BCCI Made ECB Cancel 5th Test, But What's Next? What Does England Stand To Lose?
India wanted the series cancelled despite no COVID_19 cases among the players, then why should ECB pay the price?
On 31 August, Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli elected to attend a crowded indoor book launch event in London where mostly no guest, or they themselves, were seen wearing a mask. Five days later, on Day 4 of the fourth Test between India and England at The Oval, the Indian coach tested positive for COVID-19.
Over the next week, three more members of the Indian support staff tested positive with physio Yogesh Parmar's result, on the eve of the Manchester Test, proving to be a breaking point for the Indian team, who then refused to play the fifth Test.
As things stand. India lead the five match series 2-1. The fifth Test stands cancelled, with three possible eventual outcomes.
Either a single Test match is played in 2022 when India travel to England for a limited-overs tour; or, as the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has already requested the International Cricket Council (ICC), the sport's governing body's Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) makes a decision whether the visitors forfeited the match; or they had legitimate grounds to abandon the tour due to the COVID-19 situation.
Why's the Final Result Important?
Apart from the obvious competitive reason that if the last match is cancelled, India win the series 2-1 and bag their first series win in England since 2007, there is also the matter of a reported Rs 400 crore at stake.
Rs 400 crore is said to be the amount the ECB stand to lose if the fifth and final Test is said to have been cancelled due to COVID-related reasons, and therefore the final verdict of the DRC is important.
How is that connected, you ask?
An abandoned or cancelled Test allows the ECB to recur their losses from their insurance company. However, their policy does not have a provision for matches that are cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.
So if the ICC's DRC rule that the COVID-19 concerns in the Indian camp would not have a 'significant impact' on the team being able to play, and complete a Test match, then the onus falls on the Indian team and the match could be declared as forfeited. Or, more importantly, for ECB's accountants, it would mean that COVID-19 was not the reason for cancellation.
After all, none in the Indian squad had tested positive despite the cases among the support staff, and each player had undergone two RT-PCR tests since Parmar's report. All returning negative.
What Is India's Stand?
Over the last five days, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) President Sourav Ganguly was first quoted as saying that were the match to be played at a later date, the "one-off match cannot be a continuation of the series any more", to now when he said to PTI on Monday: "We want the series to be completed as this will be our first series win (in England) since 2007. The BCCI maintains that Test cricket is the ultimate format, and we won't compromise it for anything".
So if his latest interview is taken as his – and the board's final decision – then India are keen to see the series through and play the fifth Test – most likely in 2022.
That handles the cricket aspect of the series, but would a one-off Test help the ECB earn as much revenue as a match that would have been played as part of a series? Or, in fact, even as insurance payout? The ECB was among the many cricket bodies across the world that incurred heavy losses due to the pandemic last season, amounting to Rs 160 crore, according to reports. And while the financial aspect of this situation's outcome may not seem as important, each million pounds of loss by a cricket board trickles down to fewer matches and fewer tournaments at the grassroot level.
Should India Forfeit the Series?
Prior precent of COVID-related instances during series involving Indian cricketers and the BCCI would indicate that an abandoned series would not be on one of the board's top-most preferred outcomes.
After all, the 2021 Indian Premier League (IPL) was rescheduled to squeeze into a very tight cricket calendar this September even thought it meant most Indian cricketers would be part of a bio-bubble – or on tour – for a stretch of almost six months. The IPL, much like the England tour, did not have a COVID-related insurance payout.
In July, when India travelled to Sri Lanka for the limited-overs series and Krunal Pandya tested positive before the second T20I and eight players were placed in quarantine, the tour was not abandoned. Instead, the match was rescheduled, players were tested and re-tested and the series was completed even though India eventually had to field their standby players as well. As coach Rahul Dravid said, “We have got eleven to choose from, and all eleven are playing.”
In England, India travelled with a 22-man squad and more importantly, no member of the squad tested positive. Even after Ravi Shastri's positive test, his close contacts were all support-staff members so the Indian team actually had available to them their entire line-up of 22 players to field a squad from. Thus, it would be hard to say the team was unable to field a team due to COVID-19, because Indian teams in the past have indeed played with much less.
Therefore, prior precedent would suggest to the ECB that India would have continued on and completed the series, instead, senior players are believed to have insisted on the BCCI negotiating a cancellation of the match on Friday. Three days have passed since, and the same players who feared a spread of the virus in the camp, now sit in quarantine in UAE hotels before the start of the resumption of IPL 2021.
What started with a reckless decision of a senior team official and player to attend an event in London two weeks back – an event that BCCI President Sourav Ganguly has said they did not even seek permission from the board to attend – has now resulted in major possible losses for the ECB even as the Indian cricket caravan has moved to their next assignment.
India made the mistake. India made the decision and ECB now face the consequences. Not much can be debated here as far as the fairness of the situation goes.
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