England face an anxious wait to see if they will be able to square series against India amid visitors’ backroom staff Covid chaos… and Joe Root’s ‘wilting’ squad have plenty of their own problems ahead of final Test
- India were confined to their Manchester hotel and had cancelled training
- England went through the motions ahead of the final Test at Old Trafford
- India staff were irresponsible to attend book launch before fourth Test at Oval
- That decision annoyed the ECB and could have dire financial consequences
It should be the climax to a classic contest but instead an air of uncertainty, gloom and confusion hung over Old Trafford on Thursday as England were left waiting to discover whether they will even get the chance to try to square the series.
The news that India were confined to their Manchester hotel and had cancelled training after a fourth member of their backroom staff tested positive for Covid was a potential hammer blow both for the capacity crowds expected here and the game.
That just left England, described by one member of the coaching staff as ‘wilting’ after a brutal schedule of four Tests in the last month, going through the motions ahead of the final Test and awaiting the results of another set of India PCR tests.
England were left waiting to discover whether they will even get the chance to try to square the series
A fourth member of India’s backroom staff tested positive for Covid, and they were confined to their hotel
It is becoming increasingly clear India coaches and players were irresponsible in the extreme to attend a book launch at a London hotel outside their bubble, as revealed by Sportsmail, two days before the fourth Test at the Oval.
That decision annoyed the ECB when it emerged India coach Ravi Shastri and two of his staff had tested positive and, with the latest positive, it is one that could now have dire financial consequences should the outbreak have spread to their playing group.
It will not improve the governing body’s mood either to hear the suggestion swirling around Old Trafford on Thursday that India were reluctant to play in this final Test, preferring instead to prioritise keeping their players healthy for the resumption of the IPL.
The decision to attend a book launch annoyed the ECB when it emerged India coach Ravi Shastri was positive
All England could do was train as well as they could for a crucial game, with the returning vice-captain Jos Buttler saying on Thursday: ‘At the moment we’re expecting the game to go ahead and we’re preparing that way. So fingers crossed.’
England have plenty of problems of their own. They are trying to nurse what’s left of their over-worked attack, notably Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson, through one more game in a schedule that is not fit for purpose.
Anderson, who has played little part in practice over the last two days to protect his 39-year-old body, was seen in long conversation with captain Joe Root and coach Chris Silverwood at nets before undergoing some light jogging around the outfield.
The odds are on him playing on Friday should the match go ahead, not least because there is no Test at Old Trafford next year and it could be his last chance to run in from the end that bears his name for England. Robinson, too, is expected to play.
England have their own problems with all-rounder Craig Overton struggling with a side issue
There seems less chance of Craig Overton, who is struggling with a side problem, being fit, but he might well have been left out anyway. Mark Wood stands by to replace him on a messy looking, cracked and dry Old Trafford pitch with very little of the grass that England would have welcomed.
England had not ruled out playing a second spinner in Jack Leach or even using him as their sole slow bowler at the expense of Moeen Ali despite Root’s insistence on Wednesday that Moeen is now the No1 man.
But it is more likely Leach misses out and the only other change to the England line-up beaten at the Oval will see Buttler returning after his brief paternity leave with the unfortunate Jonny Bairstow left out again.
It still seems harsh on Bairstow to go from keeper at the Oval to the sidelines at Old Trafford even though it is fair to say he has not exactly grabbed his latest opportunity in the Test team with both hands. He averages 26 in this series to Buttler’s 14.
England had not ruled out playing Jack Leach (left) at the expense of Moeen Ali (right)
But there was little sympathy from the man who has grabbed the gloves back on Thursday when he was asked if he could understand Bairstow’s frustration. ‘Yes I guess I can,’ said Buttler. ‘But I’m not a selector, I’m not the captain and I don’t pick the team so maybe those questions should be aimed elsewhere.’
Buttler’s frostiness epitomised the mood in an England camp with two considerable clouds hanging over them on top of the uncertainty of this final Test.
Frustration over the lack of information on the conditions that await them in Australia this winter is growing, as reported by Sportsmail on Thursday, and the players are anxiously awaiting an update from the ECB.
Cricket Australia are desperate for the Ashes show to go on but there remains a very real possibility of a large number of England players refusing to go unless both they and their families will not face long spells in quarantine and bio-secure bubble life.
And the worst scenario for both Cricket Australia, who desperately need the money an Ashes series brings, and the ECB is of the whole England playing camp making a collective decision to pull out. Unlikely but not totally out of the question.
Jos Buttler will return after his brief paternity leave which saw him miss the Oval defeat
‘I don’t think there’s much information to base any decisions on at the moment so I can’t really answer any questions about it,’ said Buttler. ‘As a group we don’t know exactly what it looks like yet. Everyone is just waiting for more clarity and we need information as soon as possible because it’s going to sneak up on us quite fast now.’
Perhaps the biggest cloud of all remains the unavailability of Ben Stokes who has been left out of the provisional squad for the Twenty20 World Cup.
Clearly, England do not expect him to be back for the Ashes either, with Silverwood and even Stokes team-mates having had very little contact with him as they give him space to deal with his mental health.
No-one has any idea when their talisman will be back and that is a sobering thought on what was on Thursday a sobering day for England cricket.
It seems harsh on Jonny Bairstow to go from keeper at the Oval to the Manchester sidelines
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