Is it for big-money IPL that the final Test was cancelled?

With the final Test match in Manchester being cancelled,  question arise around the true motives for the cancellations and the role of Ravi Shastri and Kohli  

The Covid-19 related cancellation of sporting events in 2020 has created havoc in the minds of almost every country and every sports federation around the world. The loss of revenue to the state of bankruptcy forced many of the sports administrators to go in for overcrowded schedules as the sportspersons returned to the fields.

One such situation arose when the first leg of the Indian Premier League was called off mid-way in May earlier this year, leaving the cash-rich Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) red-faced for their failure to create an air-tight “bio-bubble” in three cities hosting matches in India. So, the big brass of the BCCI decided to squeeze in the “second leg of IPL 2021” between the two mega-series — five-Test series against England and the T20 International World Cup. And when the fifth Test at Old Trafford was cancelled/forfeited (only time will tell exact result after ICC takes a call soon) citing Indian players’ nervousness around Covid spreading within the Team Camp, isn’t it that the blame should go to those planners who didn’t count all these possibilities while rescheduling the cricket calendar?

Had there been more time to delay, there would have been less cricket to be played back-to-back in the weeks ahead, there was a decent chance the final Test could have taken place as was suggested by England Cricket Board (ECB).

Given the situation our Indian cricketers are in, there seems to be no end to their loneliness or what is now conveniently called quarantine inside a strict bio-bubble in UAE over the next two months at the IPL and T20 World Cup. 

Team India players’ nervousness was obvious before the start of the final Test in Manchester because any positive case amongst the playing group meant to do another 10 days’ isolation in the United Kingdom. In simple terms, the start of the IPL only five days after the end of the final Test could well mean missing out on money-spinner IPL, or India’s biggest tournament.

 

What happened inside the Team India camp?

As Team India’s players arrived in Manchester to participate in the final Test of the five-Test series on September 8, they were asked to go through the RT-PCR test. And the man who was conducting the tests was none other than assistant physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar, whose own Covid-19 result came positive some 16 hours later the next morning. Ideally, the match should have been called off or counted as forfeited, right then and there, but then this was not just an ordinary series or a normal match. This was Lancashire Cricket County Club’s chance to make up for the huge losses the county suffered during the Covid pandemic.

The debate over whether the England team should have been awarded this game to make the final result 2-2 would go on for quite some time now because of lack of clarity over any such issues in the rule book of the International Cricket Council. But it may have a serious impact on the ECB’s immediate financial condition. For example, if ICC decides to call off the Test due to Covid, the 5thTest will be treated as abandoned and India would be awarded a 2-1 series victory. In this scenario, ECB is unlikely to receive any insurance pay-out as “it is not covered for this eventuality”.

However, if ICC declares the game as “forfeited” then the series would end at 2-2 and ECB would be eligible to claim an insurance pay-out of about 30 million pounds. 

The fact remains that being the most powerful cricket board in the world, BCCI, has managed to get England Cricket Board (ECB) to agree to a deal of cancelling this final game and “try and reschedule it to some later day”. For the record, BCCI has already made an offer to play two extra T20 Internationals in England next year to compensate for the last-minute cancelled fifth Test.

However, the offer made by India is designed to help ease a potential shortfall of 40 million pounds in English cricket’s already stretched budget. Whereas, the earlier offer of playing rescheduled Test still stands. But a final decision to any of these offers will largely depend upon the various broadcasters — who paid 25 million pounds for the rights to the Old Trafford Test — whether they are willing to settle for two evenings of 20 overs each or would still want a full five days of cricket. 

Meanwhile, the ECB has written to the ICC to ask them to start the adjudication process with the hope of a swift decision.

While BCCI is hoping of rescheduling the match, ECB chief executive Tom Harrison has indicated that “such a fixture would likely be viewed as a standalone Test rather than as a continuation of this summer’s series”. 

 

Role of Shastri, Kohli under the lens

Though no one from either camp is vocal enough to blame any individual, a whisper campaign has started against skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri who were both instrumental in risking the safety of players by taking them out of the safe bio-bubble to the latter’s book launch. BCCI particularly is unhappy with Shastri as he didn’t seek any permission before launching his book “Star Gazing” two days before (September 1) the start of the Oval Test. 

And the entire Team India players, as could well be expected, were made to attend the book launch event because they had no other choice but to follow the diktat.

Not to forget that earlier too it was Shastri, before the start of the Test series, who was seen attending a crowded football game in the Euro Championships. Later, Rishabh Pant was tested positive for committing a similar mistake as Shastri after watching a full-packed England vs Germany game on June 30.

This time, however, Shastri was the first one to have tested positive, following that bowling coach Bharat Arun, fielding coach Ramakrishnan Sridhar and physiotherapist Nitin Pate were isolated. BCCI has learnt that as many as 150 people attended the book launch of Shastri at a London hotel without adhering to strict Covid protocols. Shastri’s coaching contract is ending after the completion of the T20 World Cup and it is widely believed that he is on his way out after it!

(Cover: Getty images)

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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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