Jos Buttler said England have “fingers crossed” that the fifth and final LV= Insurance Test goes ahead on Friday after India cancelled their final pre-match training session and media commitments amid reports of a new coronavirus scare.
The tourists were conspicuous by their absence at Emirates Old Trafford on the eve of the match, scrapping their afternoon net practice and failing to fulfil their mandatory press conference.
Head coach Ravi Shastri tested positive for Covid-19 during the fourth Test and did not travel to Manchester, alongside bowling coach Bharat Arun and fielding coach Ramakrishnan Sridhar.
It had been hoped that the outbreak had been contained after the remaining members of the travelling party tested negative on the final morning at the Kia Oval, where India wrapped up a 157-run win to lead the series 2-1, but reports from India suggest a fresh case was identified among the backroom staff.
An individual who is said to have been in close contact with several players in recent days is understood to have returned a positive result following Wednesday’s training session, with safety protocols subsequently confining the entire group to their rooms. The PA news agency understands a new round of PCR testing has been conducted, with results not expected until Thursday evening at the earliest.
England completed their own pre-match preparations shortly after midday, with players, coaches and administrative staff all proceeding for the final men’s international fixture of the summer to go ahead as planned.
“At present we’re fully expecting the game to go ahead and we’re preparing to play tomorrow. Fingers crossed the game will go ahead,” said vice-captain Buttler.
“We don’t know too much to be honest. It would be naïve to speculate too much on stuff I don’t know about. Things are all fine in our camp. We trained well this morning so, yeah, we’re hopefully all looking forward to the game again tomorrow.”
The India contingent, as well as a handful of England players including the likes of Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran, are set to depart for the Indian Premier League following the completion of the Test match.
The tournament, which was suspended earlier in the year due to the pandemic, is due to resume in the United Arab Emirates from September 19. It is a commercial behemoth, not only for the BCCI but for each contracted player.
The England and Wales Cricket Board has previous experience of Covid scuppering major matches, having previously abandoned a two-match Test series in Sri Lanka in March 2020 and a one-day series in South Africa in December. The former was fulfilled in January, but the latter remains unscheduled.
Assuming the drama comes to nothing and play does get under way on Friday morning, England are poised to make a late call on the make-up of their bowling attack.
New-ball pairing James Anderson and Ollie Robinson have been carefully assessed after playing all four matches and sending down more than 160 overs apiece. England would prefer to have both in the XI, but will heed any red flags from their 39-year-old record wicket-taker and their find of the summer.
“They’ve bowled fantastically well throughout the series and have been taking the opportunity to rest for a few days since the last game. They seem to be pulling up well,” said Buttler.
“Jimmy is an incredibly fit guy who looks after himself and Ollie is exactly the same. Fingers crossed they will be in good shape and available for selection.”
Buttler’s own return to the team after missing a match to attend the birth of his second child, looks likely to force Jonny Bairstow out. Captain Joe Root suggested Buttler’s leadership skills were a key part of the decision to hand him an immediate recall, but he admitted he needs to do better than his series poor series average of 14.40.
“I certainly haven’t played my best by a long stretch. I’ve been thinking that for the whole season really,” he said.
“You’ve just got to put the work in, train hard to give yourself the best chance of staying there for a long time in the middle and make some runs.”
Mark Wood is expected to return in place of Craig Overton, but Jack Leach may find himself edged out again if England opt against a second spinner.
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