England’s summer of Test cricket has ended in dramatic fashion after their series finale against India at Old Trafford was cancelled on the first morning of the match following the recent Covid-19 outbreak among the touring party.
The England and Wales Cricket Board believed the fifth Test would go ahead on Thursday evening after India’s players cleared a full round of emergency PCR tests in response to a fourth member of their backroom staff contracting the virus.
But at 8.44am on Friday the governing body announced the match had been called off, leaving the ECB staring at a £30m financial blackhole from lost TV revenues and now due to refund at least 63,000 tickets from the first three sold-out days at Old Trafford.
It also leaves a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the result of the series. Virat Kohli’s side lead 2-1 and the initial statement from the ECB said: “India are regrettably unable to field a team and will instead forfeit the match.”
However, this was soon amended with the line about India’s forfeiture removed, pointing to tense negotiations taking place behind the scenes between the ECB and their counterparts at the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
The updated statement read: “Following ongoing conversations with the BCCI, the ECB can confirm that the fifth LV= Insurance 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.”
India’s outbreak began during their 157-run victory in the fourth Test at the Oval, with the head coach, Ravi Shastri, first testing positive for Covid-19, followed by the bowling coach, Bharat Arun, and the fielding coach, R Sridhar. All three were isolated and did not travel to Manchester with the team.
The fourth support staff member tested positive on Wednesday evening, with India’s training session the following day then cancelled and players confined to their rooms as they awaited the results of further PCR tests.
But despite these results coming back negative it appears a number of India’s players were concerned about proceeding with the Test match. One factor could be that the latest positive Covid-19 case was a staff member who had been treating a number of injuries in the India camp after the fourth Test.
It may also be that the Indian Premier League’s impending restart in the United Arab Emirates on 19 September was a factor here, with players due to depart for the tournament on Wednesday.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) issued a statement “thanking the ECB for their co-operation and understanding in these trying times”. The statement continued: “We would like to apologise to the fans for not being able to complete an enthralling series. The BCCI has always maintained that the safety and well-being of the players is of paramount importance and there will be no comprise on that aspect.”
The host county and fans now face counting the cost of the cancellation and Daniel Gidney, Lancashire’s chief executive, said: “As a club, we are absolutely devastated about the late cancellation of the Test at Old Trafford. We’d like to unreservedly apologise to ticket holders and all those that have or are due to travel. 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.
“You can’t underestimate the work that goes into preparing for a five-day Test match and I’d like to thank all our supporters, guests, suppliers, partners and all those involved for their continued support. I’d also like to thank all of the amazing staff who have worked tirelessly to prepare the ground for the Test. We have an incredibly loyal and talented group of people who have worked very long hours in the run up to this game.
“We are working closely with the ECB on next steps and the finer detail that will follow as a consequence of this cancellation. In due course, the club will contact ticket and hospitality holders. The club would like to once again express its sincere apologies for all inconvenience and disruption caused to all involved.”