The process for deciding the outcome of the called-off fifth Test at Old Trafford and the fate of the series between England and India has begun. The ECB have written to the ICC to ask them to start the adjudication process with the hope of a swift decision.
The fifth Test was cancelled around three hours before the start of the game on Friday (September 10) because of fears in the Indian camp about the outbreak of COVID within their team environment. On Wednesday, a fourth member of the backroom staff, Yogesh Parmar, tested positive following three earlier cases that had come to light during the Oval Test.
While there are hopes of rescheduling the match, perhaps for next summer, Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, indicated on Friday that such a fixture would likely be viewed as a standalone Test rather than as a continuation of this summer's series. If that is the case, the game would not form part of the World Test Championship and the fate of this summer's series would need to be decided, something the ECB are putting in the ICC's court.
There are two possible outcomes. If the match is deemed by the ICC's Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) to have been cancelled for acceptable reasons under the COVID allowances in the ICC rules, the result will be declared null and void and the series considered a four-match affair, with India winning 2-1 and World Test Championship points awarded on a percentage of available points basis. The other option is that the DRC consider India forfeited the match and award it to England, squaring the series at 2-2.
The playing conditions for the WTC allow teams not to play matches in certain circumstances. The conditions state: “Any matches that do not take place due to the Acceptable Non-Compliance of one or both Parties (as defined in the World Test Championship Competition Terms) shall not be taken into account in the calculation of the Points Percentage.”
The ICC's decision will come down to how the DRC interpret what ‘acceptable non-compliance' means in a COVID situation. There are provisions within the WTC competition terms that allow a side not to play a Test if COVID impacts on their ability to field a side. The BCCI are adamant that these provisions apply to this situation.
However, Harrison was clear on Friday that the home board do not regard the called-off game at Old Trafford as COVID cancellation. In the ECB's view, there was no outbreak within India's 20-strong playing group which meant they could not field a team. Instead, Harrison cited mental health and well-being as the reason for the cancellation of the Test.
“This is not a COVID cancellation,” Harrison said on Friday. “The match was cancelled because of serious concerns over the mental health and well-being of one of the teams and there is a difference… We have the 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.”
The ECB do not want the uncertainty to drag on and so have written the ICC to get the process started. Once the proceedings have been initiated, the ICC will commission an independent report on what transpired in Manchester. That will then be presented to the Dispute Resolution Committee, chaired by Michael Beloff QC, who will decide if this scenario falls into the acceptable non-compliance compliance category. The DRC's decision will be final which means their ruling would not have to go to the ICC Board for ratification and there is no appeal process.
The decision is important for financial reasons as well as in relation to the matter of WTC points. A COVID cancellation would see the ECB faced with a GBP 40million loss. If India were decided to have forfeited, the ECB would be able to claw some of that back, including around GBP 10million in ticket sales, hospitality and food costs through their insurance. That insurance does not cover a COVID cancellation.
While the wrangling over the outcome of the series is set to go on for a while yet, there is no doubt that the cancellation of the fifth Test was a hugely disappointing end to what had been a superb series.
There has long been an acceptance from the ECB that the respective international series this summer could not be played in strict bio-secure bubbles out of concern for the mental well-being of all the squads involved. But clear standards had been communicated to all teams about the requirements of what the ECB term ‘managed environments' to reduce the risk of infections.
The Daily Mail first reported that a number of India's tour party attended a book launch for Ravi Shashtri at a London hotel with 150 people in attendance and few, if any, COVID protocols in place. A few days later, Shastri tested positive for COVID-19. There are also reports of some of India's players being seen out and about in Manchester on Thursday, the day before the Test match. Less than 24 hours later, the game was off.