Biggest sufferer in the Old Trafford episode has been the Test cricket fan
- Seeing the gravity of the crisis, BCCI and ECB should have addressed the matter quickly, jointly and publicly to assuage feelings. Fans have a right to know what’s happening and the road ahead in their sport.
Lamentably, the fifth Test between India and England had to be cancelled giving an anticlimactic end to what was a rousing series, showcasing the best attributes of Test cricket through the individual and collective performances of both teams.
For intensity of effort, exhibition of fine skills, sustained tension, suspense, excitement and see-sawing results, this would rate among the best rubbers India’s played in. Others that come readily to mind are versus Australia in 1977-78, 2018, 2020-21 (all away) and 2001 (at home), in Pakistan 2004-5, in the West Indies in 1975-76 and against them in 1974-75 at home.
The last mentioned is of interest in the current context. After four Tests, the score-line read 2-2. With the series headed for a stirring climax, BCCI proposed that the final Test be extended by a day to ensure a result. Gerry Alexander, manager of the West Indies team, was recalcitrant, but was finally cajoled.
West Indies won the match and the rubber, but the real winner was cricket. This was possible because of the spirit of accommodation shown by administrators and players. The two teams agreed to the 6-day Test, uncaring about victory or defeat, in the interest of cricket and fans.
I am not stuck in a time warp, nor am I looking at the past with rose-tinted glasses. Cricket has never been richer or played by so many people across the world as now. Corporatisation and regimented administration has helped cricket grow enormously.
However, sometimes one feels that the sport is in danger of being overrun by internecine politics, greed for power, pelf and one upmanship among administrators and players, oftentimes just excessive and poor management by various Boards and/or the parent body.
I’ll skip the whys and wherefores about why the Old Trafford Test couldn’t be played as these are well known now, but the fiasco throws up some learnings for the short term.
a) Covid remains a looming threat and can spook players. England and Australia last season walked out of international engagements; it was India this time. This could become endemic. Perhaps Boards need to further allay fears of players by involving them in finalising itineraries, which become binding except in an emergency.
b) Why and how teams withdraw from a match needs clarity. What is the value of Covid tests for players during a series? Does this need to be amended/tweaked considering the high fear factor prevailing still?
c) The IPL is indeed the big elephant in the room. This was evident even last year when the T20 World Cup was cancelled to accommodate IPL 2020. It couldn’t be different this time, and unlikely to be in the future. But other tournaments can be disruptive too. The Hundred, ECB’s coveted new league, had the Indian team faffing for six weeks after the World Test Championship final. Had the Test series against England started a week earlier, the fifth Test wouldn’t have been cancelled. All boards need to get aligned to each other’s needs.
That said the biggest sufferer in this unhappy episode has been the Test cricket fan. Not just those who bought tickets for the Old Trafford match, but all over the world. This could be damaging to the future of the longest format.
Seeing the gravity of the crisis, BCCI and ECB should have addressed the matter quickly, jointly and publicly to assuage feelings. Fans have a right to know what’s happening and the road ahead in their sport.
Also, since India pulled out of the match, Virat Kohli and his team should have issued a signed letter - like they did to ECB and BCCI - explaining their stand, with the promise of making good as soon as possible. That would have been gracious and statesmanlike.
As things stand, there is a talk of two T20s being added to India’s visit to England next year. This would be adding insult to injury. Financial compensation to ECB may be achieved, but it would be cruel on fans who will be forced to eat chalk instead of cheese.
A Test seems more palatable and fairer. Such a proposal is on the mail trail between BCCI and ECB. However, there is currently a tug-of-war being played out on the status of the match: whether the Test should be part of the series called off last week or a one-off?
BCCI and ECB, one understands, are unrelenting in their positions. The matter has been lobbed in the court of ICC, not exactly renowned for swift action or sagacity. If not resolved asap this could queer the pitch further.
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