A ‘gutted’ England Cricket Board (ECB) CEO Tom Harrison on Friday said it was the Indian players’ anxiety over ‘what might happen’ and not the COVID-19 outbreak itself that caused the cancellation of the fifth and final Test in Manchester even though all efforts were made to comfort the visitors. (More Cricket News)
Harrison said the developments of the past couple of days have been devastating and everything necessary was done to convince the Indian players, who were spooked by assistant physio Yogesh Parmar’s positive COVID-19 test on Thursday and refused to take the field.
“It’s a really sad day, my heart goes out to fans. We are absolutely gutted. Internationally this game gets astronomical audience. It became clear yesterday around lunchtime that there was a problem in terms of the anxiety level in the Indian team,” Harrison said.
“It wasn't an outbreak of COVID, it was a perception of what might happen post the physio testing positive. Over the course of the day, we tried to give as many different assurances that we could to give comfort to the players,” he revealed.
After the match was cancelled due to the Indian players’ reluctance to take the field following COVID-19 cases in the contingent, the BCCI issued a statement to say that both the boards will work towards finding space to reschedule the game at some other time.
Harrison said the proposed rescheduling would be a one-off game instead of being a decider for the series that India currently lead 2-1. “No, I think it’s a stand-alone situation. We have been offered a few other options, probably need to take a look (at those),” Harrison told Sky Sports.
“The glass half full version of it is that the prospects of playing a one off Test match against India as a focal point on this ground, let's try to deliver on that. It can be the only good news that comes out of a day like today,” he added.
If the rescheduled match is a one-off engagement then India would be deemed winners of the series as it stands right now, something that has not been officially confirmed yet. The most likely window for the rescheduled game is July next year when India would be here for a limited-overs assignment.
Harrison said ‘medical people who understand this virus’ were brought in to talk to the players on Thursday but they were clear about not playing the match. Their concern was positive tests during the match, which would have led to longer quarantine in England and possible loss of game time at the IPL starting September 19.
India head coach Ravi Shastri and three other support staff members were the first to test positive and are isolating in London. “Once you have got that sense of anxiety in the dressing room, it would be very difficult to reverse that. Physical and mental health of players is important,” he said.
“People understand that when you have pulled a hamstring you cannot play but when you have a mental health issue akin to a hamstring pull, that's less well understood,” he explained. “We are in a situation now that we are not in bio-bubble but in managed living standards, which is better for players. It is not a COVID-free environment but COVID-managed environment.”
Harrison said the ECB, however, would be able to handle the financial hit caused by the cancellation thanks to insurance cover. “Our insurance covers cancellation for COVID. Fans will get their money back. Our finance department will handle that,” he said.