England’s steps back to post-COVID normal have faltered as a spate of infections erupted in the touring Indian cricket squad, forcing the cancellation of the fourth Test.
The tourists were unable to field a team at Old Trafford.
The series decider was due to get under way in Manchester at 11am (8pm AEST) but little more than two hours before the scheduled start a statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed the game would not be taking place.
The statement said India will “forfeit the match” although that line was removed in an updated version.
Concerns over the viability of the fixture first appeared on the eve of the match, when India cancelled their final training session and failed to complete their mandatory press conference.
It later emerged that the squad was confined to its hotel after a new positive case was returned by one of their backroom team.
The threat appeared to recede when a fresh round of PCR testing came back negative on Wednesday evening, but after intense negotiations between the ECB and the Board of Control for Cricket in India the game was cancelled.
It is understood that a number of Indian players harboured concerns over the spread of the virus and were unwilling to take the field, meaning the tourists could not put up an XI.
A revised ECB statement 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 Old Trafford, will be cancelled.
‘Our sincere apologies’
“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.”
India were 2-1 up in the series heading into the final match but the Test was thrown into doubt on Thursday after their physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
India head coach Ravi Shastri had tested positive during the fourth Test at The Oval and has since been isolating with bowling coach Bharat Arun, fielding coach R Sridhar and physio Nitin Patel.
Former England captain Nasser Hussain called the situation a “mess”.
Hussain told Sky Sports News: “I have a lot of sympathy with the Indian players as they’ve had two physios (test positive) and the second one would have been treating all the players with some sore bodies ahead of a fifth Test match.
“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.”