I think it was surely the first time ever that a cricket test match was being played anywhere in the world in very poor light and poor quality of air. The test match was being played in Delhi between Sri Lankan and Indian cricket teams. It is the third and final Test that was being played in heavily polluted air of the Capital.
Quite a few Sri Lankans came out to field on the second morning wearing facemasks. Later there were interruptions because some of the substitute Lankan fielders refused to come out and field in the polluted environment. Perhaps they were right because the Central Pollution Control Board described the air quality in the area as “very poor”. Prolonged exposure to such air could lead to respiratory ailments. The most dominant harmful pollutants were deadly PM 2.5 and PM 10 which were at very elevated levels from the safe levels of 60 and 100, respectively.
With Sri Lankans taking a serious view of the poor air quality one wondered whether the play would continue on the third day and thereafter with no expectations of the smog lifting up anytime soon. And yet the play commenced on the third day in heavy smog with poor visibility. The paying audience of the game got a raw deal with even the telecast of the match showed how poor the visibility was.
The media cried blue murder blaming Sri Lankans for depriving Kohli of a score of 300 or more. Also, the media story was that Kohli, having been exasperated by the interruptions lost his rhythm and was soon given out lbw. It was also speculated that Kohli declared the innings even as discussions were being held for continuance of the play only to show that Indians would readily field in the same environmental conditions which the Sri Lankans found unplayable.
With the smog prevailing over Delhi for weeks now, perhaps, it was not a good idea for the BCCI to have scheduled a test match in Delhi during this period. While the expectation was that the smog would lift by the end of November and this kind of overbearing pollution would not be sustained for long, the things panned out differently with the smog persisting.
The stubble burning in the neighbouring agricultural fields is the main reason for the heavy pollution of the Delhi air. The Delhi-ites have had so far the worst of two winters. Making the international players play in such heavily polluted air would amount to playing with their health and wellbeing as also their cricketing careers. Even the Australian Cricket Team had issues with this kind of air in and around the Stadium a few years ago.
One cannot but have sympathies for Delhi-ites who are riding out over this kind of smog for days, weeks and months in Delhi. There seems to be no respite from it. It is like a gas chamber out there and respite for those who are suffering appears to be far away.
Cricket has always been a winter game in India. Only because of the professional leagues of the shortened versions of the game it is played in summers – mostly after sunset. But from the look of it, it is increasingly becoming clear that the game, especially the longer version of it, may not continue during the winters in the northern parts because of heavy smog with air pollution rising by the day. One cannot really put air purifiers on the ground to enable the game to go on.
There are numerous towns in south, central and western India where the air quality is within the normal parameters and where adequate arrangements exist for holding a five-day test match. If these centres are not properly equipped they should be refurbished to make available alternative venues in case the traditional venues, especially in metro cities suffer from debilitating environmental sicknesses.