Old Trafford Test: Indian players refused to play (Exclusive)

After several conference calls and feverish attempts to find a solution, the fifth and final Test of the India-England series as part of the ICC World Test Championship was, according to two participants in the exchanges, called off because “the Indian players refused to play”.

Captain Virat Kohli is said to have conveyed on behalf of the Indian cricketers that an infection could show up in the next couple of days among the tourists – as the negative Covid-19 test results on the eve of the match were not a guarantee of an infection not germinating.

He reportedly suggested to the BCCI officials that the start of the match be postponed by two to three days.

Kohli also pointed out that with head coach Ravi Shastri down with Covid and several other members of the support staff likewise, India would have to enter a crucial Test without key off-field advisers and strategists and back-up officials, including physiotherapists.

Following the exchange, BCCI office-bearers spoke to England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) executives, proposing postponing the commencement of the game to Sunday or Monday. However, this could not be accommodated by the ECB.

The schedule for domestic and international fixtures in an English cricket season is decided nearly a year in advance and cannot generally be tweaked ad hoc. The decision not to go ahead with the Test was officially taken just two hours before the start of play.

Given the loss the ECB (from TV rights and other revenues) and the Lancashire County Cricket Club (LCCC), hosts of the Test, will suffer as a consequence of the abrupt calling off of the match, the BCCI offered to “compensate” by either playing a Test or two limited-over games in the 2022 English season. Details of this will be announced after exploring the possibility of fitting in such a contest or contests.

LCCC alone is likely to take a hit of 1 million pounds (Rs 10 crore). Those who had bought tickets – and the match like the previous Tests was a sell-out – have been promised a full refund. The hotels at the Old Trafford, which were booked at a premium price for the duration of the game, will also have to return the money to their guests.

Meanwhile, BBC cricket correspondent and former cricketer Jonathan Agnew has reported that India refused to play so as to protect the unfinished Indian Premier League (IPL), which is scheduled to resume in the UAE from September 19. The league is worth crores of rupees to some of the Indian players and thousands of crores of rupees to the BCCI.

The sources who were party to the conference calls, though, denied this.

(Senior cricket writer Ashis Ray is a broadcaster and author of the book ‘Cricket World Cup: The Indian Challenge’)