MANCHESTER: India cancelled their training session on the eve of the fifth Test against England as it was reported on Thursday that another member of their support staff had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Head coach Ravi Shastri, bowling coach Bharat Arun and fielding coach Ramakrishnan Sridhar have already been ruled out of attending the series finale at Old Trafford in Manchester following positive tests for Covid-19.
India beat England by 157 runs in the fourth Test at the Oval on Monday — a result that left the tourists 2-1 up with one match to play.
Media reports in India said a new Covid case had emerged within the backroom staff following a round of testing on Wednesday.
India’s players have been ordered to stay in their hotel rooms, according to the media reports.
The identity of the latest support staff member to reportedly test positive has yet to be revealed.
An India team spokesman said the ‘optional’ training session ‘won’t take place now’.
A Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) source said: “The training session was called off and all the players have undergone new tests [for the coronavirus].”
The team had trained as scheduled on Wednesday.
The Indian Express newspaper said that the BCCI did not want the fifth Test at Old Trafford to go ahead.
The lucrative Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament resumes in UAE on Sept 19 and the board did not want the event to be ‘impacted’, the report said.
But BCCI president and former India captain Sourav Ganguly was more equivocal, saying: “We don’t know if the match will happen at the moment. Hopefully we can get some game.”
Meanwhile, England’s Jos Buttler said the hosts expected the fifth Test to take place as planned.
“We don’t know too much about it at the moment,” said the wicket-keeper/batter, returning to the side after missing the fourth Test to attend the birth of his second child.
“It would be naive to speculate on what’s going on. At the moment we’re fully expecting the game to go ahead and we’re preparing that way.”
Asked if England would be undergoing additional virus tests, Buttler replied: “No, all’s well in our camp. We trained well this [Thursday] morning and we’re looking forward to the game tomorrow [Friday].”
But it was a different story at The Oval in south London for India as Rohit Sharma scored his first Test hundred outside his country, all-rounder Shardul Thakur hit fifties in both innings and took valuable wickets and Ravindra Jadeja bowled some probing spin.
Jasprit Bumrah’s devastating spell of reverse swing was then instrumental in England losing their last eight wickets for 69 runs as India bounced back in style.
India’s win was made all the more remarkable by the omission of Ravichandran Ashwin, yet to feature in this series, despite the off-spinner’s haul of 413 Test wickets.
In Australia, India recovered from being 36 all out in the series opener to win 2-1 and they now lead England by the same scoreline after bouncing back from another batting collapse.
“It was unbelievable,” said India captain Virat Kohli after the victory. “We love being written off and I think a lot of people after Headingley really stood up and said, ‘Will India be able to come back?’
“But we’ve shown time and time again that we are a top side and we have been at the top for a while now, and that’s because of the belief and the passion that we have in this group,” he added.
But no one is now writing off India, who have been in England since losing the inaugural ICC World Test Championship final to New Zealand in June.
In Manchester, however, India must cope with the pressure of being favourites to win, or at least avoid defeat, if they are to enjoy just a fourth series victory in England following their 1971, 1986 and 2007 triumphs.
Meanwhile, England are on the brink of losing two Test series in a home season for the first time since 1986.
Veteran seamer James Anderson and Ollie Robinson have both bowled more than 163 overs each so far this series, the pair combining for 36 wickets in the absence of the injured Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer, with all-rounder Ben Stokes missing the series due to mental health issues.
“You want to make sure you do the best thing for the player but you also don’t want to go into a Test match and someone go down injured and you’ve got one less bowler at your disposal,” said England captain Joe Root.
Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2021