England and India should today have been concluding the fourth day of the fifth Test in a series which reminded everybody that there is space for five-day cricket among the razzle-dazzle of The Hundred.
Instead, the Test was called off. Covid concerns from India, similar to those expressed by England in South Africa last year, derailed any chance of a series result this summer.
Leading 2-1 heading into the final Test at Old Trafford, India couldn’t have lost the series. At worst they would have drawn. But after four matches of highs and lows, partnerships and collapses, the Test summer has reached a premature end.
Although some of it may be recouped through insurance, the cancellation of the fifth Test has, for now, cost broadcasters and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) millions.
Broadcasters forked out £25m for the rights to the contest, while the shortfall in matchday earnings across the five days could top £10m for the ECB and Lancashire. Local businesses will miss out on precious income too.
India are next in England during the first two weeks of July next year, playing Twenty20 and one-day matches across six venues. England’s only suitable space for an extra Test would fall at the beginning of August.
The easy option is to force the forfeit and draw the series, but the financial losses would be stark. The remaining two options presented by the Indian Cricket board (BCCI) are two T20 matches or a rescheduled fifth Test, the latter of which would bring the series to a meaningful close while ensuring limited financial losses to the ECB, Lancashire, and the local businesses.
Organising a Test is logistically complex but the substitute of two T20 matches wouldn’t be anywhere near to covering the revenue lost by not playing this Test.
There may simply not be the allotted space to fit in a five-day match, but with India not having won a Test series of three matches or more in England since 2007, they would surely want a shot at completing that feat rather than forfeiting and drawing this series 2-2.
The ECB is said to be considering the new T20 proposal while the option of a rescheduled Test is still on the table.
This summer has taught the cricket community that with the right planning and marketing structure, every form of cricket can and should be viable.
Test Cricket and The Hundred packing stands across the country day after day will fill coffers and the ECB with joy, but they shouldn’t underestimate the message this sends should they allow for a crucial Test match to count for nothing without a fight.