The BCCI is caught on a treacherous back foot. Tring to hoodwink the media into assuming that Virat Kohli was making his own decisions, it does little for their credibility even as the big three of cricket’s administration are currently caught in a tailspin that undermines their bonhomie in the wake of the Test cricket versus IPL episode once more.

“Back home,” tweeted Mumbai Indians captain, Rohit Sharma, upon landing in the UAE for the second leg of the Indian Premier League 2021. His teammate, Jasprit Bumrah, tweeted, “Feels good to be back.” Statements like these would have been par for the course for players towing the corporate line when it comes to franchisee cricket.

But what’s wrong with this picture?

This was a far cry from the scene painted back in the UK not two days ago. At the time, with barely two hours before the start of the fifth and final Test in Manchester, the England and Wales Cricket Board released a statement stating that due to an outbreak of Covid in the camp, the Indian team was unable to field a team, being delicate enough to take out the key word “forfeit” from their original statement.

Again, what’s wrong with the picture?

No Indian cricketer, it should be reiterated here, tested positive for Covid from the test results that returned on the eve of the Test. Although the Indian coaching staff led by Ravi Shastri, the head coach, were sidelined in the course of the fourth Test that India went onto win to lead the five Test series 2-1, the positive result of the one remaining staffer, physio Yogesh Parmar, supposedly set the cat amongst the pigeons in the Indian team though by the test results alone, the Indian cricketers should have taken the field.

Sunil Gavaskar was made to eat his words in later days by the BCCI chief, Sourav Ganguly, as he jumped the gun and as the commentator targeted the England media and newspaper for pushing the idea that the Indian cricketers would have pulled back from playing the match, particularly for the IPL (which Gavaskar also dubbed as jealousy) and demanded who the cricketers were. Ganguly had no qualm stating precisely the same that the Indian cricketers refused to take the field but that they should not be blamed.

But were the players worried for the Manchester Test alone?

At the time, it was claimed that the Indian cricketers feared cross infection since they were in close contact with the physio and of the possibility of positive results even two days later.

It was also closer to the truth that being days away from the restart of the IPL, they did not want to risk showing up positive for the infection, being quarantined in the UK as per UK health protocols for a period of ten days which would have, at the very least, eaten into the start of the IPL in the UAE. What would it mean financially and for their future prospects with their respective franchisees?

That became the bone of contention as the cricket fans around the world, including Indian cricket fans, and particularly former England cricketers jumped onto the bandwagon to point out the fact and their ire. While Kevin Pietersen was one of the first to point out the overlapping timeline, others like former captain, Michael Vaughan twitter post, “Don’t tell me Test was cancelled for any other reason but the IPL.”

Was the decision premeditated?

The backlash was fairly quick. While the ECB and the BCCI could not see eye-to-eye on the issue of whether to treat the issue as forfeiture which would give the ECB the right to claim insurance money for the cancelled match, or to treat this as match postponed to be rescheduled at some point in the uncertain future and perhaps at the next India tour which would be next year, or to treat this match as a standalone at a later time, which seems to make even less sense.

All of this complicated the issue to the point where while the BCCI has had demands of its own, including offering to play two Twenty20 internationals on their next tour in lieu of the Test, the ECB has formally written to the International Cricket Council (ICC) to resolve this dispute.

The immediate pull out of England players like Johnny Bairstow, Chris Woakes and David Malan was immediately attributed as retaliation from the England players over the response of the Indian cricketers to participation in the fifth Test.

In the eventual scenario, as many as nine out of ten England players participating in the current edition of the IPL did not land in the UAE, claiming team selection for the upcoming ICC Twenty20 World Cup and the tour with Pakistan before that in the form of two Twenty20 internationals. But was this a proxy war between the ECB and the BCCI?

It has to be remembered that the ECB would like the Hundred to be considered a contender for the format to help take cricket to the Olympics while the BCCI will push Twenty20 which promotes their IPL’s global agenda.

Not to be missed in the mix was the fact that the ECB and the BCCI were involved in negotiations even before the fifth Test drama with the BCCI requesting the ECB to reduce the series to four Tests to leave space for players to make it to the UAE in order to finish the IPL after the domestic tournament was forced to be called off in the midst of a second wave of the pandemic in the country that put the return home of players from New Zealand and Australia in considerable peril. The ECB could not relent or prepone the tour, dealing with their own domestic season concerns including the Hundred which was postponed last year due to the pandemic.

The problem gets far more complicated given that the BCCI could not acquiesce to pushing the Test back by a day or two at the late hour, knowing that the ICC Twenty20 World Cup comes right on the heels – a two days gap as a matter of fact – of the conclusion of the IPL 2021.

Nasser Hussain broke away from the majority of the opinion of fans and cricket fraternity by putting the blame squarely on “cricket’s relentless schedule.”

Not helping are the facts that the England cricketers returned from South Africa in the midst of concerned false positives in their own camp, Australia refused to tour South Africa in March even when the country was on the wane in terms of cases while the players landed in India and began playing the IPL even as the cases were peaking in India.

While the BCCI tried to brazen it out, once again the Australian cricketers like Glenn Maxwell and other senior cricketers who refused to tour the West Indies and Bangladesh where Australia were identically whitewashed 4-0 in both Twenty20 international series are now attributing their participation in the IPL as preparation ground for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup.

Meanwhile the biggest threat to the Ashes comes from the fact that the England cricketers are deeply concerned about the hard quarantine being mandated in Australia and concerns over whether they can bring their families with them or put them through similar hurdles.

Furthermore, in the midst of speculation that the ECB might field a second string team, there were reports of a potential player boycott unless the rules were relaxed or the series reduced or postponed.

This comes even as the rest of the cricket world depends heavily on crumbs from the big three and to add to their consternation, New Zealand have had to pull out of Pakistan at the eleventh hour claiming a credible security threat as conveyed by the New Zealand government.

Does it all seem hypocritical?

Was it too much to demand of the Indian camp to follow covid protocols while all of Britain was open as Shastri defended himself? In case anybody forgets, the pandemic is not over and use of sanitizers and social distancing is par for the norm. But tell that to the outgoing coach who might have escaped the wrath of the BCCI for possibly putting them in this embarrassing scenario. Kohli might not have been so lucky.

It is possible that the book launch alone was not the cause of the positive cases though it well could have been. While it seems rather callous that Shastri would go ahead with a book launch, taking members of the team, to a crowded hotel and that too without permission from the BCCI, the fact remains that these players and even support staff receive hefty fees and payments as professionals and therefore, owe it to the boards, the broadcasters and more importantly, to the heavily invested fans to follow certain practical, common sense guidelines when keeping their professional commitments. Can they afford to repeat this kind of callousness?

“Too much power” in the hands of players these days, was the summation when the Indian cricketers did not take the field in Manchester. Too much power was also the verdict when the Australian cricketers virtually strong armed the coach, Justin Langer, out of his job and eventually led to a more diminished role for him. Too much power is being argued as the England cricketers appear to be in revolt.

Even as Australia and England tussle it out over the Ashes – huge stakes here as well, one wonders if the ECB could get away fielding a second string team as Australia did in the West Indies and Bangladesh who are not quite in the same influential position to complain about the crumbs that come their way.

Meanwhile, the BCCI seems to have its own way to settle scores on long standing issues where they have not always seen eye-to-eye with the current captain. Or, is it the other way round?

If the BCCI had no qualms stating blatantly that the outgoing coach did not seek permission for the book launch ahead of the fourth Test, they seem to be pulling strings as Kohli made the not-so-surprising announcement about his decision to step down as India’s Twenty20 captain at the end of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2021. But here is where Kohli threw in a rider that puts the BCCI in a bind and fans in a fix.

He mentioned “workload management” when it is fairly obvious that international Twenty20 matches are far less taxing on the Indian team than the gruelling schedule of the IPL. Was this then a cautious throw of a lifeline to himself, giving the BCCI time to rethink their decisions on the captain of the white ball which practical considerations would suggest, it would be better off in the hands of a single captain than have different ones for Twenty20 internationals and for one day internationals?

The ECB is arguably a cautious lot and while they did immediately remove the “forfeit” word from their statement after ongoing and fruitless discussions with the BCCI, the BCCI have thrown themselves into scrutiny after a week long drama in the public eye in which their treasurer, Arun Dhumal, rubbished the reports of Kohli’s decision earlier in the week.

In Dhumal’s words, “This is all rubbish. Nothing is happening. This is all what you guys in the media are talking about. The BCCI has not met or discussed anything on this issue of captaincy. Virat will remain captain.”

This before the BCCI secretary, Jay Shah, jumped immediately on the heels of Kohli’s announcement as did Ganguly, claiming that discussions about the captaincy had been ongoing for the past six months and with an eye on a successor.

Does a captain older than Kohli really speak to India’s future although neither Kohli and his speculated successor, Rohit Sharma, are quite over the hill yet. But looking to the future was exactly how Shah and Ganguly described the decision. Shouldn’t the selectors or the BCCI then made that announcement which would have been the right way to go, irrespective of whether the decision was coaxed, coached or coerced out of Kohli?

With BCCI on shifting sands, the ECB in a tight corner and CA no stranger to controversy and allegations of corruption as evident during the pandemic months when they fired staff, fired up cricketers, traded away a World Cup hosting and threw all their eggs into the basket that was India’s tour down under, it seems that the big three need to get their act together before allegations, speculation and smear campaigns start to take cricket down in a sport that is already a crowded house in a tiny closet.