The Delhi Test will not be remembered for cricket

Sri Lanka’s players, wearing anti-pollution masks, speak to each other as the game was briefly stopped during the second day of their third test cricket match in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Sri Lankan players were in a fog even after Virat Kohli’s boys had equaled a record-breaking nine consecutive series win in Tests. As they stood watching their Indian counterparts hogging the limelight, what took centrestage was not any individual’s performance but Delhi’s toxic air instead.

You can’t keep the weather out of an outdoor game. Or can you? Rains and sandstorms have stopped matches before. Rightly so, as it puts players at risk. But this time round it was a known man-made disaster that threatened cricketers. However, the funny part wasn’t the Sri Lankan faces covered in anti-pollution masks, or the match being halted because of bad air. It was the unpolished clean-up act and blame game that ensued.

Unfortunately, we got to see that this typical trait doesn’t limit to our political class itself. How many times have we seen our leaders blaming people’s non-vegetarian diets or women traveling at odd hours behind rampant rapes?

On a wintry Delhi Sunday morning, as Suranga Lakmal and Lahiru Gamage bowled their hearts out, they realised that their lungs had gone for a toss. The ‘Air Quality Index’ around the smog-affected Kotla stadium hovered around 350, which fell in the ‘severe’ category. Pacer Lakmal was shortly escorted out after vomiting on ground. Soon after, his counterpart Gamage too left for the dressing room. Play was halted for 20 minutes, the first of time this had happened in an international cricket match.

Sorry for the inconvenience Indian team!

After the Lankans staged a walk out, the national side was worked into a state of fury with captain Virat Kohli signaling the Indian rather Sri Lankan players to leave. Kohli obviously felt that he was being ‘forced’ to enforce the follow-on. To uphold the spirit of the game and get on with it, Kohli communicated to the visitors that he would take the field himself to show them how it is done. His decision received jeers from the crowd, and cheers from the Sri Lankan players.

Soon, the skipper’s sour sentiment was shared by the entire Indian cricket fraternity.

“If 20,000 people in the stands did not have a 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,” said the BCCI president C.K. Khanna.

The images of Indian coach Ravi Shastri’s angry face confronting the officials on the fieldf will remain in memory for long.

But the absolute gem came from India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun. “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.

But, Kohli forgot that his superman persona was only limited to his batting and not controlling the laws of nature. When his premium pacer Mohammad Shami produced a ripper to get Sri Lanka’s Sadeera Samarawickrama out on the fourth day noon, the celebrations were short-lived. Just into the third over of his spell, Shami broke down puking and left the field, even as the Lankan batsmen stared on knowingly.

‘Chalta hai’ attitude

Speaking from his temperature controlled perch for a prime-time TV show, former Indian cricketer Atul Wasan shouted his lungs out over Sri Lanka’s protests. He even mentioned that the Lankan players should have been given Oscars for putting up a great act on the field of wearing masks and puking. He further went on to say that if 20 million Delhiites are coping with it, why aren’t the Sri Lankan players.

India opener Shikhar Dhawan had a better explanation for Lankan players struggling in Delhi. “Maybe in Sri Lanka the pollution is not that high. There are more beaches in Sri Lanka. It’s natural that coastal areas won’t have so much air pollution. Of course, they may be feeling discomfort,” he said in Day 4 post match conference.

BCCI choking on its own words

Mohammed Shami puking

Few weeks after Diwali, doctors in Delhi were of the opinion that breathing in the national capital was like smoking 50 cigarettes a day. On Monday, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) slammed the authorities for going ahead with the match even as it was widely documented that Delhi’s air quality becomes poorer during winters. Following which the BCCI was forced to choke on their own words.

Addressing a press conference, BCCI secretary Amitabh Chaudhary said, “Pollution matter is something which affects the entire city. However the scheduling of the matches in Delhi can be considered keeping in view the conditions since last two to three days.”

As the Sri Lankan players covered their faces with anti-pollution masks, the mask of jingoism was soon shredded as facts and figures knocked sense in the heads of the ones who were bashing the Sri Lankan team.

What is more likely is that the learnings that people drew from this pollution debate will eventually get diluted as our mud-slinging nature clouds over our better judgement.