Kohli Rahane
India’s captain Virat Kohli and his deputy Ajinkya Rahane celebrate after India beat England by 157 runs on day five of the fourth Test match at The Oval cricket ground in London on September 6, 2021. Image Credit: AP

COVID-19 claims the Manchester Test. The decision to indefinitely postpone the fifth and final cricket match of the Pataudi Trophy series between India and England makes complete sense. Cricket can wait; the health of players is more important. So the Indian cricket board’s decision to refrain from fielding a team is indeed a brave one, and it shows how much they care for the players.

It certainly wouldn’t have been an easy decision since the stakes were high. India were on the cusp of winning their first series in England since 1986. Even a draw would have sufficed, so the board’s decision may have thrown away a golden opportunity. Does it matter? Not, not at all. There are more important matters at hand: like health and sickness. So it certainly was the right call.

There must have been a high financial cost too. The broadcast rights, stadium tickets and advertising all add up to a lot of pounds. Scrapping a Test match results in huge losses for the hosts, and Lancashire wouldn’t be too happy about it. Maybe, the Board of Control for Cricket in India may have to bear at least some of the cost, though there’s been no news of the settlement.

What will happen to the Old Trafford Test?

Latest reports say that the Indian and English boards are looking at rescheduling the Old Trafford Test. The possibility is rather slim, given the packed cricket calendar. We should know more details in the coming days.

This is not the first series to be affected by COVID, nor will it be the last. England were forced to field a new team against Pakistan in the One-Day Internationals in June after the original team was forced to isolate over a virus scare. That was possible because they were the home side. Even India’s T20 Internationals in July were affected after Krunal Pandya tested positive, but coach Rahul Dravid was able to field the reserves.

Indian players’ reluctance to take the field in Old Trafford is understandable. After chief coach Ravi Shashtri tested positive for COVID during the fourth Test at the Oval, three close contacts — bowling coach B. Arun, fielding coach R. Sridhar and chief physiotherapist Nitin Patel — went into isolation. Now with the assistant physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar also testing positive, fears are that at least one player could have contracted the virus. All players have returned negative tests, but coronavirus symptoms can surface in the coming days. So it’s prudent to isolate, or else the virus could be passed on to more players, including the Englishmen.

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This is bound to happen in future too, since the safety protocols in biobubbles have been slightly eased. Matches in highly secure biobubbles were relatively incident-free, but it told on the players’ mental health. Since biobubbles are never 100 per cent secure, the ICC and national cricket boards should make room for such scenarios in the playing conditions. This is important since the English Cricket Board is reported to have pushed India to forfeit the Test since they declined to field a team.

We live in COVID times. Our life and cricket, or any outdoor activity, should no longer be put on hold. We have to follow safety protocols to keep the virus at bay, but that should not be a reason to stop playing. When infections show up, take a pause, take remedial action and move on.

What’s more imperative is the need for new rules, given the COVID reality. That would allow the teams to decide on truncating a series. We certainly don’t want to expose players to the virus. Who cares if we win or lose. Life, that’s more important.