"Following ongoing conversations with the BCCI, the ECB can confirm that the fifth LV Insurance between England and India Men due to start today, will be cancelled." This was the nutshell of 5th test not being played due to covid perceptions and what ifs and some critics even citing IPL as a reason.
Bio-bubbles are sanitised areas that can be accessed only by a certain set of people who are not infected with the virus. Secure bio-bubble has been created by a UK-based firm Restrata. From IPL to US Open and from ISL to NBA tournaments have taken place under extraordinary conditions using this strategy.
It might have succeeded in containing the virus to a good extent. But the flip side of Bio-bubble, however, is the psychological impact it has on players. Being confined to certain areas and limitations on number of people one can meet and interact with. In IPL each player was required to wear a bluetooth band at all times, which will raise an alarm if somebody comes within two metres of somebody else. Former Indian captain Rahul Dravid, also knows "The Wall", has raised questions on Bio-bubble, by asking what will happen if a player tests positive during the test match? Bio-bubble has become an invisible shield changing dynamics of sports.
24 hour drama, in England, began on Thursday with a support staff member of team India tested positive putting players in a trepidation. Adding on to worries, assistant physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar also tested positive. As a physio never treats players at a distance but is always less than two metres close to them for sure. These ramifications lead to cancellation of pre-match training by senior players. BCCI took a strong stance that they are worried about players, their families and close contacts and conveyed this to ECB. Thereafter both boards jointly called off the test.
World's strongest board, BCCI, got results in their favour without any trichotillomania to play the 5th test as a standalone next summer in England.Is it for BCCI to decide whether to forfeit or let it be as 2-1 and play the remaining one test as standalone? I hope that ICC will intervene here.
Cancellation of 5th test at Manchester, lead to a premature and a disappointing end to what could have been a tantalizing and fascinating contest between world's top two teams of this era. As a zealot of the game I would have loved to see Kohli and Company locking horns with Joe Root and brigade in Manchester, where England definitely would have been trying to make it 2-2 and India doing its very best to turn the numbers into 3-1 or draw the test and let the numbers stay at 2-1 and repeat the Gabba, unearthing one gem after another.
"This is such a shame - as it has been a wonderful series !" Wrote spin Great Shane Warne on a tweet. It is pertinent to mention that same theatrical work happened in the ODI series of England VS South Africa where England left the tour of SA for Covid scares and cost South Africa plenty. So pointing fingers and showing sacrilege for BCCI may not be the nostrum. If some people think that India has let English Cricket down. Then England did let South Africa cricket down without any dubiousness.
No doubt cricket boards have always maintained the safety and well being of players and gave it a paramount importance without any compromise, but this time it was more the anxiety of Indian players over what might happen and not the COVID outbreak itself. Even though all efforts were made to comfort the visitors who were spooked but all in vain. This happened because once the sense of anxiety gets into the heads and the dressing room it is very arduous to get out of that. For an optimist "the only glass half full version" is that the match will be played next summer in England with an extra t-20 international added on to compensate for losses of ECB and even double their gains.
The performance of players is founded on the bedrock of the balance between physical and mental health. Together they constitute the core of commitment shown by players. Let us not forget Ben Stokes, the fearless and star England all-rounder who took an indefinite break from the game, prioritising his mental health. One more example is that of Naomi Osaka, the four time grand slam singles champion.She announced that she will not do any news conference citing the issues of mental health of tennis players.
Mental health should always be the primary focus, no matter what, irrespective of the professional field someone belongs to. The demands on athletes to prepare and play are relentless in a typical environment. Spending significant amounts of time away from family and friends with less freedom, is extremely challenging. My heart goes out to fans and spectators who have always enhanced the decorum of the game. My initial sympathies are obviously with them. It is really a very sad news for them, even I am not an exception to this. There were thousands of those people who spent good amounts of money on exorbitant ticket prices, on buses, on hotels, and on trains. But we ought to remember that mental state of these players, being in a bubble,being in isolation,being in quarantine over and over again is a toilsome work.
What if the 5th test would have been played and someone tested positive in between and thereafter. Without any serious thinking, a quarantine would have been the panacea. Are players terrified by quarantine so much that they are reluctant to play? Obviously No. The other aspect needs a keen look. A Covid related quarantine for players would have meant missing out on some IPL matches starting September 19. The amount of money that flies around IPL means that players do not really have to worry about non-IPL cricket much as far as money is concerned.
Contracts worth millions of dollars are flung around players.Some players even prefer playing IPL than representing their country at times-like Sunil Narine did when he chose not to join West Indies training camp in order to play for KKR in IPL-7. As a fan of this game one will not desire to see Bio-bubble and Fantasy Leagues Vs Manchester in the upcoming future anymore. As we were all looking forward to what promised to be the culmination of this epic test series. "But that cloud has released its contents" and we have to wait hoping that a window will be found for this test match and nobody else is affected due to COVID as that might have adverse effects on the 2nd phase of Infinite Paisa League (IPL) to come.
Irfan Ashraf currently pursues Masters in political science from IGNOU