The decision to play the Delhi Test amid high pollution levels has drawn strong criticism from both participating countries with the Sri Lankan manager Asanka Gurusinha and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) deeming the conditions far from ideal. While the IMA wrote to the BCCI and Vinod Rai, the head of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators, stating that it was troubled over the third Test between India and Sri Lanka being played in such conditions, Gurusinha urged the ICC to deploy air-quality meters in the future.
Gurusinha further said both the India and Sri Lanka dressing rooms had to use oxygen cylinders. "The players are not able to breathe so we're using oxygen cylinders in the changing room. This has been medically advised to us," he told Mumbai Mirror. "Even the Indian team is using oxygen cylinders in the dressing room."
The matter has reached the ICC's attention as well with a spokesperson saying, "The ICC has noted the conditions in which the Delhi Test was played and has already requested the issue is considered by the medical committee for guidance should the situation arise in future. The matter is likely to be discussed in February's ICC meetings."
According to PTI, IMA president KK Aggarwal said the conduct of the match sent out the message that it was safe for children to play cricket even when the PM (particulate matter) 2.5 levels were more than 300. "Rain and poor light are taken into consideration when determining suitable playing conditions, we suggest that atmospheric pollution should now also be included in the assessing criteria for a match," Aggarwal stated in his letter to the BCCI.
Contending that air pollution could be an important factor in affecting the performance of athletes, Aggarwal quoted from medical literature and said the poor air quality in Delhi may increase the risk of lung and heart disease and trigger a potentially life-threatening event.
The safe levels of atmospheric particulate matter, according to World Health Organisation air-quality guidelines, are 20g/cu mm (annual mean) for PM10 and 10g/cu mm (annual mean) for PM2.5. If the air quality index (AQI) is between 151 and 200, it is recommended that outdoor exercises be reduced.
"The message from the India and Sri Lanka cricket match that has gone home is that it is safe for children to play cricket even when the PM 2.5 levels are more than 300," Aggarwal wrote in his letter.
The first signs of players' discomfort in the polluted Delhi atmosphere came on the second day of the Test when five Sri Lanka fielders came out wearing masks in the post-lunch session. There were two stoppages of play spanning a total of 22 minutes after fast bowlers Lahiru Gamage and Suranga Lakmal appeared to struggle. Later in the Test, Lakmal and India's Mohammed Shami were seen throwing up on the field. While the India camp initially appeared to be skeptical of Sri Lanka's difficulty as bowling coach B Arun questioned their bowlers' fitness, opener Shikhar Dhawan later conceded the visitors' discomfort could have been genuine.
Pollution in Delhi has been a major health concern in recent winters. A public health emergency was declared by the government in November this year, with schools closing down for a week even as the Delhi half marathon almost turned out a non-starter. During the Test match, air quality in some parts of Delhi was reported to be hazardous, and very unhealthy in the area adjoining the Feroz Shah Kotla.
During the interruptions, match referee David Boon was seen talking to a doctor, who had a stethoscope around his neck, presumably for advice on how big a health hazard the current pollution was. Gurusinha felt the ICC needed to lay down guidelines in relation to pollution-related issues. "The match referee David Boon is handling our request. He is collecting all the data. This is an unprecedented situation, and has not happened anywhere before," he said.
"The ICC managers need to sit down and look at the problem. I don't think anyone should jump the gun but we need to set a standard. Going forward, it should be treated like bad light which is measured by light meters. They may have to use pollution meters. The measures should be universally applied."
SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala offered praise to the Sri Lankan team for sticking it out in tough conditions. "I am proud of the character, spirit and perseverance you each showed under pressure. The challenges you faced, were not limited to the technicalities of the game only, but of external circumstances that challenged each of you personally as well."