The fifth and final Test in Manchester has been postponed indefinitely in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak within the India squad. In a statement released on Friday, the BCCI said it was in talks with the ECB over conducting the match at a later date.
"The BCCI and ECB held several rounds of discussion to find a way to play the Test Match, however, the outbreak of Covid-19 in the Indian team contingent forced the decision of calling off the Old Trafford Test Match.
"In lieu (sic) of the strong relationship between BCCI and ECB, the BCCI has offered to ECB a rescheduling of the cancelled Test match. Both the Boards will work towards finding a window to reschedule this Test match."
It remains to be seen how the boards can work out a window for the match, though one could possibly be carved out when India return to England next year for a scheduled limited-overs series.
This development seems to have ended the possibility of India having to forfeit the Test match, though further developments are awaited.
News that the match wouldn't begin as originally planned came in hours before the scheduled toss. "Due to fears of a further increase in the number of COVID cases inside the camp, India are regrettably unable to field a team," the ECB said in a statement. "We send our sincere apologies to fans and partners for this news, which we know will cause immense disappointment and inconvenience to many."
The development came on the back of intense discussions between the BCCI and the ECB after India's assistant physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar returned a positive Covid-19 test on Wednesday.
Following ongoing conversations with the BCCI, the ECB can confirm that the fifth LV= Insurance Test at Emirates Old Trafford, due to start today, will be cancelled.— England Cricket (@englandcricket) September 10, 2021
ESPNcricinfo understands more than one India player had expressed concerns about taking the field in talks between the BCCI and the team management over the last two days. The entire India squad returned negative RT-PCR tests on Thursday, but results of a second round of testing performed on Thursday are still awaited.
It is understood that the players and both boards suspect another case emerging from this round of tests, and hence the BCCI told the ECB that India would struggle to put out a playing XI for the fifth Test, which was to be played at Old Trafford from September 10 to 14.
A sense of confusion had spread among the Indian camp in the last two days even as the BCCI was in discussions with ECB over whether to carry on with the series or cancel the final Test. While the discussion carried on through the middle of Thursday night, the Indian contingent remained unaware of the what decision the BCCI was going to take.
However, it is understood the BCCI did ask the players to keep their bags ready to fly out to the UAE for the IPL well ahead of the scheduled departure date of September 15, when the bulk of the India and England players were to board charter flights to join their franchises.
Then on Friday morning, a few hours before the official toss time, the Indian camp received a message on their team WhatsApp group. The first message said: "The match has been called off. It's impt that each one of you stay in your room." About 10 minutes later another message popped up on the group: "We are unable to arrange breakfast in your room so if you want you can go to the restaurant to have your meal."
It was not the first instance of such mixed messages circulating in the India camp. After the entire squad returned negative RT-PCR tests on Thursday, it is understood that during one of the meetings with the BCCI, several players grouped into one room for the virtual discussion.
The drama began after Parmar experienced Covid-19 symptoms immediately after returning from the first day of India's training at Old Trafford on Wednesday. A positive lateral flow test triggered the BCCI medical team to send the entire squad back to their rooms, since Parmar had been in close contact with several India players in the last week. Parmar had only taken charge midway into the fourth Test at the Oval after lead physio Nitin Patel went into isolation after being identified as a close contact of India head coach Ravi Shastri, who tested positive for Covid-19 on the third evening of the fourth Test at The Oval.
While three members of the contingent - Patel, bowling coach Bharat Arun and fielding coach R Sridhar - were identified as immediate contacts of Shastri, it was far more difficult to determine who the close contacts of Parmar were, considering he was treating a wider group of players. This included Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. These players have been mingling among the wider group, which has made identifying close contacts even more complicated.
In their chats with the BCCI, the players were also concerned about the situation having an impact on their families. Most of the India players are travelling with their families including Virat Kohli, Rohit, Ajinkya Rahane, Pujara, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant and Umesh Yadav.
The key concern, though, for the BCCI was it did not want the IPL to be impacted considering it is starting in nine days' time. With that in mind the BCCI discussed cancelling the final Test, but the ECB is understood to have made it clear that it would interpret any refusal to play as a forfeiture. The BCCI was keen to avoid such a scenario, as not only would it see England square the series, but it could expose the BCCI to claims of lost revenue from broadcasters and the venue. Lost revenue could, it is thought, total up to GBP 30 million.
The World Test Championship competition terms state that a Covid-19 outbreak within a team is an acceptable reason for a Test to be abandoned - and not forfeited. With the WTC points system now calculated on the basis of percentage of points contested, a four-Test series instead of five would not adversely impact a side's points total.
Had the boards not agreed to the postponement, the series result could have gone into the hands of the ICC match referee Chris Broad based on whether the ECB accepted India's fears of a larger outbreak in their camp as "acceptable non-compliance" as per the WTC regulations. A cancellation would have given India a 2-1 series victory, and a forfeiture led to a 2-2 draw.
Currently India have pocketed 26 WTC points from the series while England have 14 out of the available 48 points.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo