India have cancelled the fifth and final Test against England amid concerns of a further Covid outbreak after a number of the visiting team tested positive. England’s deciding cricket match against India at Emirates Old Trafford, in Manchester, was due to start at 11am this morning.
But just over two hours before the fifth LV= Insurance Test started, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced it had sensationally been called off. An initial statement from the ECB had said India will “forfeit the match” - but the wording was changed in an updated version a short while later, indicating that negotiations remain ongoing.
Concerns over the fixture first emerged last night when India cancelled their final training session and did not hold their mandatory press conference.
It was later revealed that the squad was confined to its hotel after a new positive case was returned by one of their backroom team.
Head coach Ravi Shastri had previously tested positive for the virus during the fourth Test at the Oval, where he remains in quarantine with bowling coach Bharat Arun and fielding coach Ramakrishnan Sridhar.
Although the threat of the virus spreading further appeared to recede after a fresh round of PCR tests among the remaining members of the Indian camp came back negative, it is understood players had been concerned.
They had reportedly been unwilling to take the field due to their worries, meaning India could not put up a team. In a revised statement, the ECB said this morning: “Following ongoing conversations with the BCCI, the ECB can confirm that the fifth Test between England and India Men due to start today at Emirates Old Trafford, will be cancelled. “Due to fears of a further increase in the number of COVID cases inside the camp, India are regrettably unable to field a team. "We send our sincere apologies to fans and partners for this news, which we know will cause immense disappointment and inconvenience to many. Further information will be shared in due course.”
Former England batsman Mark Butcher called it a "really sad day for the game" and acknowledged the restart of the Indian Premier League on September 19 would be a talking point for fans.
“Any postponement would push that back beyond the start of the competition,” Butcher told Sky Sports, as he acknowledged that the decision to cancel today "would not have been taken lightly". “I’ve got a little bit of sympathy in terms of the Indian players, most of whom have been on the road before the Australian series over Christmas and New Year. They did go home to play England but they were in strict bubbles then. “I can imagine some of those players locked up in their rooms at the moment have had an absolute gutful and want to get out.
"But that does not dim any of the disappointment for fans and the amount of money involved in putting these Test matches on."
Former England captain Nasser Hussain called the situation a “mess” and agreed he had a lot of sympathy for the Indian players who he said have had two physiotherapists within the camp test positive.
But he added: “My actual sympathy is with the crowd... It’s a real shame that it has to end on such a low note."Hussain suggested the Fifth Test could be played next summer when India are due to visit England for one-day international and Twenty20 series.
He said: “It leaves more of a sour taste for the Indians because they could have won away from home in Australia and England this year."
“But still (there are) a lot of questions to be answered over what is the actual result of this Test series," he added.