England-India fifth Test cancelled over Covid fears
Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) - The fifth and deciding Test between England and India in Manchester was dramatically cancelled on Friday just over two hours before the scheduled start because of Covid-19 concerns in the tourists' camp.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said fears over the coronavirus, related to an outbreak among backroom staff, had left India unable to field a team at Old Trafford.
Play was due to get under way at 11:00 am local time (1000 GMT) but the ECB announced the match would not take place.
India were 2-1 up in the five-match contest after a 157-run win in the fourth Test at the Oval and were bidding to complete a notable double just months after winning a series in Australia.
"Following ongoing conversations with the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), the ECB can confirm that the fifth Test between England and India men due to start today at Emirates Old Trafford, will be cancelled," an ECB statement said.
"Due to fears of a further increase in the number of Covid cases inside the camp, India are regrettably unable to field a team."
India cancelled their final training session and mandatory pre-match press conference on Thursday after reports that a physiotherapist who had been in close contact with the players had tested positive for Covid.
India were already without head coach Ravi Shastri, bowling coach Bharat Arun and fielding coach Ramakrishnan Sridhar, who had all previously tested positive, with senior physiotherapist Nitin Patel having to self-isolate.
On Thursday evening it had appeared the match was going ahead when a fresh round of tests within the India camp produced a set of negative results.
But following talks between the ECB and BCCI the fixture was called off -- the first home men's international to have been cancelled in England since the start of the pandemic.
Reports said several Indian players had expressed concerns over the potential spread of the virus and were unwilling to play, meaning they could not put out a team.
The BCCI said in a statement that the boards had "jointly decided" to call off the match and that it could not compromise the safety and wellbeing of players.
The status of the Old Trafford match -- and with it the fate of the series -- appears uncertain after the ECB retracted an initial statement that India had "forfeited" the game.
Covid is an acceptable reason for cancelling a match under the regulations for the World Test Championship if it has a significant impact on a side's ability to field a team.
The BCCI said it had offered to reschedule the game, adding: "Both the boards will work towards finding a window to reschedule this Test match."
The India squad have dealt with several Covid cases since Virat Kohli's men arrived England in June for the inaugural World Test Championship final in Southampton, where they were beaten by New Zealand.
The first was in July when Rishabh Pant, the first-choice Test wicketkeeper, tested positive.
Rescheduling the fifth Test is complicated by the imminent re-start of the lucrative Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament, which resumes in the United Arab Emirates on September 19.
The IPL, which started in India, was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year.
Former England captain Mike Atherton said the shadow of the IPL had "always been hanging" over the fifth Test.
"The players are concerned about their involvement in that and the BCCI is no doubt concerned about that tournament," he said.
Cancellation could cost the ECB millions of pounds.
But ECB chief executive Tom Harrison insisted the IPL was not to blame.
"Let me be super-clear about this -- I don't think the IPL has got anything to do with this," he told reporters.
"This is not a situation which has been created by a rescheduled IPL.I fundamentally do not believe that for a second," Harrison added.