England-India Test series finale to go ahead after tourists get Covid all-clear
The fifth and final Test between England against India will go ahead as planned on Friday after a Covid-19 day of doubt, disruption and derailed plans at Emirates Old Trafford.
The tourists were conspicuous by their absence on the eve of the match, scrapping their afternoon net practice and failing to fulfil their mandatory press conference following reports of a new case of the virus in their camp.
There were whispers in the Indian media that the game was under threat, a turn of events that could have come with a price tag of over GBP 30million to the England and Wales Cricket Board, but a further raft of PCR tests came back all clear on Thursday evening.
A spokesperson for the ECB confirmed that the latest results had all been negative and that the game would take place on schedule, allowing the series to reach a natural conclusion and averting a potential administrative minefield.
India’s head coach Ravi Shastri had already tested posted during the previous Test at the Kia Oval, where the tourists wrapped up a 157-run win to open up a 2-1 series lead, with bowling coach Bharat Arun and fielding coach Ramakrishnan Sridhar also quarantining in London.
There were concerns that initial outbreak had spread more widely when it was reported that another individual, said to have been in close contact with several players in recent days, tested positive after nets on Wednesday. Safety protocols subsequently confined the entire group to their rooms pending the results of the fresh round of testing.
England completed their own pre-match preparations shortly after midday, with players, coaches and administrative staff all proceeding for the final men’s international fixture of the summer to go ahead as planned.
Speaking following the end of the England session, vice-captain Jos Buttler said: “At present we’re fully expecting the game to go ahead and we’re preparing to play tomorrow. Fingers crossed the game will go ahead.
“We don’t know too much to be honest. It would be naive to speculate too much on stuff I don’t know about. Things are all fine in our camp. We trained well this morning so we’re hopefully all looking forward to the game tomorrow.”
The India contingent, as well as a handful of England players including the likes of Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran, are set to depart for the Indian Premier League following the completion of the Test match.
The tournament, which was suspended earlier in the year due to the pandemic, is due to resume in the United Arab Emirates from September 19.
It is a commercial and financial behemoth, not only for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) but for each contracted player and was doubtless a major part of any considerations over the viability of the Old Trafford Test.
England will now focus on attempting to piece together the correct bowling attack, with a number of different options available.
New-ball pairing James Anderson and Ollie Robinson have been carefully assessed after playing all four matches and sending down more than 160 overs apiece but barring any red flags on matchday, it seems likely both will be passed fit.
Anderson is potentially facing up to a final Test on his home ground – which is not hosting one in 2022 – and it seems highly likely the country’s 39-year-old record wicket-taker will get his wish to play.
“They’ve bowled fantastically well throughout the series and have been taking the opportunity to rest for a few days since the last game. They seem to be pulling up well,” said Buttler of the duo.
“Jimmy is an incredibly fit guy who looks after himself and Ollie is exactly the same. Fingers crossed they will be in good shape and available for selection.”
Mark Wood is expected to return in place of Craig Overton, adding a blast of 90mph pace to proceedings, but Jack Leach is relying on England picking two spinners if he is to make his first appearance of the summer.
Buttler’s own return to the team, after missing a match to attend the birth of his second child, looks likely to force Bairstow out. Captain Joe Root suggested Buttler’s leadership skills were a key part of the decision to hand him an immediate recall, but he admitted he needs to do better than his poor series average of 14.40.
“I certainly haven’t played my best by a long stretch. I’ve been thinking that for the whole season really,” Buttler said.
“You’ve just got to put the work in, train hard to give yourself the best chance of staying there for a long time in the middle and make some runs.”
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