The match is off, but the fight for the result may just be starting.
At present, as the ECB and BCCI sift through the fallout of the Test that never was, we know neither the result of the match or the series. We don’t know if the series will be finished in the 2022 English season, or if a one-off Test will be scheduled to mitigate for the substantial losses incurred by this one. We do not even know, for sure, what the insurance implications are.
The basic facts are these: if the Test is deemed, by the ICC, to have been called off due to Covid, the game will be treated as abandoned. As a consequence, the series will finish (at least for now) as a 2-1 victory to India. This scenario would also mean the ECB receiving no insurance payout as it is not covered for this eventuality.
But if the ICC decide India have effectively forfeited the match, the game will be awarded to England and the result of the series will be deemed to be 2-2. This scenario would also enable the ECB to make a claim for an insurance payout.
The compromise solution, offered by the BCCI, is the rescheduling of this game. With India’s white-ball sides due to tour England in 2022, there would appear to be small window available for such a solution, though even then it is unclear whether the match would be treated as standalone or a completion of the current series.
“We have to just take a breath and ask the ICC to formally adjudicate on the result of this,” Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, said. “The BCCI have offered to reschedule the match, which is good news. But whether that is part of this series, a fresh one-match series or the first match of another series, I don’t know yet.
“These are the things that we need to take some time over. I know that fans will be anxious to know. Players are, too. But we do need to take some time in these situations.”
Though both boards’ public statements sounded conciliatory, ESPNcricinfo has learned that, behind-the-scenes, the action has been every bit as competitive as anything we have seen on the pitch. The ECB has asserted that, if there is no rearranged date for the game, then the Test should be deemed to have been forfeited by India. That would not only square the series at 2-2, but would allow the ECB to claim insurance payouts on lost revenues, which could well exceed GBP 30 million (USD 41.6 million approx.).
The ECB is not covered for Covid-impacted cancellation by insurance. While Harrison did originally seem to imply it was in an interview on Sky Sports, he later clarified to confirm it was not. Instead, he confirmed that all ticket-holders will be refunded by the ECB. Crucially, he argues that the match was not called-off due to a Covid outbreak, but due to fears of a Covid outbreak.
The ICC’s World Test Championship conditions accept Covid outbreaks as an acceptable reason for abandoning a match, a tour or a series if it has a “significant impact” on a team’s ability to field a team. Whether they accept the fear of Covid as a reason for abandonment remains to be seen. Harrison – and separately Dinesh Karthik, who worked with the Sky commentary team during the series – both implied that it was fatigue from bubble life as much as anything else that drove the decision.
“There is a tangible difference between those things [forfeit or cancellation], Harrison said. “This is not a Covid cancellation. This is a match cancelled because of serious concerns over the mental health and well-being of one of the teams. There is a difference. But it doesn’t make a difference in respect of a ticket buyers; they will be paid back in full. It makes a difference in terms of the ECB balance sheet.
“You can’t be flippant about issues of mental health, and this is what this is about. India have been wonderful tourists, but they have been here for a long time. Playing at this level, week after week, is difficult. Even if we feel we are emerging from the pandemic, life is different for the players. When Covid creeps into an environment, it can accelerate very quickly.”
The ECB remains adamant that Covid in itself was not the reason for the abandonment. It points out that the entire India squad was tested on Thursday – the day before the game – and all the results were negative. In principle, therefore, they had around 20 players from which to pick.
However, four members of the support staff – first head coach Ravi Shastri, bowling coach Bharat Arun and fielding coach R Sridhar, and later on physio Yogesh Parmar – had tested positive, while the other physio Nitin Patel had been identified as a close contact in the first batch of cases. Parmar had been working closely with players over recent days, with Patel staying away from the squad. As a result, players in the India squad have expressed nervousness about mixing, fearing the virus could be incubating within the group.
Harrison was at pains to point out that the IPL was not a relevant factor in India’s decision making. Players from both teams involved in the competition are now hoping to arrange flights from the UK to the UAE on Saturday, with a six-day quarantine period likely to be necessary. The tournament is set to resume in the UAE on September 19 after also being put off in May after a Covid outbreak in the bubble. Any player testing positive in the UK would have to isolate for a minimum of 10 days.
“Let me be super clear,” Harrison said. “I don’t think the IPL has anything to do with this. This is not a situation which has been created by the rescheduled IPL. I fundamentally do not believe that for a second.”
With the game currently deemed “cancelled” – not “forfeited” – the onus will be on the ECB to have that decision overthrown. If it is to do that, it will have to contest it under the ICC’s Dispute Resolution Committee, which is currently chaired by Michael Beloff QC. A private pay-off before reaching that stage is also a possibility, though the offer of another Test next year may suffice.
If the matter does come before such a committee, the whole affair could become quite messy. The ECB is likely to claim the India team breached protocols by attending Shastri’s book launch – he is being referred to as “patient zero” within the England camp – and will maintain the game was called off because senior India players simply refused to participate. The details of what constitutes a breach will be important, given that Harrison said teams were no longer in biosecure bubbles.
“We’re in managed, living standards, which is a much better and more healthy place for players to be in the long term,” he said. “But it does carry with it some risks. Let’s be clear: we were never trying to sell this as a Covid-free environment, we were trying to sell this as a Covid-managed environment for our Indian friends who have been in bubbles for a long time as well as the England players, this was a really important part of them being here for a three-month period over the course of this summer.”
The India camp is likely to argue that it lost faith in any protocols and point to the three pitch invasions from the YouTube blogger, Jarvo, as evidence of failures in security. They will also point to England’s abandonment of their tour to South Africa at the end of last year. Then, while a couple of England players did initially test positive for the virus, they were subsequently found to be false positives.
For spectators, meanwhile, the host club, Lancashire, has guaranteed a refund. They are not, however, able to refund travel or accommodation costs. Lancashire’s chief executive, Daniel Gidney, described the club as “devastated” by the development.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo