The deciding cricket Test match between England and India has been called off after a COVID-19 outbreak among the visiting team.
The fifth game was due to start at 11am on Friday at Old Trafford, with the series poised at 2-1 to India.
However, a little more than two hours beforehand a statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) confirmed the fixture would not go-ahead following discussions with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
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The initial statement said India will “forfeit the match” although that line was removed in a subsequent revised version issued a short time later.
Concerns were first raised on the eve of the match, when India cancelled their final training session and failed to hold their mandatory press conference.
It later emerged the squad was confined to its hotel after a member of their support staff tested positive for coronavirus.
Head coach Ravi Shastri tested positive for COVID-19 during India’s fourth Test victory at The Oval last week.
It is understood that a number of Indian players were concerned about the spread of the virus and were unwilling to take the field, meaning the tourists could not put up team.
The wording of the ECB statement was changed after just a few minutes, indicating that discussions remained ongoing.
The revised announcement read: “Following ongoing conversations with the BCCI, the ECB can confirm that the fifth Test between England and India Men due to start today at Emirates Old Trafford, will be cancelled.
“Due to fears of a further increase in the number of COVID cases inside the camp, India are regrettably unable to field a team.
“We send our sincere apologies to fans and partners for this news, which we know will cause immense disappointment and inconvenience to many. Further information will be shared in due course.”
Former England captain Nasser Hussain branded the situation a “mess”.
He told Sky Sports News: “My actual sympathy is with the crowd.
“People would have taken days off work, booked hotels and you can imagine how people would have come here to watch this Test match with it set up perfectly – India 2-1 ahead and England looking to bounce back.
“It’s a real shame that it has to end on such a low note.”
Former England batsman Mark Butcher told Sky Sports News: “It’s tremendously disappointing for cricket fans as it’s been an incredible series and everybody wanted to see how this was going to pan out.”
He also highlighted the implications of the cancellation with the restart of the Indian Premier League on 19 September.
Butcher added: “I’ve got a little bit of sympathy in terms of the Indian players, most of whom have been on the road before the Australian series over Christmas and New Year.
“I can imagine some of those players locked up in their rooms at the moment have had an absolute gutful and want to get out.
“But that does not dim any of the disappointment for fans and the amount of money involved in putting these Test matches on.
“It’s a real shame.”
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