What India wants, India gets. Chaos in the cricketing world ensues, as India call off the fifth test.
On 10 September, the morning of what was scheduled to be the first day of the fifth test, the English and Indian cricket boards released statements declaring the match cancelled. Citing an outbreak of Covid-19 in the Indian camp (which had forced head coach Ravi Shastri to isolate during the previous test) as the highlighted reason. All were left disappointed that there wouldn’t be a conclusion to what had proved an exhilarating series. With England hoping to salvage a draw, and India vying for a first series win in England for 14 years, there was still a great deal on the line. Considering the lack of sporting drama over the past 18 months, the loss of the final test remained sore.
Although disappointing, the fallout from the cancellation of the fifth test can only be described as cricket’s very own existential crisis. Many have claimed that with the start of the Indian Premier League (IPL) shortly after the conclusion of the final test, players from both camps saw an opportunity to ensure they would be quarantined in time for the start of the tournament. With the IPL providing the most significant paycheck most players receive in a season; it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that some had more to gain from the cancellation than initially suggested. India had travelled to England with an extended squad of 21 players to mitigate against such outbreaks, leaving fans wondering whether some simply didn’t want to play. Michael Vaughan, in typically bullish fashion, tweeted:
“IPL teams chartering planes… 6 days of quarantining required in the UAE… 7 days til the tournament starts! Don’t tell me the test was cancelled for any other reason but the IPL…”.
Although it seems easy to blame the players, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is expected to take well over £70,000,000 from the tournament. With many of their biggest stars playing for the national team, it would be unfair to pin responsibility for any possible ulterior agendas solely on the players. An appreciation of the money involved in these tournaments demonstrates the eerily political undertones of this calamitous affair.
I am reluctant, however, to play the part of the conspiracist. We will never know for certain if the IPL was a factor in the cancellation of the fifth test. Although easy to point fingers, in a world where Covid-19 outbreaks are commonplace, a Covid-19 outbreak derailing the final test should not come as a surprise. England left South Africa late last year in very similar circumstances. The nature of professional sport has changed drastically over the last 18 months, with athletes expected to spend months away from families in order to meet the ever-stringent Covid requirements. Moeen Ali, England’s off spinner, recently announced his retirement from test match cricket partly in response to the prospect of spending months away from home playing in Australia later this year. When faced with an outbreak of Covid-19 in camp, the Indian players can hardly be blamed for wanting nothing to do with it. They wanted to go home. To suggest that players do not care about the fans would be unfair considering how much they have sacrificed to facilitate these sporting events.
Although the fans are undoubtedly hit hardest by the current environment, we should be grateful that things are slowly getting back to normal. The start of the IPL, although conspicuously soon after the conclusion of the final test, will provide a sporting spectacle that has been so sorely missed. With the ‘Twenty20’ (T20) World Cup set to start next month, fans have plenty of cricket to look forward to. Although purists will argue that test match cricket is subsequently being left behind, leaving the game in a state of flux with shorter formats in the ascendancy, cricket is once again being viewed as a valid source of entertainment. The advent of ‘The Hundred’ this summer saw live cricket back on terrestrial TV and in the nation’s heart. Introducing the game to a previously untapped market, these short, exciting matches have allowed all to enjoy the very best of what cricket has to offer. Uncertainty will remain rife over the following months; a refusal by fans to adapt and appreciate this will only heighten the issues highlighted by the cancellation of the final test.
The two teams will play a stand-alone test next year, hoping to make up for what has been a disappointing end to the English cricketing summer. This will not appease many of the fans who had travelled to Manchester that fateful morning, however, it demonstrates a common consensus amongst governing bodies that the fans deserve fulfilled promises.