Cricket players at the Bangladesh vs. Sri Lanka World Cup match are confronting a formidable adversary, and it’s not an opposing team but the perilous air quality in New Delhi. Some asthmatic members of the Bangladesh team were confined indoors, while Sri Lankan players resorted to using masks, as reported by Reuters. There is growing speculation that the match might be canceled due to the deteriorating Air Quality Index (AQI), potentially marking the first-ever instance of a World Cup match being called off due to AQI concerns. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that Delhi’s air quality has adversely affected cricket matches in the past.
In the Ranji Trophy, there have been recurrent disruptions in play due to the worsening air quality, with players encountering breathing difficulties, ultimately leading to temporary game stoppages. A significant precedent occurred seven years ago on November 6, 2016, when the severity of air pollution and thick smog in the capital city forced the abandonment of two Ranji Trophy matches. One of these was between Bengal and Gujarat at Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, while the other involved Hyderabad playing against Tripura at Karnail Singh Stadium. Furthermore, the global cricketing community has also had its share of encounters with Delhi’s air pollution, as demonstrated during the India-Sri Lanka Test match in December 2017. In that instance, the match had to be halted due to reduced visibility caused by the haze, and players even reported feelings of nausea, highlighting one of the earliest instances of an international cricket match being disrupted by pollution-related concerns.
Two years later, despite the concerning levels of air pollution, a T20 International match between India and Bangladesh proceeded as scheduled. The decision to move forward with the game under such conditions triggered significant discussions and raised concerns about the well-being of both players and spectators. The issue of air quality impacting cricket is not limited to India. In December 2019, a Big Bash League game in Australia, held in Canberra, was called off due to “dangerous and unreasonable playing conditions” resulting from smoke emanating from nearby bushfires. Delhi’s air quality has now reached the ‘severe plus’ category. The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) classifies actions into four stages based on the Air Quality Index (AQI): Stage I – ‘Poor’ (AQI 201-300); Stage II – ‘Very Poor’ (AQI 301-400); Stage III – ‘Severe’ (AQI 401-450); and Stage IV – ‘Severe Plus’ (AQI >450).