CHENNAI: It wasn’t the end the Pataudi Trophy deserved, but just like the topsy-turvy series, it ended with drama. And it lasted more than 24 hours finally culminating with the announcement that the fifth Test in Manchester on Friday was cancelled. That announcement too was intriguing.
Although the end of the Test should have put the curtains down on the series, there was still time left for intense speculation with regards to the result of the series. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) first announced the Test stands forfeited, only for it to retract it minutes later in an official statement. The BCCI, few hours later, said they are working with the ECB to find a window to reschedule the Test match.
Even if the one-off Test goes ahead next summer, when India tours England for a white-ball series, it is likely to be treated as a stand-alone Test which will not have a bearing on the 2-1 series result in favour of Virat Kohli & Co. This was later confirmed by ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, who told Sky Sports, “Any rescheduled match would be a stand-alone match.”
Although the tone of the ECB’s statement in the beginning created a bit of stir when the Old Trafford scoreboard mentioned, “India are unable to field a team and will instead regrettably forfeit the match,” the BCCI played it down. The ECB’s concerns were primarily due to the fact that matches cancelled because of Covid were not covered under their insurance policy. This could lead to a big loss of revenue.
The Indian cricket board remained firm and felt even though India players returned negative in the RT-PCR tests, a Covid positive case in the camp was strong enough reason to cancel the Test. This is also in line with the World Test Championship playing conditions. According to reliable sources, until late into Thursday night (BST), the Indian players were believed to have been in touch with the BCCI and even wrote a letter to the board expressing their reservations as more cases would put the travelling family members at risk too.
Going by insiders, the team seems to have been in panic after assistant physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar — the latest to test Covid positive — not only treated a handful of players on Wednesday but had mingled with the rest too. Which meant it was impossible to ascertain who all were close contacts. In that scenario, the players felt that result of one RT-PCR test wasn’t enough to deem everyone safe. Parmar incidentally had tested negative in the first test taken after head coach Ravi Shastri tested positive.
Under these circumstances, with the series nicely poised and everything to play for, the players felt they might not be able to provide their 100 per cent, and if there are more positive cases, they have to go through hard quarantine. Something they felt would take a toll on them mentally.
Since the restart after lockdown 1.0, Indian players have undergone hard quarantine in the UAE before the start of IPL 2020 in August, then one in Australia (November-December), followed by one at home before the start of the England series (January-February). After the IPL 2021 was suspended, they had to undergo two-week hard quarantine in Mumbai before leaving for the UK for the WTC final.
And this seems to have dominated the talks on Friday morning, which subsequently led to the cancellation of the Test. “You can’t be flippant about issues of mental health, and this is what this is about. India have been wonderful tourists, but they have been here for a long time. Playing at this level, week after week is difficult. Even if we feel we are emerging from the pandemic, life is different for the players. When Covid creeps into an environment, it can accelerate very quickly. Hopefully, we can get this Test on some other time, but it won’t be the same as it having the conclusion after four brilliant matches,” Harrison told the channel.