India hosts Bangladesh in cricket match as Delhi battles pollution hazards
Suvam Pal
A photograph of Delhi's landmark India Gate amidst heavy smog. /VCG Photo

A photograph of Delhi's landmark India Gate amidst heavy smog. /VCG Photo

As the Indian capital of Delhi is grappling with its worst pollution, the first Twenty20 International match between India and Bangladesh, scheduled to be played later tonight, has come under the spotlight for being staged in a city which has been covered under a blanket of smog for the past few years. The alarming pollution level has already caused concern among Delhi's residents and has snowballed into a political blame game between various political parties at the state and national levels. However, the pollution issue has already engulfed the cricket match as there has been a raging debate over whether the match shall be staged or not. 

Bangladesh captain Mahmudullah Riyad said on Saturday, "When we first… because we haven't played here, when we first come (came) here there was a bit of smog as we all know but I think the players have practiced (for) last three days and trying to adapt the conditions and as I have mentioned that I think it's not within our control we just need to focus much more on our cricket."

Incidentally, authorities in New Delhi declared a public health emergency on Friday (November 01) and closed schools and all construction activity until next week as air pollution in the city hit its worst level this year. The local government instructed schools in the National capital region to remain shut until November 5 as residents breathed the season's worst air for successive days. As a result of the smoggy weather and rising pollution level, a slew of Bangladesh players and support staff wore face masks during the training session to avoid being hit by the toxic smog.

Bangladesh cricket team's coach Russell Domingo, who was also seen donning a mask at the nets, mentioned, "The fog like I said the weather has been magnificent; it's not too hot, pity there's no breeze but obviously not perfect with the smog but it's the same for both teams. It's not perfect, it's not ideal, but it's nothing we are going to complain about or moan about. We have just got to get on with it and make best do as we can."

Sri Lanka's players gathers wearing anti-pollution masks during the second day of their third test cricket match in New Delhi. /VCG Photo

Sri Lanka's players gathers wearing anti-pollution masks during the second day of their third test cricket match in New Delhi. /VCG Photo

He, however, downplayed the issue adding, "Look I suppose the players in Bangladesh…there's a bit of pollution in Bangladesh as well so it's not a like a massive shock to the system as maybe some other countries would maybe experience so the players have dealt with it really well. They say, 'Ooh, it's smoky' but let's get on with it and practice. They haven't made too much of an issue of it and the coaches haven't either and we've just got to go about our business as we normally would."

Meanwhile, India's batting coach Vikram Rathour remarked, "We are used to these conditions. I think we have played under the conditions so nothing special is being taken care of. Pollution is there, it is there, the game has been scheduled. So, we are here to play and hopefully win."

Although the Indian cricket board, the BCCI, has already given a go-ahead for the first game of the home series against Bangladesh, former Indian captain and current member of parliament (MP) of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Gautam Gambhir raised concern as air quality in the city slipped into "hazardous" category on Wednesday. Gambhir, who represents one of the city's key parliamentary constituencies, told Indian news agency ANI, "It (pollution) is a far serious issue than having a game of cricket or any other sports matches in Delhi. I think people living in Delhi should be more concerned about the pollution levels rather than the cricket match that happens."

"Not only athletes, it's also for the common man of Delhi as well. A match is a very small thing, I think we can say whether we want to shift the match or not," he added, demanding a relocation of the match.

Interestingly, a couple of years ago, Sri Lankan bowler Suranga Lakmal was seen vomiting on the field during a test match against India in Delhi in 2017 at the same Feroze Shah Kotla ground, now renamed as Arun Jaitley Stadium.

Meanwhile, more than air quality, the touring side is struggling to cope with the absence of talismanic all-rounder and former captain Shakib Al Hasan, who was banned earlier this week for an anti-corruption breach.