Cricket is no stranger to rain-delays and matches getting called up because of inclement weather—the sport, after all, is played mostly in the tropics, and the UK, where it rained for over two-fifths of every year between 1981 and 2010. But, Sunday’s Test between India and Sri Lanka was halted because of Delhi’s noxious air—it was 15 times as toxic as the WHO-prescribed limit. Scenes of the entire Sri Lankan team on the field, with pollution masks on, was tragicomic. Umpires—who were facing calls, probably for the first time, for halting play because of smog—consulted physiotherapists, who had no way of telling whether pollution was impeding the visiting team’s play. There are many who silently or vocally question the visiting team’s sportsmanship. But the fact is poor air quality is likely to have a debilitating impact on a sportsperson’s performance, especially where as much running is involved as in cricket. Bear in mind, doctors had recently warned against morning-walks in Delhi, that involve a much milder strain on the lungs.
Pollution in the national capital region still remains a bouncer for policy. Improving air quality, the many studies on Delhi’s pollution would tell you, needs addressing the main causes such as crop-stubble burning and road & construction dust, among others. Instead, the odd-even four-wheeler rationing, the ban on crackers and other such steps that have been ordered by the government and the judiciary have been, as this particular cricketing term sums up rather evocatively, rank ‘wides’. While it is easy to spin theories about whether the Sri Lankan team really no-balled Delhi’s pollution or it just wanted to stump a clean win for India, the problem that really needs both the public’s and policy’s focus is tackling pollution in the NCR. Else, Delhi could soon become a venue non-grata for not just the Sri Lankans, or even cricket, but for sports in general.