In a development that could have a major impact on the fifth and final Test of India’s tour of England, one more member of India’s support staff – assistant physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar – has tested positive for Covid-19. The Indian team’s training session the day before the start of the Test in Manchester had to be cancelled as a result. ESPNcricinfo understands that the Indian squad members were asked to stay back in their hotel rooms till further notice.
The Indian contingent had a meeting on Thursday morning with the BCCI, which will now liaise with the ECB on the next course of action. “We don’t know if the match will happen at the moment,” board president Sourav Ganguly was quoted as saying by PTI from a book launch in Kolkata. “Hopefully we can get some game.”
Meanwhile, India’s scheduled pre-match press conference stands cancelled. It was scheduled for 3pm UK time (7.30pm IST), and was meant to be addressed by either Virat Kohli or batting coach Vikram Rathour, who is the caretaker coach in the absence of Ravi Shastri and Bharat Arun.*
The uncertainty around the Old Trafford Test has hit the England camp as well with Jos Buttler saying, “we don’t know too much about it at the moment. 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 so fingers crossed the game will go ahead.”
It has been learnt that Parmar’s positive result came after a fresh round of testing on Wednesday evening; the team had trained as scheduled on Wednesday morning. It is understood that Parmar experienced Covid symptoms on Wednesday after returning from training and took the test. The concerning issue for the Indian team is that Parmar has been testing several players suffering various niggles including Rohit Sharma (knee), Cheteshwar Pujara (ankle) and Ravindra Jadeja (knee), as well as the pair of Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma who missed the fourth Test. Parmar, who is the second physiotherapist in the Indian medical team, had to take charge midway through the fourth Test after lead physio Nitin Patel was identified as a close contact of Shastri, who tested positive for Covid-19 on the fourth day of the Test.
The entire Indian squad has since undergone another round of testing on Thursday morning. The results of these tests are awaited.
In case anyone among the playing group tests positive, it could even affect the resumption of IPL 2021, which starts in the UAE on September 19, just five days after the scheduled end of the tour of England. The Indian players will fly out from Manchester to Dubai on September 15 according to the original travel plan.
Earlier, during the fourth Test of the series at The Oval, which India won by 157 runs to take a 2-1 lead in the series, Shastri, Arun and R Sridhar, the head coach, bowling coach and fielding coach of the Indian team respectively, had tested positive for Covid-19. That has prevented them from travelling to Manchester with the rest of the contingent.
Patel was identified as Shastri’s immediate contact along with Arun and Sridhar, and was forced to isolate for a day after Shastri returned his first positive test. He has since returned a negative RT-PCR test since, and is with the team. However, in spite of the negative RT-PCR test, Patel is understood to have isolated himself from the squad and is staying on a separate floor at the Indian team hotel in Manchester.
As per UK government rules, those who return positive RT-PCR tests have to isolate for ten days and return two negative tests, so Shastri, Arun and Sridhar will have to stay on in London even as the series concludes in Manchester.
India’s national-team players have had to deal with more than one Covid-19-related incident in recent times, and this, in fact, is the second time Arun has been affected since reaching England. The first time was in July when Arun, as well as squad members Wriddhiman Saha and Abhimanyu Easwaran, were forced to quarantine for ten days after being identified as close contacts of training assistant/net bowler Dayanand Garani, who tested positive for Covid-19 on July 14.
That was not long after Rishabh Pant, the first-choice Test wicketkeeper, had tested positive for Covid-19 as well.
Even as the Indian team was grappling with these developments in England, the team that had travelled to Sri Lanka to take part in a short series of limited-overs matches had their own Covid-19 issues to deal with. First, Krunal Pandya tested positive between the first and second T20Is – which had come after the ODIs – and eight other players, who were Pandya’s close contacts, had to go into isolation too.
Such was the situation that the second T20I had to be pushed back by a day, and even after that, India barely managed to field an XI.
After that, two more players, Yuzvendra Chahal and K Gowtham, also tested positive, and while the others returned home at the end of the tour, Pandya, Chahal and Gowtham had to stay back in Sri Lanka, complete their quarantine, and fly back home in the first week of August after returning negative tests.
*This copy was updated at 12.40pm GMT with the cancellation of India’s pre-match press conference.