The cancellation of the fifth Test between India and England in Manchester came as a big let-down for players and fans alike. With India leading the series 2-1, the final deciding Test promised to be a mouth-watering clash, but the match never happened, and a lot is being talked about what could have been the reason behind it. Former England captain Michael Atherton is the latest to present his views.
While Covid-19 scare is certainly one of them, with India’s assistant physio Yogesh Parmar testing positive for the virus, there could be more factors that led to the calling off of the Manchester Test. Some reports claim that Indian players, despite testing negative on the eve of the match, were reluctant to take the field, while some are blaming the IPL, believing that players prioritised the IPL since the tournament was to resume from September 19.
However, Atherton has offered a fresh take on the entire episode. Atherton believes that Covid or the IPL alone is not a factor and that three factors overall and their combination resulted in the abandonment of the 5th and final Test at the Old Trafford Cricket Stadium in Manchester.
“Covid-19, player power and the Indian Premier League combined to scupper the fifth Test in Manchester yesterday, to the consternation of the Lancashire club and the 85,000 or so supporters who had bought tickets to attend the first four days. There was a profound sense of shock and disappointment over the cancellation of the match, especially at the end of a compelling series that stood at 2-1 to India with everything to play for,” Atherton wrote in his column for The Times.
“That there has been so little international cricket lost to Covid is, amid the anger and sadness, a surprise too. Authorities recognised that they could not ask players to operate in last summer’s strict bio-secure bubbles, as society was opening up again. Inevitably this relaxation increased the risk of a Covid outbreak. County games have been affected this summer, as was the ODI series against Pakistan, which required a whole new England squad, and now a Test match has gone, although space will probably be found in the calendar at some point to mitigate the loss of broadcast income.”
Why certain players hold the IPL responsible for the cancellation is because of what transpired after the match was called off. Several key players were flown to the UAE on charter flights as early as possible, so they could undergo a six-day quarantine, re-join the squad and be ready for the IPL 2021, which resumes next Sunday. The likes of Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Virat Kohli and Mohammed Siraj have already reached the UAE and entered quarantine, while more are expected to arrive shortly. Keeping this in mind, Atherton makes an interesting point.
“The proximity of the IPL was always a potential danger hanging over the Manchester Test: before the summer began there were pointed discussions between the ECB and BCCI about rescheduling the fifth Test for earlier in the summer, something the ECB held firm on. India’s players were concerned that further positive tests would result in a ten-day isolation period in England, thus meaning they would miss the start of the tournament, while the cost to the BCCI of not staging the IPL is about £360 million,” he further wrote.
“After the India players’ stated reluctance on Thursday evening, officials from the ECB and BCCI were locked in discussions throughout the night to try to navigate a way through the situation, with the ECB providing whatever assurances it could around the safety and well-being of the players. No solution was forthcoming, which reflects on where the balance of power lies in the modern game. Once the players had spoken, there was little the administrators could do about it. Players have never been more powerful than now.”
The ECB has written to the ICC seeking an outcome to the Test series. Although the BCCI has stated that it and the ECB are hoping to work towards staging the cancelled Test match, nothing is concrete yet.