#Airpocalypse: Why visiting cricket teams ‘choke’ in Delhi
Smog shrouds the Feroz Shah Kotla Ground, where India and Bangladesh will play the first game of the T20I series on Sunday
On Friday, the Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority declared a public health emergency in the NCR as air pollution levels in the region crossed into the “severe plus” category. This means schools are shut, construction is banned, and people have been advised to avoid outdoor activity as much as possible. The India-Bangladesh T20 international cricket match to be held today, however, will go on. “The match was already scheduled so we couldn’t cancel it at the last minute because we came in on October 23. In the future when we schedule – especially in the northern part of India during the winter – we will have to be a little bit more practical,” the new BCCI President Sourav Ganguly told the media on Thursday.
The Bangladesh players, meanwhile, have been practising at the Feroz Shah Kotla Ground wearing anti-pollution masks. “We obviously have some scratchy eyes, some sore throats but it’s been okay. Nobody is sick or dying. We don’t want to be in such weather outside in the field for six or seven hours,” lamented the team’s coach Russell Domingo.
This isn’t the first time a visiting team has had to face the wrath of Delhi’s noxious post-Diwali smog. In December 2017, the Sri Lanka-India Test being played at the same venue had to be halted twice when the Sri Lankan players complained of breathlessness and ill health. Two vomited on the field and others reportedly collapsed in the dressing room. “We had players coming off the field and vomiting,” their coach Nic Pothas had said, adding, “There were oxygen cylinders in the change room. It’s not normal for players to suffer in that way while playing the game.”
However, many Indian fans and even administrators felt that the Sri Lankans were exaggerating their discomfort. The Acting BCCI President CK Khanna famously said, “If 20,000 people in the stands did not have a problem and the Indian team did not face any issue, I wonder why the Sri Lankan team made a big fuss.”
The issue here is that the Indian fans and many players, too, are used to the Delhi smog. When asked recently what the team was doing to cope with the pollution, Indian’s batting coach Vikram Rathour – a former Punjab player – replied, “I have played all my life in north India. We are used to these conditions and we have played under these conditions. So, nothing special is being taken care of.”
The visitors, however, come from much cleaner surroundings. Even Rajkot and Nagpur – the venues of the two subsequent games in the series – fare much better. The AQI there, as of the morning of November 2, was 91 and 143 respectively. In comparison, Delhi stood at a hazardous 423. Colombo has one of the best air quality in Asia with an AQI of 91. Dhaka’s air pollution levels are normally at par with some of the cleanest Indian cities (AQI- 171). In fact, all the major cricketing centres of Asia have relatively clean air when compared to Delhi. Karachi stands at 74, Kabul at 68, and Dehradun (the adopted home of the Afghanistan team) at 112. Even Pakistan’s adopted home ground in the deserts of Dubai has a clean AQI of 20.
No wonder, the players from these parts of the world find it more difficult to play in Delhi. Australia has the traditional Boxing Day Test match, England has the midsummer game at Lord’s and now, it seems, India has found a new dubious cricketing tradition – the post-Diwali Delhi game marred by pollution controversy.
In December 2017, when Sri Lanka played against India at the same venue, Lankan players complained of breathlessness and ill health, while most played with masks on, several threw up and, reportedly, even fainted