For days, there was no news except ‘Smog’ and ‘AQI’ in the newspapers of Delhi. These two strange English words are now on the lips of the people of the city!
The sky and air of Delhi has been covered with thick toxic smog for the past few days, even at 12:30 pm in Bhardupur it is like evening darkness!
Children’s schools have been closed, the elderly are being piped out of their homes, coughing has started, people are taking to the streets wearing masks – and meanwhile, the Cricket World Cup match is going to be played at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium on Monday!
The group-stage match between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka is the last match of the tournament at this venue – but the question is how the ICC managed to hold the World Cup match in Delhi in the first week of November.
There was some sunshine around noon on Sunday – but if the conditions do not improve enough before the start of the match at 2 pm local time on Monday – the match referee can cancel the match at the last minute. In that case both teams will get one point each.
However, none of the ICC officials in Delhi, big or small, are uttering the words ‘cancellation of the match’ – they are only saying, ‘The final decision will be taken after looking at the situation on Monday!’
The term AQI or Air Quality Index is familiar to many these days – Delhi’s AQI has been continuously hovering around 500-600 since last Wednesday (November 2), which is ‘extremely hazardous’ on the WHO scale.
And the word ‘smog’ comes from combining smoke and fog. Some people describe it as smoke + fog = fog, but actually it is difficult to translate it correctly in Bengali, because the Bengali speaking region of the world has never seen this thing.
This strange and dangerous ‘smog’ of Delhi is uniquely Delhi’s own – ‘parali’, car smoke and other toxic ingredients that are a deadly cocktail that is difficult to find anywhere else in the world!
Curse of Mohali?
In fact this situation is almost routine in Delhi from late October or early November every year – Delhi has its own vehicular and industrial pollution, but at this time of the year it is joined by ‘parali’ from Punjab!
‘Stubble’ is the root of the crop, which is removed from the field so that new seeds cannot be planted. But all the modern methods of burning that stubble are quite costly, so the farmers of Punjab start burning stubble in late autumn.
Just over a month ago, when I was on my way to Dharamshala by road over Punjab to cover Bangladesh’s first two World Cup matches, the burning was in full swing – thick sheets of noxious white smoke forming over the wheat fields on either side of the highway.
Thanks to the westerly winds, the smog has arrived in the capital Delhi on a regular basis – and has thrown the 38th match of the World Cup into doubt!
Considered by many to be the best cricket stadium in India, Mohali in Punjab did not get a match in this World Cup.
Opposition parties in India have also alleged that the BJP-influenced Indian Cricket Board has unduly ‘punished’ Mohali because the Aam Aadmi Party is in power in Punjab.
“Now when that Punjab spell has made the Delhi match uncertain, what can be said about it other than the curse of Mohali?”, cricket commentator Adesh Gupta said with a bit of sarcasm.
Statements of both parties
Both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have been forced to cancel multiple practice sessions ahead of the match as usual – almost half of the players from both teams ‘skipped’ practice on Sunday as well.
So is Delhi’s environment suitable for international cricket at this time of the year? In response to this question of BBC Bengal, Bangladesh coach Chandika Hathurusinghe said that he is not the right person to answer this question!
But he admitted that the situation is not ‘ideal’ and that the cricketers are suffering from this serious pollution!
In the evening, Sri Lankan captain Kushal Mendis also came to the press conference and informed that the news that they have demanded ICC to move the match from Delhi is not completely true.
However, the way Bangladesh has been forced to cancel the practice session and the situation they are witnessing outside after landing in Delhi, the Sri Lankan team must have expressed their ‘concern’ to the ICC.
‘We want to know what the plan is? Then I saw that ICC has installed some machinery here, experts have also been called to address the situation’, said Kushal Mendis.
‘They have already informed us that the match will be held. So now we will go according to what the ICC tells us’, said the Sri Lankan captain, throwing water on the speculation of a ‘rebellion’.
Arvind Kumar, a renowned chest specialist at the well-known Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon, near Delhi, recently drew a comparison with Delhi’s pollution, which has created quite a stir in the capital.
Delhi’s AQI and smog statistics Dr. Kumar said, ‘Breathing the air of Delhi right now means smoking at least twenty-five to thirty cigarettes a day!’
The effects of both are actually equally harmful to the body – that’s what he actually meant.
Delhi boy and environmental researcher Palash Mukherjee is now in Canada, but he is keeping a close eye on the World Cup – he shared an interesting statistic with the BBC based on this comparison.
‘Bangladesh team came to Delhi on Wednesday afternoon after playing the Eden match. That means they will have spent almost five full days in Delhi by the time they come down to play the match on Monday.’
“Now, if a day’s breathing is equal to 28 cigarettes, then all the cricketers of the first eleven must be assumed to be playing 11 times 28 times 5 = more than one and a half thousand cigarettes,” said Palash Mukherjee with a smile.
Similarly, as the Sri Lankan team arrived in the city on Friday after playing a match against India in Mumbai, they will be playing in Delhi after spending three days there.
As such, the eleven cricketers of the Sri Lankan team will have ‘smoked’ the equivalent of a thousand cigarettes!
“As a result, twenty-two cricketers from two teams will come down to play a World Cup match after swallowing pollution equal to two and a half thousand cigarettes – can you imagine?”, said this former scientist of Delhi’s Center for Science and Environment.
This is exactly why the future of Monday’s match can be said to be hanging in the balance – ICC, BCCI and host body Delhi Cricket Association are keeping an eye on Monday’s AQI and smog factor with great anxiety!
When cricket is hidden
Needless to say, all cricketing discussion around this match has been overshadowed by this all-consuming worry about pollution.
Both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have long fallen short of their semi-final goals in the World Cup, but they are still in the race to qualify for the 2025 Champions Trophy.
And that’s exactly why it’s so important for both teams to win this match – so that they can finish at least eighth in the points table.
In response to a question from the BBC, Hathurusinghe said, ‘I still think it is very possible for Bangladesh to get a spot in the Champions Trophy.’
‘The reason for that is very simple – Bangladesh are yet to reach their best cricket.’
“We have the ability to play as well as we can, if we can show that in the remaining two matches, we will definitely have a chance to play in the Champions Trophy,” he said.
On the other hand, Sri Lankan captain Kushal Mendis said that Bangladesh is a very familiar opponent – we have played many matches with Bangladesh this year, we definitely have specific plans for them – but there is no need to prepare separately!
Sri Lanka lost to India by more than three hundred runs in the last match, but the cricketers want to forget the nightmare of being all out for 55 runs.
And did not forget to remind that, as for Bangladesh, the motivation for winning the remaining two matches for Sri Lanka is the Champions Trophy.
In the words of Kushal Mendis, ‘If we win the remaining two matches, it is definitely possible for us to qualify for the Champions Trophy.’
The Sri Lankan team’s in-country specialist doctor, who is currently in Delhi for other work, is assisting the team – besides the ICC’s medical team is always on hand.
The captain said, without their advice, the cricketers are not taking a step or even opening the mask – because the worry is the pollution of Delhi!