The cancellation of the fifth England-India Test drew comparisons to England’s aborted tour of South Africa in late 2020, another series that was ground to a halt despite there being no confirmed COVID-19 cases among the away sides on both occasions.
What happened in South Africa?
England toured South Africa in the winter of 2020 to play three T20Is and three ODIs that were supposed to be a part of the ongoing ODI World Cup Super League. The tour – England’s first overseas trip since the start of the pandemic – took place as COVID-19 case numbers in South Africa were soaring.
The T20I series was safely negotiated before a positive COVID-19 test in the South African camp brought the ODI series into doubt. A player tested positive prior to the first ODI leading to its postponement. Two days later, the rescheduled first ODI was officially abandoned after two members of staff at the hotel the players were staying in also tested positive for COVID-19.
At this point, the series had still not been postponed. The following day the series was postponed after there were two unconfirmed positives in the England camp – those tests were ultimately found to be false positives.
After news broke of the two unconfirmed tests, there was still a possibility that the sides could squeeze in two ODIs before England were due to fly home, but the tour was pulled with the two respective boards citing the “mental and physical health and welfare of players from both teams.”
At the time, ECB CEO Tom Harrison said: “We have always maintained that the welfare of our players and management is paramount. We were concerned about the potential impact that recent developments might have on the wellbeing of the touring party, and so after consultation with Cricket South Africa we have jointly made the decision to postpone the remaining matches in this series, in [the] best interest of the players’ welfare.”
What happened in Manchester?
There are striking similarities, not least in Harrison’s assessment of events. After the cancellation of the Old Trafford Test, Harrison made it clear that the Test was abandoned last minute due to the wellbeing of the India side. “This is not a COVID cancellation,” he said. “This match has been cancelled because of serious concerns over the mental health and wellbeing of one of the teams.”
After a number of India support staff tested positive for COVID-19 in the build-up to the Oval and Old Trafford Tests, it is understood that the India players became increasingly nervous about the state of affairs. Dinesh Karthik, an active IPL cricketer and current Sky Cricket pundit, commented on Sky: “The general feeling is that a lot of the players are tiring.
“This is after the fourth Test and almost all the games have gone down to the wire. A lot of people are tired and they have only one physio right now. They had two, but before this one went down [with Covid] along with a couple of the coaches.
“So they have one physio, and they’ve done a lot of work with that man. And now he tests positive. And that is the problem.
“If it was somebody else, you know someone helping in terms of logistics or something like that they wouldn’t be this afraid, but this person got it and that’s when they got the jitters.”
A report in the Telegraph stated that a group of India players wrote to the BCCI at midnight before the scheduled start of the Test to express their desire for the game to be postponed.