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PAUL NEWMAN: Indian Premier League riches are behind this Test cricket tragedy

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It is difficult to know what is more insulting to the 100,000 people who would have watched the final Test at Old Trafford. The late cancellation that treated them with utter contempt or the suggestion from Tom Harrison that it has nothing to do with the IPL.

Who is the chief executive of the ECB kidding? This debacle, at a time when Test cricket has been gloriously fighting back against every obstacle put in front of it with a compelling series, has everything to do with the franchise competition that is now indisputably more important to the game than all international cricket.

Yes, there was clearly anxiety in the Indian camp when the physiotherapist who has been in close contact with most of the players tested positive for Covid on Wednesday night and joined Ravi Shastri and two of his coaching staff in isolation.

The late cancellation of the fifth Test has treated the 100,000 spectators with utter contempt (Pictured: England captain Joe Root leaves the Old Trafford ground on Friday)

The late cancellation of the fifth Test has treated the 100,000 spectators with utter contempt (Pictured: England captain Joe Root leaves the Old Trafford ground on Friday)

And, of course, there is every sympathy with players forced to live an unnatural life for months on end in bio-secure bubbles or, more recently, ‘managed environments’ to ensure that an over-crowded schedule of matches can carry on through Covid.

But there is no way this series decider would have been called off on the morning of the first day had the majority of India’s players not been flying to Dubai next Wednesday for the resumption of the richest tournament in cricket.

No India player with an IPL contract wanted to risk playing in this Test, then testing positive and being forced to stay in England for another 10 days, so missing the restart of the tournament in the UAE on September 19.

The suggestion from Tom Harrison that it has nothing to do with the IPL was also insulting

The suggestion from Tom Harrison that it has nothing to do with the IPL was also insulting

That is what means the most to them. That is the event they refuse to jeopardise at any cost. And that, increasingly, will take precedence over Test cricket in the future, particularly when the IPL is enlarged to 10 teams, probably next year.

That is a tragedy for Test cricket, those thousands who have been robbed of watching a thrilling climax to this series – surely if it is played next year it has to be as a one-off game rather than a decider – and those of us who dearly want international cricket, particularly the longest form, to retain primacy instead of a future full of franchises.

Remember, the all-powerful Indian board asked the ECB to reschedule this fifth Test or even cancel it as long ago as May when the IPL was suspended with 31 games remaining. They knew the resumption would follow too quickly after this Test for comfort. India never wanted to play this game here and now in the first place.

The positive PCR test of Yogesh Parmar was the trigger India’s players needed to up sticks and get out of here as soon as possible even after they had all returned negative tests themselves en masse on Thursday evening. 

No India player with an IPL contract wanted to risk playing in this Test, and it is a true tragedy

No India player with an IPL contract wanted to risk playing in this Test, and it is a true tragedy

The IPL means the most to them and is the event India's players refuse to jeopardise at any cost

The IPL means the most to them and is the event India’s players refuse to jeopardise at any cost

There really should have been no reason why they could not play on once those test results were returned. That is the criterion that has governed every game this season as cricket continues to navigate the complex Covid world. Why should that change now?

India did not respect this series in pulling out yesterday and they did not respect Test cricket either in flouting Covid guidelines ahead of the fourth Test. 

This whole outbreak in their camp could well have been started by the presence of Shastri along with captain Virat Kohli and several players and staff at a book launch at a London hotel attended by more than 150 people two days before the Oval Test.

It was a breach of protocols that privately angered those at the ECB who have done so much to keep the show on the road in the last 18 months, not least with three Tests at Old Trafford last year that salvaged millions of pounds of revenue for the game. What a way for Lancashire to be rewarded for all they did then.

There was anxiety in the Indian camp when a physiotherapist joined Ravi Shastri in isolating

There was anxiety in the Indian camp when a physiotherapist joined Ravi Shastri in isolating

There were also reports of India players being out and about in Manchester on Thursday, the day their practice was cancelled and they were meant to be confined to their rooms at the Radisson Hotel. It is really not good enough.

Comparisons will be made with England’s premature departure from South Africa in December when their bio-secure bubble at the Vineyard Hotel was breached. But there were differences. That came before a ball had been bowled in an ODI series that was due to be played without any spectators. 

Vaccines had not been introduced then either.

Clearly cricket has reached bursting point and players have the power to decide how long they will put up with Covid protocols and whether they even want to play for their countries any more when there is so much money to be made elsewhere.

Cricket has reached bursting point and players can decide how long to put up with protocols

Cricket has reached bursting point and players can decide how long to put up with protocols

Something has to give and it is a highly difficult environment for administrators but it was a bit rich on Friday of Harrison to also say there was far too much international and domestic cricket. Why on earth did the ECB introduce a new format in the Hundred to provide even more cricket then?

Harrison also said this cancellation was down to the mental health issues of one of the teams rather than Covid, which is even more ridiculous than saying it had nothing to do with the IPL. Good luck getting that one past the insurance companies.

The bottom line is that this was a desperately sad and depressing day for cricket and one that was capped by Yorkshire’s scandalous decision to try to bury their report into Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of institutionalised racism on a day when cricket’s attention is on the other side of the Pennines.

Really, such transparent tactics should be treated with the contempt they deserve. As should those responsible for badly letting down everyone due to be at Old Trafford.

Four England Tests ending in farce

1975 v Australia Headingley

The third Test at Headingley had to be abandoned on the fifth day after vandals campaigning for the release of convicted robber George Davis sabotaged the pitch. The game was tantalisingly poised, with Australia on 220 for three chasing 445 for victory, but the perpetrators used knives and oil to wreck the Leeds wicket.

1981 v West Indies Georgetown

The match was called off hours before it was due to start as a result of Robin Jackman’s presence in the England team. Jackman, who was called up as a replacement for the injured Bob Willis and was yet to make his Test debut, had played provincial cricket in apartheid South Africa and the Guyanese government duly withdrew his visitor’s permit. England then said they would not play in the game and the Test was cancelled.

1998 v West Indies Kingston

The first Test of England’s tour of the Caribbean was called off with England on 17 for three after 10.1 overs as several batsmen had been struck by balls lifting dangerously high off the pitch. There was only 56 minutes of cricket played before the umpires decided the pitch was too dangerous and brought the players off.

2009 v West Indies North Sound

The second Test in Antigua was called off after 10 balls because of an unfit pitch. Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook were brought off with the score on seven without loss on the first day as the safety of the bowlers was jeopardised due to excess sand that had been placed on the pitch. It is the shortest Test ever played.

By WILL JEANES



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