While both ECB and BCCI have left the onus on ICC to decide whether the controversial Manchester Test is to be deemed “forfeited” or it remains “cancelled”, the playing conditions for the World Test Championship (WTC), however, has made the match referee the most powerful identity amidst all their back and forth.
It has emerged now that both the boards have been looking in the wrong direction for a result in their favour, when it is not the ICC but its match referee for the fifth and final England-India Test who will adjudicate the initial outcome of the called-off Test match and therefore the series.
It is understood that the ECB has been pushing its case for the Test to be considered forfeited by India, which will not only help England level up the series 2-2 but also allow them to seek an insurance payout for the losses incurred out of the cancelled Test.
But the BCCI and the Indian team want it to stand as a “cancelled” affair and be deemed an abandoned fixture by the ICC. That will mean the series will go to India 2-1. The Indian board in their statement on Friday (September 10) even offered their English counterpart the option of rescheduling the fixture.
Match referee to make an immediate call on Manchester Test, not the ICC
However, it’s surprising that both the parties have not sought the views of the designated match referee for the Test yet. As it is not the ICC but its standing match referee who has the power, according to rules, to take an immediate call on the fate of the game.
As per the clause 16.2 – pertaining to the cases where a match referee awards the match – in the ICC playing conditions of the Test championship, the rules are such:-
16.2.1 A match shall be lost by a side which either
22.214.171.124 concedes defeat or
126.96.36.199 in the opinion of the ICC Match Referee refuses to play and the ICC Match Referee shall award the match to the other side.
16.2.2 If an umpire considers that an action by any player or players might constitute a refusal by either side to play then the umpires together shall inform the ICC Match Referee of this fact. The ICC Match Referee shall together with the umpires ascertain the cause of the action. If the ICC Match Referee, after due consultation with the umpires, then decides that this action does constitute a refusal to play by one side, he/she shall so inform the captain of that side. If the captain persists in the action the ICC Match Referee shall award the match in accordance with clause 188.8.131.52 above.
So the immediate fate or the outcome of the final Test depends largely on whether the match referee identifies this as the case of forfeiting the contest on India’s part.
“We have to just take a breath and ask the ICC to formally adjudicate on the result of this,” Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, had said on Friday as quoted by ESPNcricinfo. However, the playing conditions doesn’t indicate that the ICC can intervene and make a quick call on the Test match. That responsibility lies with the match referee.
Of course, the governing body and its dispute resolution commitee can come into picture later if either the ECB or BCCI contest the match referee’s decision. It is only then that the apex body can take a final call on the matter. Not before.
Be it the match referee or the ICC board, the real contentious issue will be to decide if India had a legitimate reason not to take part in the Test match.
An ESPNcricinfo report suggested that the WTC playing conditions accept the outbreak of Covid-19 as a justified reason to call-off the game, provided it has had a “significant impact” on team’s ability to field an XI.
But India’s case was different, as all their players were tested negative and it was only fear of members of the playing group testing positive during the Test that caused panic and led to their decision of opting out of the game.
To add to the confusion, the playing conditions that the ICC has formalised, offer no pointer if Covid is indeed accepted as a reason to cancel a Test match.
The Manchester Test had been uncertain since Thursday (September 9) when Indian team’s assistant physio Yogesh Parmar tested positive for Covid.
Parmar was the only physio available to Virat Kohli & company after senior physiotherapist Nitin Patel went down with the viral disease along with three other members of the support staff – head coach Ravi Shastri, bowling coach Bharat Arun, fielding coach R Sridhar – during the fourth Test at The Oval.