Why the IPL Is Not To Blame for India-England Test Cancellation
There were a total of four COVID-19 cases in the Indian camp in the days leading up to the final Test.
The allegations all over social media are that India have put the Indian Premier League (IPL) over Test cricket, and that they lacked commitment. The entire squad tested negative for COVID-19 on the eve of the scheduled start and they should have got on with it, is the argument.
It would be hard to find a team more dedicated to Test cricket than this Virat Kohli-led Indian side. When faced with a similar situation, they played in Sri Lanka, even if Bhuvneshwar Kumar had to bat at No. 6.
On the contrary, Australia and England have given South Africa the cold shoulder in the recent past.
Cut to the chase, is this about the IPL? Well, let's unpack it brick by brick. No blame game, no flaring emotions, just a reasoned understanding of how we got to the place we did.
It is quite possible that it all began when the Indian contingent, including captain Virat Kohli, decided to accompany head coach Ravi Shastri to the release of his book Stargazing.
The event took place on 1 September and was attended by many, including the media. A few days later, during the 4th Test, Shastri tested positive for COVID-19, with close contacts bowling coach Bharat Arun, fielding coach R Sridhar and physio Nitin Patel having to isolate as well. While Arun and Sridhar's test samples returned positive, Patel was found to be negative.
Shastri, in all probability, was 'patient zero' and would undoubtedly decide otherwise if given a second chance. That said, the event wasn't in direct breach of the agreed protocols, which were the same for both sides. This anyway wasn't a tight bio-security bubble but managed living.
With the trio isolating in London, second physio Yogesh Parmar travelled to Manchester for the last Test where he tested positive two days prior to the scheduled start of the 5th Test. This triggered a series of developments, ultimately leading to the cancellation of the Old Trafford Test.
It so happens that the second installment of IPL 2021 is set to begin in Dubai on 19 September – just five days after the scheduled completion of the 5th Test on 14 September.
With the virus bearing an incubation period of 3-4 days, just imagine if even one member from the Indian contingent tested positive for COVID-19 in the next couple of days? By this time, the Test would have been on, and the IPL would have suffered a massive blow.
The tournament wouldn't probably have been cancelled, with all other players from the eight franchises already in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and quarantined in their respective team bubbles. Nevertheless, the gloss would have been taken off the showpiece event, apart from the massive loss to the broadcasters.
Remember, the second physio also tested negative before testing positive a couple of days later. Yes, there is a provision for a COVID-19 substitute under the existing ICC guidelines, but in such a scenario all the members of the Indian touring party and the England squad would have been deemed close contacts.
In all likelihood, the entire lot would have had to be confined to their rooms and tested over multiple days to determine the affected. Anyone testing positive would then have had to isolate for 10 days in the UK and would have missed the beginning of the IPL.
But, this is not just about the IPL. The T20 World Cup is set to begin in Oman on 17 October, with the final to be played in Dubai on November 14, followed shortly by the New Zealand tour of India.
With such short turnarounds between the events, this spelt disaster not only for Team India but for world cricket by extension. Just imagine the chaos the domino effect would have/could have ensued.
The matters of scheduling and the moolah aside for a moment, just think of the players. They are well paid, agreed, better than anyone else in world cricket, but they are also humans at the end of the day.
The Indian players got together on 16 May to quarantine in Mumbai before boarding their flight for the World Test Championship final. It has already been close to four months since they have been in the bio-bubbles or managed isolation. How long can we keep pushing them into the dirt, before more Ben Stokes emerge? It would have been extremely tough even in the most ideal circumstances – well, the most ideal with the COVID-19 rider – leave alone with multiple positive cases in the touring party.
When all the coaches and the physio tested positive for COVID-19, there was a genuine concern in the Indian camp that the virus might permeate further. Had it been some other member of the touring party, perhaps they wouldn't have been that circumspect. But, that the physio, who had been working in close proximity with the players, tested positive, the concern of the Indian team is perfectly understandable.
Furthermore, even as all the adults in the touring party have been double jabbed, many of the players are travelling with their families. Families, which include kids. Kids, who are yet to be vaccinated.
So there you are, while an enquiry into how the the virus entered the Indian squad should certainly be carried out in an unbiased manner, the cancellation (euphemistically rescheduling) of the Test match was the best possible course of action keeping in mind the mental and physical health of the players, with the IPL, or without it.
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