5th Test: An edited press release, ‘players at end of tether’ and the cloud of the IPL

Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain talk about the factors that led to the India vs England 5th Test being called off, even as ECB's 'forfeit' U-turn continues to raise question marks.

It should have been the first day of the 5th Test at Old Trafford between India and England on Friday, but it seems the real battle was fought backstage, between the two country’s cricket boards, a couple of hours before the scheduled start of play.

There was little proof of this battle between the BCCI and the ECB, except for one minor — but crucial — edit made in ECB’s press release calling the match off a little after 1 pm (IST).

“Due to fears of a further increase in the number of COVID cases inside the camp, India are unable to field a team and will instead regrettably forfeit the match,” read the first version of the ECB statement.

Within fifteen minutes, however, a fresh press release was issued, which had left out the clause that India had forfeited the match.

The difference the “forfeit” phrase made was, of course, in the result of the 5-match Test series, which currently stands 2-1 in India’s favour. If India had forfeited, the series would have been drawn, and England would have been awarded 12 points on the World Test Championship, which would have put them on the top of the table, alongside India.

However, as BCCI’s press release made clear a little after 3 pm (IST), the series score remains at 2-1, and the Indian board “has offered to ECB a rescheduling of the cancelled Test match.”

READ | Indian team not keen on playing fifth Test after support staff tests positive

The Indian players had a meeting on Thursday, where the majority of the squad members expressed their unwillingness to play the fifth Test. According to sources, with the Indian Premier League (IPL) resuming in the United Arab Emirates from September 19, players were wary about the risk factors.

“This is very similar to what happened in South Africa last year. England players were very reluctant to play, the administrators wanted the game to go on, they were trying to negotiate, but the players were reluctant. The IPL has always been the cloud hanging over this Test match,” said Michael Atherton on Sky Sports on Friday.

“The IPL has always been the big financial issue hanging on the back of this Test match. But this is also about the players at the end of their tether, thinking what if they get Covid at the end of this tour, thinking can I do another 10 days. It’s not sustainable to go from bubble to bubble, look what happened to Ben Stokes,” said Nasser Hussain.

READ | ‘It’s a joint decision with ECB to cancel the 5th Test’: Jay Shah

India’s reported reluctance to play came after the team’s assistant physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar returned Covid positive ahead of the match. Parmar had been monitoring several players, including Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma – players with various niggles – during and after the 4th Test.

According to reports, the Indian board were told that they will have to give England a walkover in case they wanted the hosts to accept their demand of cancelling the final Test match, but the players were reluctant to do this.

According to unconfirmed reports, the 5th Test can be held when India visit England for a white-ball series in July 2022. For now, the status of the 5th Test remains “both the Boards will work towards finding a window to reschedule this Test match.” And not forfeited.

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