The series was perfectly setup, India with a 2-1 lead were heading to Old Trafford, one of the iconic venues in England to wrap the series. There was history ready to be made, India’s first win in Manchester but as it turned out, history was made on the social media platform. Frustration, anger and several other words were ‘vent-out’ in the wake of the match getting cancelled.
Indian team’s commitment was questioned - Was the Indian Premier League (IPL) a bigger concern for India than the Test? Truth be told, India’s commitment to Test cricket over the past year has been unparalleled, with Andy Bull rightfully mentioning that India has played more Tests in the past year than a few nations put together.
Where did it all start? On the eve of the final Test in Manchester, India’s stand-in physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar was tested positive for COVID-19, which really started the meltdown. India had to thus cancel their practice session at Old Trafford.
Parmar, who was in close proximity and ever-present contact with the Indian players, during the fourth Test was isolated immediately. However, it wasn’t a case of just the event itself but the emotional turmoil that surrounded these events. Immediately, there was a huge concern over the Test itself, even though Jos Buttler and the English camp were fairly confident of it going through.
"I don't know too much, to be honest, at the moment. At present we are expecting the game to go ahead. Things are all fine in our camp. We are looking forward to the game," Buttler said during a media interaction when asked about the latest development.
Even though England were confident, the BCCI and the Indian team had a clear bout of concern over the events that had transpired. BCCI’s President Sourav Ganguly came out expressing his fear over the Test.
The RT-PCR tests of Indian players returned negative and India slept under the assumption that all was well and the Test was on. It wasn’t. Per England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB)’s chairman Tom Harrison, India players were mentally rattled.
On the day of the Test, the initial reports were loud and clear: the possibility of the first two days of the fifth fixture being postponed, which meant that the Test would be pushed back. But that wasn’t a guarantee for success, considering how the COVID-19 symptoms can be developed in a week. Putting 22 players plus the support staff in that risk would essentially signal danger to the rest of the cricketing schedule.
Evidently, the blame was already put on the Indian team, taking the root cause all the way back to earlier, when Ravi Shastri and the players were seen at a book launch event. ECB added fuel to the claims, when their statement following the announcement, read that “India are unable to field a team and instead regrettably forfeit the match.”
That put a whole lot of stress on the situation, on the outcome of the series and more importantly put the wrong weight on the relationship of the two cricketing boards. Later on, ECB changed their statement, which 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," the England and Wales Cricket Board said in their statement.
In the aftermath of the announcement from ECB, Lancashire cricket immediately offered an update, apologizing to the ticket-holders and all stake-holders, who were directly affected by the outcome of the fifth Test. All eyes were on the result of the outcome of the series, did India win it 2-1 or was it a draw 2-2?
However, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)’s statement, which came a bit later, made the situation as simple as possible: the Manchester Test would be rescheduled, in simple terms.
"In lieu of the strong relationship between BCCI and ECB, the BCCI has offered to ECB a rescheduling of the cancelled Test match. Both the Boards will work towards finding a window to reschedule this Test match,” BCCI stated.
BCCI’s simple but effective solution did solve one of the major topics of debate but it was still unclear on how the two boards would bring that outcome on the board in a year packed with international fixtures. The consensus was that the two boards would find a time-frame during India’s 2022 limited-overs visit to England to play out the Manchester Test.
ECB’s chairman Harrison, later on BBC and Sky Sports, emphasized that the Indian team’s decision was a case of mental fatigue and anxiety, which caused the downfall of the Test. However, earlier last year, the Three Lions also made a similar decision, pulling themselves out of their limited-overs tour to South Africa.
"It's been a long night. It's just really sad. 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," Harrison told Sky.
"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."
"The BCCI, this India team and their captain want to make their mark in Test cricket. I don't think the IPL should worry people who feel there is an agenda is at place here. I was on the phone all night. Once those fears creep in they can be very hard to shift. There are no winners in this one."
There were still moving parts in the story, especially considering how the one-off Test would pan out in the larger scheme of the World Test Championship (WTC), that states that every series in the cycle should include at least two Tests. Harrison offered an update, stating that it is going to be a stand-alone situation.
"No, I think it's a stand-alone situation. We have been offered a few other options, probably need to take a look (at those)," Harrison told Sky Sports when asked whether it would be a stand-alone game or the series-decider.
"The glass half full version of it is that the prospects of playing a one-off Test match against India as a focal point on this ground, let's try to deliver on that. It can be the only good news that comes out of a day like today," he added.
When the entire blame game was seemingly done and dusted, it all creeped back on the table once again, with the story about the Indian skipper Kohli and head coach Shastri not consulting the board before they attended the book launch.
"There is very little chance that Shastri and Kohli will be penalised for this act of theirs with the T20 World Cup around the corner (in October). Also, Shastri is leaving for good after that."
"Kohli is the captain. Maybe a rap on the knuckles at best. Maybe it's good time to ask [Girish] Dongre that what's his domain of work as an administrative manager," the official said.
"But the point here is that why didn't they apply common sense when they agreed to attend Shastri's book launch where outsiders were allowed?" he asked.
By the looks of things, the matter is now for the ICC to resolve. For now, it takes the shine of what has been one of the fiercely contested Test series in recent times. Not to mention, what would (should) have been the biggest feather in the cap of the current Indian Test side on their way to greatness.