
At least it means India’s players will be able to get to the UAE for the IPL on September 19?
Don’t be facetious! But that is the crux of the matter. There is little doubt the Test would have been played had India not been booked on a flight to Dubai next Wednesday, even though ECB chief Tom Harrison kept a straight face when he said yesterday it was nothing to do with the IPL. As he spoke, arrangements were hastily being made for most of the IPL players to fly out today.
Well, it was going to rain during the Test anyway, wasn’t it?
Not a drop fell on Old Trafford throughout the scheduled hours of play yesterday. If only we’d had two teams prepared to play out the climax of a classic Test series.
By Paul Newman
In the hope of allowing the ECB to recoup some of their losses through insurance, Harrison insisted the Test had been called off on mental health grounds, with India’s anxiety levels rising after physio Yogesh Parmar tested positive on Thursday.
A Covid-related cancellation would find no favour with insurers, but the ECB intend to use the fact that the whole India squad returned negative PCR tests on the eve of the game to argue that the virus did not cause the abandonment.
‘You lose an India Test match, of course there is a financial implication,’ said Harrison. ‘We’re trying to work tooth and nail to make sure that’s as limited as it can be.’
A tumultuous day began at midnight, 11 hours before the scheduled start, when four senior India players, led by captain Virat Kohli, made it clear they did not want to proceed with the Test as fears spread about their proximity to Parmar.
By 6am, after a sleepless night, Harrison concluded England’s only option was to claim a forfeiture. Two hours later, news broke that the game was off, spoiling the plans of 80,000 spectators across the first four days, and prompting anger in the home camp about the Indians’ behaviour in what Harrison called a ‘Covid- managed environment’.
As Sportsmail reported earlier this week, India coach Ravi Shastri tested positive after attending a book launch at a London hotel, where around 150 unmasked guests mingled freely.
It is understood the touring party assured the ECB that the evening – to mark the publication of Shastri’s book Star Gazing: The Players In My Life – would consist of no more than a team dinner.
Anger in the England dressing room turned to fury as news filtered through that several India players had been spotted out in Manchester during the build-up to the Test.
BCCI officials responded with a series of briefings to Indian journalists in which they argued the ECB had brought the situation on themselves by allowing players free rein.
But one source told Sportsmail: ‘There were restrictions, such as they could only dine outside, no sharing of lifts and staying away from crowded areas.’
It left Harrison, ever mindful of not upsetting the most powerful board in world cricket, trying to convey the ECB’s dissatisfaction with the tourists’ attitude, without explicitly condemning it.
‘There is quite a lot of trust in the way that people operate within those environments,’ he said. ‘Of course common sense plays a role.’
Ollie Pope carries bats and bags after seeing the series with India come to a premature end
Sam Curran (left) speaks with England team-mate Moeen Ali after the game had been axed
The ECB are understood to be furious with what they regard as reckless behaviour from India
India recorded a fourth positive Covid test among their backroom staff late this week
Asked specifically about the book launch, he replied: ‘People make decisions on what they think they are able to do or not. We ask that people are responsible, and we’ve seen that players are able to do that.’
It is understood Harrison himself was a guest at the launch.
As the morning unfolded, the BCCI sought to defuse tension by offering to replay the game, though exactly when was unclear. India return in July for six white-ball games, but the only gap in England’s schedule – 16 days between the third T20 and the first Test against South Africa in August – is earmarked for the Hundred.
FAN FURY OVER CANCELLED TEST
‘Hotels booked. Transport booked. Restaurant booked. Best friends from across the country now left in limbo, unable to meet up and enjoy the thrill of Test match cricket.
‘We purchased four tickets back in October 2019 for the England vs Pakistan Test which was due to take place in August 2020. That of course was played in front of empty stands due to the Covid pandemic, which was disappointing to miss out on a live event but understandable.
‘However, we decided to take up the offer to transfer the tickets to this Sunday, meant to be day five of the crucial final Test, thinking how lucky we would be to be in situ for the decider against India. To find out at the last minute – almost two years after the initial purchase – that the game is off is very upsetting.
‘This disgraceful cancellation on the day of the game now means it’s a weekend of cricketing heartbreak.
‘I’m a very disgruntled fan. There will be tens of thousands just like me.’
Andy Griffiths, Blackpool
‘Disappointed is an understatement, two years since originally obtaining tickets then waiting patiently while fixtures are rearranged to then be notified the morning of the first day of a Test that it’s been cancelled is disgraceful.
‘To then learn that the reason could be because some of the Indian party broke Covid protocol to attend a book signing thus threatening players involvement in the upcoming IPL tournament is a bitter pill to swallow.
‘Total disregard has been shown not only to test cricket but also fans of both sides, who will have taken time off work, travelled, booked hotels. Staff in and around the ground, sponsors, concession operators.
‘People and businesses will be financially worse off and it’s totally unacceptable. Questions need answering and the buck stops with the BCCI.’
Scott Gibbs, Blackpool
On Friday night, the ECB could not even rule out playing the stand-alone Test at the same time as the T20 series against India, with the teams forced to field two sides simultaneously.
A rescheduled match would save the board part of the £25m paid by broadcasters, though Sky are likely to pursue some recompense, arguing that a one-off game lacks the value of a series decider.
That still leaves a potential insurance claim of over £10m for tickets, hospitality, and food and drink. On Friday, officials at Old Trafford were frantically passing on as much of it as possible to hospitals and charities. Lancashire chief executive Daniel Gidney said the club were ‘absolutely devastated’.
A rescheduled match is the ECB’s preferred option, though a crowded fixture list may still leave the result of this series in the hands of the ICC. The global game’s governing body regard Covid as an acceptable reason for not fulfilling a fixture – as long as it has had a ‘significant impact’ on a team’s ability to field an XI.
The news comes after India head coach Ravi Shastri tested positive for the virus on Sunday
England star Haseeb Hameed wears a face mask as he departs Old Trafford on Friday morning
Buttler and his England team-mates could now play their final Test against India in 2022
If the ICC rule in favour of India’s decision not to play, and hand them a 2-1 win, England would have to take up the matter with the dispute resolution committee.
Harrison, meanwhile, insisted the IPL, which is due to resume a week on Sunday after being interrupted by the pandemic, played no part in the Indians’ deliberations.
But former India batsman Dinesh Karthik told Sky Sports: ‘I spoke to a few of the guys. The general feeling is, after the fourth Test, they are tired. They only have one physio right now, they have done a lot of work with that man, and now he tests positive.
‘You have to understand that soon after they have the IPL, the World Cup soon after that, the New Zealand tour, one-week turnarounds. How many bubbles can they do?’