Sri Lankan cricketers wear mask after high level of smog    IANS
Sri Lankan cricketers wear mask after high level of smog IANS

The flight was a few feet from the ground for landing and I could hardly spot a thing. It seemed like the clouds had made way to the base. It was hazy inside the airport. I was in Delhi last month when the smog news ruled the headlines. I was breathing heavy after a stroll at Connaught Place in the evening. I met a doctor I knew and expressed my concern over the situation.

There is one immediate solution I can think. Evacuate Delhi and NCR, I thought he joked but he affirmed that he didn t.

Though I take immense pride in sharing birthday with Mithali Raj, December 3 isn t remembered for all the good reasons. The Bhopal gas tragedy is still considered one of the world s worst industrial disasters. The 33rd anniversary of the tragedy was an eye-opener for the pretentious blinds; Sri Lanka team deserve credit for making the concerned authorities talking. Some, however, chose to continue acting blind; of course, exceptions remain.

Rain, snow, bees, animals, eclipses, etc. have all effected cricket. But pollution? When Sri Lankan side took the field after lunch on Sunday, the masked cricketers caught the world s attention.

Since the LTTE days, so many masked Sri Lankans in unison have been a rarity. Sporting masks in cities like Delhi or Beijing don t make jaws drop, but this was on a cricket field. Were they plotting against the tide? Were there malice intentions? We will come to that. The concerns surrounding the Delhi smog have caught the global trends for a while now.

For years, Delhi and Beijing have competed for the spot of the most polluted city. Javier Ceppi, Director of FIFA Under-17 World Cup (held in India), had tweeted earlier this year: You can t host sport events in Delhi from Diwali till end of Feb, at least. It is a fact. We had to accommodate our whole schedule to avoid it and others should also think about athletes health first #DelhiSmog

The Air Quality Index (AQI) had hit an alarmingly high mark on Sunday in Delhi. India s neighbours from the serene isle aren t used to it. Kohli, meanwhile, is like that chemical agent who reacts or acts as catalyst irrespective of conditions. Dinesh Chandimal s men, in contrast, have no such qualms.

Chandimal complained of conditions. His players were throwing up. He claimed they didn t have 11 men fit enough to field. Kohli was upset. The crowd backed their captain, who also happened to be a local boy. The furious doctor barged out with his orders.

Virat Kohli complaints of Sri Lanka's smog distraction    IANS
Virat Kohli complaints of Sri Lanka’s smog distraction IANS

Nic Pothas, Sri Lanka s acting coach, shared the team s plights: We had players coming off the field and vomiting. There were oxygen cylinders in the change room. It s not normal for players to suffer in that way while playing the game. I think it s the first time that everybody has come across that situation.

There aren t too many rules regarding pollution. What we are going to do tomorrow is in the hands of the match referee. They will have meetings tonight to put in some sort of a precedent if it happens like this tomorrow.

Apparently, Suranga Lakmal was continuously throwing up, even when match referee David Boon paid a visit to the Sri Lankan dressing-room.

In Sri Lanka s defence

Let us return to the aforementioned exceptions. Social media can be as toxic as Delhi s air. The fire spreads quicker there than in forests. Sri Lanka were pilloried in the online world. Summing up few of the sentiments.

Sri Lanka are hiding their faces in shame.

Why didn t they complain of Day One?

If Kohli can, why can t they?

Adding fuel to the issue were comments by luminaries. CK Khanna, BCCI s acting President, made a lame comment: If 20,000 people in the stands did not have 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.

Bharat Arun, India s bowling coach, cited in Kohli s example without rhyme or reason: 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.

This is what Kohli himself appealed a few weeks back.

There is no pride in braving toxic air and registering records. There is no nationalism in donning the country s colours and playing under extreme conditions, risking health in order to entertain the mass.

An editorial in The Guardian stated, Cricket s love of the eccentric gave way to a truly disturbing interruption on Sunday when Delhi s bad air pollution which was 15 times the WHO s recommended toxicity maximum caused stops and starts to a test between India and Sri Lanka. With players forced to leave the game to vomit and Sri Lankans wearing anti-pollution masks on the field, this was a Delhi clean-up call. If India s favourite sport can t be played in the nation s smog-laden capital, cricket in Delhi should be no-balled.

Sri Lankan cricketers were in their rights to stand in defence of their health. The air quality is much better in Sri Lanka. If Team A can withstand the health adversities, it should not be forced upon the reluctant Team B.

In a parallel universe, Chandimal s men should have been applauded because as foreigners they highlighted a grave issue that was being ignored. But there is more to it. It s a shame that in a nation of a billion-and a-third, only cricket and the film industry get us talking.

In this modern world, ICC will have come out with permissible ASI levels to conduct a cricket match.

Wake-up alarm clocks or shrewd plotters?

Their reputation for maligning gamesmanship goes against them. From the approach of batting almost four days to pile up 952 and being poor ambassadors of Test cricket to bowling deliberate no-balls or looseners to deny deserved centuries to changing captains midway to avoid fines and suspensions, Sri Lanka has list that would put many in shame.

In a much fierce contest, The Ashes, Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz had readied themselves for blows on body than sticking to blatant tactics of wasting time. That had turned out to be one of the greatest Tests. At Rajkot, in 2017, a defeat loomed over India. Kohli used his skills to combat the English bowlers to keep the contest 0-0.

In the Kolkata Test a few days ago, Niroshan Dickwella and other Sri Lankans had adopted to blatant time-wasting tactics to save the Test. They have shamelessly prided themselves for the same.

No. They cannot be called cheats. Over years they have found ways to successfully find loopholes in the laws and manipulate them.

The situation would have swung in Sri Lanka s favour had Chandimal marched his men off the ground, declaring that the conditions were unfit to play. Unfortunately, the turn of events seemed like a tactic to slow the proceedings once Kohli got out and worse, Sri Lanka batted without masks when Kohli declared quickly.

Kohli had broken a plethora of records by then. He was eyeing 250. Even 300 loomed over as a possibility. The frequent breaks may have hampered Kohli s focus and he fell for 243. Eventually, frustrated with the stops, Kohli declared with India s score on 536 when 650 still seemed a possibility.

The following questions arise:

Delhi has been on Hazardous levels in AQI for weeks. Did the AQI in Delhi drop alarming post lunch on December 3? Sri Lanka knew the conditions in Delhi. If they can send delegates to Lahore to access security situations what stopped them from doing the same in Delhi? The fixtures were announced well in advance. Weren t they?

Not once did Chandimal s mask come off when the arguments over commencement of play carried on. However, the AQI mattered little when he walked out to bat. What was Chandimal s argument? The conditions aren t friendly enough for us to bowl and field. India should declare and we can bat?

What would have happened if Chandimal walked away with his men? Would BCCI have stopped the ICC sanctions? SLC would have suffered a crisis. But did Arjuna Ranatunga or Inzamam-ul-Haq think on these lines ahead of pride? And this health of cricketers was worse than accusations of ball-tampering or chucking.

A visibly frustrated Kohli declared the Indian innings to get the match going. Dickwella s glee was well captured by the lensmen.

The masks were off when Sri Lankans walked out to bat. Maybe their doctors and management had declared that the AQI at the batting creases and the path of their running between the wickets were safe enough to continue. Or perhaps they thought that batting would not tire them out as much.

Chandimal and his former captain Angelo Mathews stitched a gritty stand and kept the visitors in the game. The morning session on Day Three went wicket-less with Mathews eyeing a hundred.

As television viewers struggled to spot players on the field and identify them, the Lankan batsmen did a commendable job to spot the ball, putting them away to their pleasure, and that too without masks.

The seeming Sri Lankan tactic worked brilliantly to their advantage. Given the doldrums they are going through, a draw in the Test will be as big as a win for them, goes one school of thoughts.

To another, the feeling is that Sri Lanka have just added another laurel to their wall of shame. If it was a tactic, the covering of the face did suit them. Gamesmanship and sportsman spirit have no defined lines and can be debated just like Mankading. Your views will depend on which school of gamesmanship you subscribe too.

On a day, Test cricket fell to pollution, Sri Lanka dived in front to grass the catch.