You may have heard about on-field tussles interrupting a crucial international match in almost every sport. Disagreements are then solved usually with the intervention of the referee or other players. Today, however, for the first time it was pollution which stopped the ongoing India-Sri Lanka test match at Feroz Shah Kotla stadium.
Barely had the Indian supporters wrapped their heads around captain Virat Kohli’s heroics on Day 2 that play needed to be interrupted for at least 10 minutes due to the smog. Despite the borderline dangerous levels of pollution in the capital city, little has been done so far to alleviate the general public of its fears of congestion and other health hazards. In fact, this is the worst New Delhi has seen in a very long time. Despite the incessant smog, one wonders why such a hue and cry was raised regarding the ban on firecrackers in the city during Diwali.
Coming back to the matter at hand, the crowd at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla stadium had, perhaps, become accustomed to seeing people and players wearing masks as a precaution against the toxic air. What they did not expect was a Sri Lankan player falling sick merely 30 minutes into the post-lunch session. That is precisely what happened to Lanka’s Lahiru Gamage who delved into a violent coughing fit inevitably caused by the abnormal levels of suspended particulate matter in the toxic air.
This was impetus enough to nudge the rest of the Lankan team into protest. Skipper Dinesh Chandimal was the first to suggest that the game is called off. Health hazards aside, the haze caused by the smog drastically reduced visibility which was quite cumbersome for an average game of cricket to smoothly progress.
The Air Quality Index (AQI), a measure of particulate matter in the air rose marginally to ‘very poor’ at 338 from Saturday’s 331. The level particulate matter (PM), was way above the safe limit.
And it was not just the players showing signs of protest. A member of the Sri Lankan medical staff also requested the umpires to stop the match due to the hazy conditions. On-field umpires Nigel Llong and Joel Wilson appeared to dismiss these concerns and deny the plea. As an extended gap in the standard procedure of the game followed, captain Chandimal joined the discussions and even brought his Indian counterpart Virat Kohli into the talks. Unbeaten on 240 with the Indian scoreline reading 519-5, Virat Kohli paid no heed to this outburst.
A couple of important questions need to be raised here. Is it worth continuing a game and putting the well being of the on-field players at risk? The smog has been persistent for quite some time now, and it seems to be getting worse by the minute. Exactly how long will Delhiites have to suffer? Why weren’t the fixtures shifted keeping these conditions in mind?
At the recently concluded Women’s India Open Golf tour organised in Gurgaon, golfers, both Indian and otherwise, were seen sporting masks for the exact reason that Dinesh Chandimal wanted the game to be called off today. Golf, as one of the lesser followed sports, perhaps failed to make a statement with masks in this regard. But in a country that considers the game of cricket a religion, is this really the kind of image we want to put out there?
With petty squabbles on religion and nationalism becoming a part of the daily narrative in India, will people in positions of authority view this incident as shameful for India? In this country, every issue is divided along binary lines. For every opinion, there will be a million other counter voices waiting to shut it down. But this is an issue that affects us all. For a minute, let us even forget that this puts India in a feeble light when it comes to meeting standards to hold international sporting events. The capital city, the seat of power and authority is choking. And if that was not clear so far, maybe a minor squabble in the middle of a cricket game will make sure the issue is resolved.