Hit by Delhi’s smog, Bangladesh cricketers mask the agony: ‘Not ideal but won’t moan’

Vishal Menon
Bangla players in New Delhi, Friday. (Express photo: Praveen Khanna)

Burning eyes, sore throats, heavy breathing and that all-pervading smog — rarely does a cricket team or its doctors have to factor in all these elements before an international match.

But post-Diwali, Delhi welcomed Bangladesh with the most unusual concerns ahead of the series-opening T20 match. The tourists didn’t complain, but Bangladesh coach Russell Domingo did admit that the situation was “far from ideal” for an international fixture.

The South African coach, who hails from the windy coastal city of Port Elizabeth, dealt with questions on the weather diplomatically. “Conditions are obviously not perfect with the smog, but it’s the same for both teams. We have some scratchy eyes, maybe a little sore throat now and then, but it’s okay. Nobody is sick or anything... it’s not ideal, but we’re not going to moan about it,” Domingo said.

The National Capital has been in the grip of a severe pollution crisis since last week, with the air quality index breaching the ‘severe’ mark of 400 to touch 484 Friday. Schools have been told to shut till November 5, and the government is distributing 50 lakh masks to students. From Monday, the capital will roll out the odd-even road space rationing scheme to cut vehicular pollution.

Bangladesh cricket team during the practice session in New Delhi. (Express photo: Praveen Khanna)

It was not surprising then to see more than a few Bangladesh players with pollution masks. On Thursday, batsman-keeper Liton Das wore one briefly before removing it for his batting session. On Friday, the numbers swelled — Domingo, batting coach Neil McKenzie, spin coach Daniel Vettori and allrounder Soumya Sarkar were among those sporting masks.

Explained: Schools shut, odd-even, what next in Delhi pollution fight

For the Kotla regulars, though, it would not have been a rare sight. Two years ago, Sri Lanka physiotherapist Nirmalan Dhanabalasingham had to scamper to the nearby lanes in Daryaganj for buying masks. During the match, their fast bowler Suranga Lakmal suffered bouts of nausea and vomitted.

That Test also saw Indian pacer Mohammed Shami slumping on a chair near the boundary ropes, and spinner Kuldeep Yadav passing him a mask. A year earlier, a Ranji Trophy match between Gujarat and Bengal was cancelled due to poor air quality.

But then, cricket is not the only sport to be affected by Delhi’s air. Last year, Dutch footballer Gianni Zuiverloon, who played for Delhi Dynamos in the Indian Super League, said several players of his team were taken ill. Even athletes who had trained at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium last year complained of throat and chest pain — they received an advisory from the Athletic Federation of India to wear masks during training.

None of the Indian players sported a mask on Friday, though. And batting coach Vikram Rathour deflected the pollution query deftly. “You are asking the wrong person. I have played all my cricket in North India. Yes, there is pollution, but there is a match that has been scheduled and we will give our 100 per cent,” he said.

BCCI’s newly elected president, Sourav Ganguly, has already emphasised the need to be more practical when deciding fixtures. “In the future, when we schedule matches in North India during winter, we will have to be more practical,” Ganguly had said. “It’s too late to do anything because a lot of preparation goes into matches — tickets and crowds...fingers crossed.”