Indian cricket’s new weapon could be smog, as the Test match against Sri Lanka showed

If you thought ‘home advantage’ during a Test match in India meant only climatic conditions, wickets that turn square on day one, partisan Indian crowds and of course, the famous Indian curries, then you need to do a reality check.

Indian cricket’s latest ‘home’ weapon is smog!

That the cocky Indian team couldn’t force a win against the beleaguered Lankans in the recent Kotla Test is beside the point. Let’s look at the positive side of the seemingly ‘bad’ publicity we derived out of the match. A tourism boost; climate change experts, environmental scientists, pollution control whizzes and what have you flocking to our famous cities!

Can this be called cricket tourism?

As one former fast bowler was heard saying on national television, “We don’t complain when we are made to play in the extreme cold of England, do we? So why are the Lankans making such a big fuss about our smog?”

Our smog! Oh yes, it is our own, beloved smog!

Officially, therefore, smog is one more lethal weapon in our armoury; perhaps as lethal as Ravichardran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are on an ‘Akhara’!

Is smog the new weapon in our cricketers' arsenal? Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

Is smog the new weapon in our cricketers' arsenal? Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

Delhi is certainly among the most polluted cities in the world. Is it, therefore, a coincidence that Virat Kohli – one of the three best batsmen in the world in all formats of the game – Shikhar Dhawan and Ishant Sharma hail from India’s capital city? The smog there certainly seems to energise them, as was evident from their effort at the Kotla against the Lankans.

I suspect some disgruntled soul to have tipped Dhananjaya de Silva and Roshen Silva on how energy can be sourced from smog. Otherwise there was no way the Lankans could have saved that Test match on the final day. Therefore, a committee should be constituted under the leadership of learned justice Mudgal to find out who gave away our ‘precious’ secret.

By the way, Suranga Lakmal upchucked because the particles in the air irritated his throat and of course, his oxygen levels dipped due to extended exposure to ozone. But Mohammed Shami, the Indian pacer who had criticised the Lankans earlier, puked on the final day because he had tasted some Sri Lankan curries, perhaps.

The poor Lankans don’t have the ‘advantage’ of training in smoggy conditions back home; so they wore masks. For that matter, except for Pakistan, none of the other cricket playing countries have this facility. One Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) official said after the incident that drew criticism from cricketers, the spectators and the media alike, that pollution levels at cricket centres would be indicators for future home series itineraries.

I fully agree with this board official!

The BCCI should indeed insist on at least a couple of Test matches each at Delhi and Kanpur — two smog-bound Test centres — at the beginning of a full Test series and then subject the ‘weakened’ tourists to a rank turner at Mumbai or Bengaluru. Don’t the Australians and the South Africans provide us with hard greentops to make our batsmen wobbly at the knees at the start of a series?

Test cricket is all out war. If India has to maintain its numero uno position in the traditional form of the game, then BCCI has to use all the resources at its disposal to help Kohli’s team stay there.

Some naïve Sri Lankan cricket board officials are said to have protested against the environmental conditions in which the Test match at Delhi was being played. One of our board officials is said to have pooh-poohed their claims saying that 20,000 spectators in the stands weren’t affected; how could the smog only trouble 11 Sri Lankans on the ground?

He was speaking the truth, mind you. As a spectator in his younger days, he may have encountered all the difficulties that an Indian cricket fan has to surmount to have a glimpse of his favourite cricketers; the long queues, the dusty stands, the grime, the stinky washrooms, the foul-mouthed marshals, the trash that is dished out as food and the over-priced tickets. How could a few million cubic-litres of polluted air have affected him?

Even Sourav Ganguly is reported to have asked why the Lankans used face masks while fielding but didn’t need them while batting.

It was a perfectly legitimate question which needed to be answered. Especially since India will soon embark on some away tours which would require the players adjusting their breathing to high-oxygen environments abroad.

To start with, the Indian cricketers will travel to South Africa. They are bound to encounter problems adjusting to the fresh air there. But that shouldn’t trouble our board officials overmuch. If the Lankans can ask for oxygen cylinders to be installed in their dressing rooms at the Kotla, we can surely afford to send huge supplies of smog to be released in the Indian dressing rooms at regular intervals. That way, the Indian cricketers will feel at ‘home’.

There’s nothing really wrong in using innovative ways to feel at ‘home’ in alien conditions. When Gordon Greenidge was on his first tour of India, he confesses to have felt ‘sick’ when he stepped out of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai. He, therefore, spent all his time in the hotel’s restaurants and pools. Shane Warne too had problems digesting Indian food initially. So he devoured cans of baked beans sent to him from home.

Recognising the fact that the high-oxygen environment abroad may be harming India’s performances, it would be nice of BCCI to arrange for ‘Delhi Air’ to be sent to our players, packed in cans.

‘Win at all costs’ is Indian cricket’s new tagline. Besides playing brilliant cricket, therefore, a ‘smog’gasbord of options are available to them to stay at the top of the heap.

***

Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining. Kohli and company refused to wear face masks in the recently concluded Test match at the Kotla. However, in future, with the help of innovative agents, masks could be a part of their kit; with a sponsor’s name emblazoned right across it. Money makes the mare gallop, doesn’t it?

The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, he was a Mumbai Ranji probable in the ‘80s. He is now a mental toughness coach.

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Updated Date: Dec 09, 2017 18:40:29 IST

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