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Keep the scoreline, share the revenue loss since India pulled out

Playing the final Test next year is as ridiculous as deciding to play the fifth day of the first match then

The suspense over the result of the final Test in Manchester has become as tense as that ahead of the matches actually played. Instead of won, lost or drawn, the result is abandoned, forfeited or rescheduled, each with its own baggage.

Officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in India have backed two of these results; the England and Wales Cricket Board initially claimed it should be the third (forfeited), but seems willing to talk of rescheduling. It is now a power game between two boards (and the International Cricket Council), one of which has got used to having its way in most things. It’s a game of inglorious certainty.

Delicately balanced

One of the finest of recent series was delicately balanced between The Hundred and the IPL, which meant it could not have started earlier or been played later. Test cricket ought to be more than a filler. Cricket boards which bang on about their commitment to Test cricket should walk the talk.

It is not difficult to whip up sympathy for the Indian players who were “dead scared” in the words of BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, when their second physio too tested positive. ‘Managed living standards’ (ECB’s term), are psychologically demanding. Also, both the players and the BCCI had the IPL to think about.

None of the players tested positive in Manchester. India could have fielded their best team. When the players left for England they knew full well there would be five Tests following the World Test Championship final against New Zealand. But they said they couldn’t carry on, and that was that.

Whenever the issue of mental health is raised, officials don’t want to appear uncaring or callous. Especially since it is their scheduling that forces cricketers to play too many matches packed into a season. Something is bound to give, especially in Covid times.

These are strange times, and we must allow for strange reactions. The selfish tend to get more selfish, money matters more than usual, and the entitled who have followed rules for months feel like breaking them.

Playing a lone “series-completer” later makes little sense. The tension of a developing series is lost, the build-up dissipated, teams change. Since television money is involved, play a one-off by all means, but don’t artificially tag it onto a series which abruptly ended after four Tests. Cricket is played on the field, not in board rooms.

One solution might be for the series to be recognised as a 2-1 win for India (they were well placed to win the first Test before rain washed out the final day’s play), and for the two boards to share the loss in revenue. Technically it was India who pulled out.

Playing the final Test next year is as ridiculous as deciding to play the fifth day of the first Test then (with India needing 157 to win).

It wasn’t contracting Covid-19 that caused the Indian players to panic — they had all tested negative — but the “fear of contracting” it. ECB pounced on the distinction, and announced India had forfeited the Test. Covid-19 allows a team to withdraw and the match to be abandoned according to the ICC rules. In that case the ECB receives no insurance money (they lose around £30 million). “Fear” allows for insurance. In the end, the series might be decided neither by Joe Root nor Jasprit Bumrah, but by semantics.

Perhaps the Indian team should now tour with a lawyer on their support staff. He might have pointed out the legal implication of pulling out because of Covid anxiety.

At the very least he could have scrutinised BCCI secretary Jay Shah’s statement: “In lieu of the strong relationship between BCCI and ECB, the BCCI has offered to ECB a rescheduling of the cancelled Test match…” The Freudian slip (“in lieu of” instead of “in view of”) might say more about the current relationship between the two boards, perhaps a bit more than Shah intended to reveal. There are questions to be asked, however. About England’s security lapses that allowed a pitch invasion by ‘Jarvo’ three times, any one of which could have turned nasty. About Ravi Shastri and the Indian players going for a book launch — a super spreader event — without BCCI permission. It will be interesting to see how the board deals with this issue, especially after its secretary had written to the players to avoid areas with crowds.

Larger issue

There is no direct link between Shastri’s book launch and the cancellation of play; nor can the players be hauled up by the BCCI if their reluctance to play segued neatly into the board’s own hopes of protecting the IPL. But there is a larger issue here. One of discipline and player responsibility.

Whatever the final decision, one team will feel badly done by.

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