First things first. With the Air Quality Index (AQI) worsening in the winter, Delhi at present, officially is world’s one of the most polluted cities. The situation is so bad that doctors last month declared a public health emergency in the National Capital Region (NCR) as pollution level reached to 40 times the level deemed safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO), closing down schools for days.
On Sunday, during the second day’s play of the third India-Sri Lanka Test, the concentrations of the smallest and most harmful airborne pollutants in and around Firoz Shah Kotla reached 384 – 15 times higher than the WHO maximum – before returning to “unhealthy” level according to the US embassy website.
For the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the air quality in Delhi on Sunday was “very poor”, at times it was equivalent to smoking over 40 cigarettes a day.
“Exposure to such air for a prolonged period can trigger respiratory illness. The most dominant pollutants are PM2.5 and PM10. These are ultrafine particulates, which can measure up to 30 times finer than the width of a human hair. The concentration of PM2.5 and PM10 were 223 and 383 micrograms per cubic metre at 1 pm on Sunday afternoon.”
So, here lies the important question. Was that air quality suitable for a high-intensity international sporting event in the town, that too a Test match, which lasts for five days?
No wonder, on Sunday, the Sri Lankan fielders fielded with masks on, with some of them had to leave the ground, vomiting. Even there were requirements of oxygen cylinders in the Sri Lankan dressing room. No wonder the Islanders refused to carry on after a certain point of time. They were well within their rights to do so.
However, the most disappointing part of the entire ‘smog saga’ was the attitude of the Indian board members and the team management.
The acting president of the BCCI CK Khanna, who is also associated with the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA), directly accused the Sri Lankans of making a “big fuss”.
“If 20,000 people in the stands did not have problem and the Indian team did not face any issue, I wonder why Sri Lankan team made a big fuss. I will need to talk to the secretary and ask him to write to the Sri Lanka Cricket,” Khanna was quoted saying by PTI.
What an immature statement!
How can someone, who is holding the most important administrative position in Indian cricket, make such an insensible comment? Does he expect foreign cricketers to sacrifice their physical health and continue playing, in order to please the fans and most importantly the broadcaster, who will bear a heavy loss if the match is called off?
Instead of accusing the opposition, he should have taken the blame on behalf of BCCI, for scheduling a Test match in Delhi, when the city is facing this issue of severe air pollution for quite a few weeks now.
In fact, being at the helm of BCCI, he should have had the information that in the 2016-17 domestic season (November 2016 to be exact), two Ranji Trophy matches scheduled to be played in Delhi – Gujarat against Bengal at the Feroz Shah Kotla, and Hyderabad versus Tripura at the Karnail Singh Stadium – were initially postponed and then relocated due to pollution.
That time, a lot of cricketers experienced burning sensations in their eyes. Interestingly, on Sunday, Sri Lankan cricketers felt exactly the same while fielding. And last year, the smog situation in Delhi was not as extreme as it is now.
However, on Sunday, Khanna was not the only one who was talking bullshit?
While assessing the entire scenario, Bharath Arun, the Indian bowling coach, in the post-day press conference came up with a bizarre logic — if Indians can cope up with the Delhi air, then why can’t others?
“Virat batted close to two days. He did not need a mask. We are focused on what we need to do. The conditions are the same for both teams and we are not too bothered about it,” he said.
Maybe Arun did not know, but during the second day’s play of this third and final Test of the series, even some of the Indian cricketers were also seen wearing masks in the dressing room. Furthermore, while fielding, players like Murali Vijay, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ishant Sharma also seemed to be struggling.
However, Arun tried his best to downplay the issue, due to obvious reasons.
“I think pollution is everywhere in our country. These pollution levels are serious in our country. I don’t think we were too worried about pollution. The BCCI scheduled this match and our job is to get the best out of our team. The focus is more on that.”
I am sure the former Tamil Nadu pacer is not aware of the fact (Or maybe he did not do his research) that on last Monday (November 28), the Health & Family Welfare Department of the Delhi government issued a health advisory to combat the rising air pollution level in Delhi which was expected to reach close to “severe” stage during the week. And ultimately it did, resulting an international match being affected due to pollution, for the very first time in the history of cricket.
Meanwhile, it has been learnt that the Sri Lankan dressing room has received an assurance from the ICC referee David Boon to study the conditions further before taking a call on the future of the match.
However, irrespective of whether the match gets called off or not, as important stakeholders of this great sport, I hope in future the BCCI and the Indian team management will respect the point of view of the opponents as well. Afterall we are talking about international sport and the Sri Lankan are also representing their country. At this level, they are not expected to rely on cheap tricks to get the result in their favour.
Hope good sense will prevail soon.