Michael Atherton is of the opinion that a combination of three different factors - Covid-19, IPL, and the players' power led to the cancellation of the fifth Test in Manchester between India and England. He further added that the players have become more powerful than ever in world cricket.
The fifth and final Test between India and England was cancelled on Friday, September 10 due to outbreak of Covid-19 cases in the camp of the visitors. The ECB made the official declaration less than three hours before the start time.
The official release initially said that India had forfeited the match, however, the word “forfeited” was taken off very soon.
"Due to fears of a further increase in the number of COVID cases inside the camp, India are unable to field a team and will instead forfeit the match," ECB had said in its initial statement on Friday.
However, the statement was revised shortly after it was published on the official website of England and Wales Cricket Board.
"Due to fears of a further increase in the number of COVID cases inside the camp, India are regrettably unable to field a team," the revised statement read. Notably, in case a team forfeits a match, the opposition is declared the winner.
After the cancellation, some reports suggested that the Indian players had shown reluctance in taking the field. Cash-rich IPL was also dragged into the picture.
Commenting on the whole situation, Atherton said that players are more powerful than ever and their word is in the final.
"After the India players' stated reluctance on Thursday evening, officials from the ECB and BCCI were locked in discussions throughout the night to try to navigate a way through the situation, with the ECB providing whatever assurances it could around the safety and well-being of the players. No solution was forthcoming, which reflects on where the balance of power lies in the modern game. Once the players had spoken, there was little the administrators could do about it. Players have never been more powerful than now,” Atherton stated.
The possibility of the cancellation of the fifth test had started with India’s support staff (Ravi Shstri, Bharat Arun and R Sridhar) testing positive during the fourth Test. The threat of an outbreak was constantly looming over the team. On the eve of the final Test in Manchester, assistant physio Yogesh Parmar also contracted the virus. Other than this factor some reports claimed that the Indian players were reluctant to take the field despite testing negative while some stated that players prioritised IPL over the Test match.
Michael Atherton has a very different view on this issue. According to him Covid-19, players' power, and the IPL are three factors that led to the abandonment of the Test match.
"Covid-19, player power and the Indian Premier League combined to scupper the fifth Test in Manchester yesterday, to the consternation of the Lancashire club and the 85,000 or so supporters who had bought tickets to attend the first four days. There was a profound sense of shock and disappointment over the cancellation of the match, especially at the end of a compelling series that stood at 2-1 to India with everything to play for," Atherton wrote in his column for The Times.
"That there has been so little international cricket lost to Covid is, amid the anger and sadness, a surprise too. Authorities recognised that they could not ask players to operate in last summer’s strict bio-secure bubbles, as society was opening up again. Inevitably this relaxation increased the risk of a Covid outbreak. County games have been affected this summer, as was the ODI series against Pakistan, which required a whole new England squad, and now a Test match has gone, although space will probably be found in the calendar at some point to mitigate the loss of broadcast income," he further added.
The IPL faced some backlash from the fans because of the speculated events which led to the cancellation of the match. Several players were flown to UAE as soon as possible so that they could undergo their 6-day quarantine period and join their franchises ahead of the September 19 second leg start. Summing up the whole issue Atherton admitted that scheduling the IPL so close to the series was always a potential threat.
"The proximity of the IPL was always a potential danger hanging over the Manchester Test: before the summer began there were pointed discussions between the ECB and BCCI about rescheduling the fifth Test for earlier in the summer, something the ECB held firm on. India’s players were concerned that further positive tests would result in a ten-day isolation period in England, thus meaning they would miss the start of the tournament, while the cost to the BCCI of not staging the IPL is about £360 million," he concluded.