The cricket world has erupted after England's enthralling Test series against India ended in farcical circumstances with an 11th hour cancellation of the fifth Test.
Officials from England and India have embarked on damage limitation after the costly, confusing and frustrating last-minute cancellation of the decisive fifth Test at Old Trafford over Covid-19 concerns.
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Emergency talks had been raging through the night but it was not until shortly before 9am on Friday, just over two hours before the scheduled start and only a few minutes before the gates were due to open to a sell-out crowd of 22,000, that the game was called off due to COVID-19 problems in the Indian camp.
Their entire playing squad returned a round of negative PCR tests on Thursday but, by then, a positive test among the backroom staff - their fourth in the last week - had already spooked the squad, leaving India unable to field a team.
England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief executive Tom Harrison, who spent a sleepless night leading the crisis talks with counterparts at India's powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), bemoaned "a sad day for Test cricket internationally".
The cancellation of the fifth Test is expected to cost the ECB millions of pounds in lost revenue.
The ECB initially said India had forfeited the match, an explosive conclusion which would have seen the visitors surrender their 2-1 lead and the series end in a draw.
However, that wording disappeared quickly from a revised statement as negotiations escalated behind the scenes.
The tourists later issued their own assessment suggesting they were willing to reschedule the match due to their "strong relationship" with the ECB.
With the cricket world stunned by the farcical end to the Test series, many fans cited the rescheduled Indian Premier League - set to resume again next week - as a key reason why India pulled out of fifth Test.
Harrison rejected the idea that the fear of missing out on the lucrative IPL tournament had caused the disquiet among India's squad.
"Let me be super clear, I don't think the IPL has anything to do with this," he said.
"This is not a situation which has been created by the rescheduled IPL, I fundamentally do not believe that for a second. This Indian cricket team are as passionate about Test cricket as fans in our country are."
However, that explanation didn't wash for many cricket fans who blamed the IPL and India's powerful cricket board for the dramatic cancellation.
Others, such as former England Test star Kevin Pietersen rightly pointed out that his former side pulled out of their South African tour last year because of a Covid outbreak, with the chaotic situation dividing the cricket world.
England left the tour of SA for Covid scares & cost CSA plenty, so don’t go pointing fingers! 👀
— Kevin Pietersen🦏 (@KP24) September 10, 2021
@KP24 there were no vaccines then Kev. So completely different scenarios. We all know if India were down in this series they would play. And if the IPL wasn’t on next week they’d also be keen. Nice try though 👍
— Dan Pettit (@dan_pettit23) September 10, 2021
The total lack of respect shown to the Cricketing fan that had travelled hundreds miles today to see the Test today is an utter disgrace .. Surely this could have been dealt with yesterday !!!! Even then I wouldn’t have agreed with it … #ENGvIND
— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) September 10, 2021
Total disgrace. I hope the ECB show they have a spine when it comes to deciding what the outcome/result is - if India don’t want to play, it’s a forfeit and drawn series, surely?
— Chris Foy (@FoyChris) September 10, 2021
Utter disgrace. I’m sure if India had been 2-1 down, they’d have played. England should be awarded the WTC points for this fixture. The arrogance of the BCCI know no bounds
— Graham McNeill (@gmcneill57) September 10, 2021
— Aman Sehgal (@Aman5ehgal) September 10, 2021
Those who have travelled thousand of miles to play test cricket should be more disappointed, no one wants to get covid , you didn't speak like that when England left sa without playing even a single game with no covid case in camp..
— Jimmy ✨🌟 (@mohitd308) September 10, 2021
Any potentially rescheduled match will not happen quickly, with the Indian Premier League starting back up on September 19 in the United Arab Emirates, and players from both squads jetting off to take part on Wednesday.
Instead, adding a Test match into next summer's calendar, when India are already due to visit these shores for six white-ball matches, is viewed as a potential solution.
That would be welcome news for Lancashire, who estimate a "multi-million pound loss" as a result of the cancellation and are already looking to the ECB to help them avert financial disaster.
Remarkably, the final result of the series remained up in the air and it appears the International Cricket Council may be called upon to decide on the outcome.
Harrison would welcome a replacement Test next summer, but admitted he had no idea how or if that would feed into the existing series, which forms part of the World Test Championship.
"I think we have to just take a breath and do some work with the ICC, to formally ask them to adjudicate on the result of this," he said.
"We will separately have ICC adjudicate over whether this series is completed now, whether that fifth match is null and void or whether it's actually regarded as a forfeiture or something else."
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