It took only a session and a half on the first day of Ranji Trophy cricket this season for a player to wear a mask out to the middle. On day one of the game between Mumbai and Railways, at the Karnail Singh Stadium in Delhi, Dhawal Kulkarni, Aditya Tare, Siddhesh Lad and a few other players wore these masks. It's time to take a step back and think carefully about the situation: is it wise - or fair - to subject the players to these conditions?
To those who live in Delhi, November 1 was indeed one of the more pleasant days. The air quality was merely poor, but those who came from Mumbai complained of coughs, breathing trouble and dizziness after a day of athletic activity in Delhi. We in Delhi have become so desensitised - and indeed physically accustomed - that we actually celebrate days when the air is merely poor, but this is when it actually hits you.
On October 27, a Central Pollution Control Board-led task force warned people against running or jogging in Delhi in the first 10 days of November. Yet here we had a full-fledged cricket match, which, if the pollution-caused poor light permits, goes on for six-and-a-half hours each day and over four days. Pollution in Delhi and the surrounding areas has been the cause of a crisis over the last few years. There are various man-made reasons for this, which are beyond the scope of this piece, but the fact remains: in November the pollution reaches its peak, with stubble being burnt in north India as farmers switch from rice to wheat crops in an extremely short window available to them; the smoke from the Diwali fireworks only exacerbates the matter.
The solutions are not easy, but prevention is. This is not the first time cricket in Delhi has been affected. Even before the Test last year, play has been called off in Delhi with smoke chamber-like conditions making it dangerous to pursue any athletic activity in.
November 1 was likely the cleanest day of this November. There are two worse categories than poor: very poor and severe. Severe was reached last November too. As Diwali approaches, the air will get worse. This match is being played on a flat pitch. Bad light and pollution shouldn't cost this match crucial time because it seems like a one-innings contest. However, there is another Ranji match in Delhi on November 12, despite the knowledge and warnings that it is not healthy. This year's half-marathon was held in October for these very reasons.
It is unfortunate - the BCCI gets undeserved flak sometimes - but the buck will stop at the Indian board's door step. On paper, according to the rulebook, it is the prerogative of DDCA (Delhi), the Indian Railways (Railways), and the Indian Armed Forces (Services) to decide where they play their home games. It is understandable they don't want to lose home advantage. With a chaotic home season, what with all the new teams, the BCCI has its plate full already. But there is a duty of care towards employees that neither the state boards nor the BCCI should look away from.
When Sri Lanka struggled in the pollution last year, a few BCCI officials said they didn't need to worry right away because Feroz Shah Kotla is not up for an international match until 2020. Okay, practical. Let's take a call in 2019. What about domestic cricket then? Does the wellness of these cricketers matter less? Or is it only an issue if we are shown up in front of an international audience?
There is no point being cavalier about it. It is easy to beat a retreat and not indulge in athletic activities in Delhi on these days. With the combined financial strength, wisdom and might of BCCI, DDCA, Railways and Armed Forces, it should be even easier. It is an opportunity for Indian cricket to show the way, and not be passive bystanders, in the process putting the wellness of their biggest resources in jeopardy. They will have no excuses - but massive legal liability - if someone damages his health significantly playing in these conditions.