It's not just the Windies who faced the heat following the below-par performances in the Test series. The Indian players faced it too, well literally. The post-match presentation comments from captain Virat Kohli, when asked about the excellent over rates, gave an inkling that the players are not happy with the International Cricket Council (ICC) clamping down on unscheduled water breaks.
With the temperatures soaring to almost 40 degrees on all three days of the Rajkot Test, the umpires kept the players under constant vigil when it came to unscheduled water breaks.
"That was a bit to do with the umpires pushing us as well, with these new rules coming in of not drinking too much water," Kohli said in the post-match presentation when asked of improved over rates. "These things should be considered according to the conditions we play in."
Some important ICC rules for drinks intervals state:
1) Each drinks interval shall be kept as short as possible and in any case shall not exceed 4 minutes.
2) There shall be one drinks interval during each session of play, scheduled at the mid-point of the session.
3) Under conditions of extreme heat the umpires may permit extra intervals for drinks during each session.
4) An individual player may be given a drink either on the boundary edge or at the fall of a wicket, on the field, provided that no playing time is wasted. No other drinks shall be taken onto the field without the permission of the umpires.
While there is no rule change as such, unlike what Kohli mentioned in the presentation, the ICC has reminded the umpires to ensure that there are no additional breaks in order to make sure the teams achieve the 15 overs per hour target. The rule does state that under extreme conditions of heat, the umpires may permit extra intervals for drinks, but Kohli's comments gave a feeling that the conditions were not taken into account by the umpires. Cheteshwar Pujara was seen gulping a sip from a small water bottle which he was carrying in his pocket to beat Rajkot's rising mercury levels.
"The guys really struggled in this game because of those few changes," Kohli continued. "It was quite difficult for the guys not to drink water for close to 40-45 minutes while batting and on the field as well. I'm sure they'll look into this considering the conditions in which we are playing in."
India achieved an over rate close to 17 overs per hour on days two and three of the first Test. However, instead of basking in appreciation, Kohli answered Sanjay Manjrekar’s question in the presentation ceremony with a sheepish smile before raising the intensity in his answer. And this, in fact, raises a lot of questions.
The first one being, is Kohli right in demanding extra water breaks?
"If he (Kohli) is demanding that extra break, there has to be some merit in it," former India cricketer Balwinder Sandhu tells Firstpost. "In extreme climate, like 40-degree temperature, do you expect people to die on the ground of dehydration? Only then people will start waking up? Due to extreme heat, when people get dehydrated and get hospitalised, only then things will start moving? Why can't we have a look into that? Only in extreme conditions, not every time."
Sandhu does bring up a crucial point. With extreme conditions, comes the issue of health hazards. Earlier this year, in January, England captain Joe Root had to be hospitalised with severe dehydration, trying to save the match for England at the SCG on the hottest day in Sydney for nearly 80 years. Record-breaking temperatures were measured and a heat stress device by the pitch registered 57.6 degrees. After that incident, The Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA) criticised the ICC for lack of policy of playing in the excessive heat.
The story of Dean Jones' heroic 210 in the famous tied Test at the Chepauk cauldron never gets too old. Battling extreme dehydration, Jones was involuntarily urinating and vomiting after losing control of his bodily functions at the crease. Later, he had to be put on a saline drip.
Last year, Australia batsman Peter Handscomb lost a staggering 4.5 kgs in approximately two hours at the crease in the Chittagong heat. Even the umpires have fallen prey to the heat. A couple of years ago, Australian umpire Sam Nogajski was hospitalised during a Ranji Trophy match between Mumbai and Uttar Pradesh in Mysuru after suffering dehydration.
Compared to other sports, cricket has got longevity and is played over a whole day over five long days, so the hydration and dehydration aspect becomes very important as it has a direct impact on the performance.
"Even one percent of dehydration can result in a lot of cognitive impairment into your body," former India and current Mumbai Indians physio Nitin Patel explains.
Patel remembers a "cognitive study" conducted on two groups of people to ascertain the effects of dehydration. As part of this research, one group of people was given water and the other wasn't, and they were rated on certain mental parameters. Next day, the groups were swapped and readings recorded. Not surprisingly, a huge difference in results was observed.
"The group which is deprived of water, their mental functioning goes down," says Patel. "So in a game like cricket, if someone is playing in extreme conditions, even if they are dehydrated to a very little extent, they have to still face a ball which is moving quite fast off the pitch with all those reflexes will also decrease. So the cognitive factor will decrease."
If a player is not hydrated well, the brain function, reflexes, decision-making, running between the wickets, and speed diminishes considerably. Besides, there's the lingering threat of a heat stroke. And it’s not just about the heat; humidity and stress levels of the game also contribute to fluid loss. The ramifications are not just limited to that particular day, there is a fear of long-term damage.
"If someone is badly cramping in the leg and unfortunately he pulls up a muscle while running between the wickets, then it's not just about that match, that injury could also take him out of action for the next two or three matches," explains Niranjan Pandit, an is assistant physio with Rajasthan Royals. "In the whole bargain of not taking that call of giving him that break, he ends up getting out of action for a significant period. So it's not a happy situation for the team and the player as well."
While the debate rages, former players like Sunil Gavaskar and Sanjay Manjrekar have been vocal in their support of maintaining over rates.
On Day 1 of the second Test in Hyderabad, the umpires too were spotted having a sip along with the players, 45 minutes into the final session.
"There is a drinks interval after every hour. You can make it every 45 minutes on a hot day," Gavaskar said on air. "But if that is what the rules are then they have to be observed.
"If the drinks interval is after every hour, they really should be after every hour. There should be no hold up in play," Gavaskar went on.
The Indian batting legend further said that cricket is also a game of "stamina as well, not just skill and temperament."
Patel agrees with Gavaskar's views, but cautions against the deteriorating climatic conditions.
"Yes, Sunny bhai is right that cricket is a game of stamina. But now that the climatic conditions are changing significantly, and with global warming and everything coming in, the heat and climatic factors are so inhuman to sustain for that five days and to execute or to have that type of stamina over that period. Yes, it is a game of stamina but obviously one has to be considerate about the climatic factors as well."
So can sufficient hydration before the game help? Unlike in the past, the players are well aware of the hydration strategies. They know their bodies as well as the recovery methodologies. However, no matter how much you hydrate off the field, on-field hydration is crucial.
"If you are out on the field for six hours, whatever you have lost, you can't say I will replenish it in the seventh to the 24th hour and then come back again,” explains Patel. “You have to have a strategy to replenish it whilst it is going because even if you replenish it after the third hour, the mental functioning has gone down for the first three hours, so that's a clear disadvantage and also, one can hydrate to a certain extent before the game but then that will also result into more pee breaks, discomfort during they play, some players do not like their bladders full during the play so all those factors have to be considered in."
One of the reasons behind the extra emphasis on over-rate emanates from the fact that in past, teams have employed time-wasting tactics for their benefit. And this is where the on-field umpire's role comes under the spotlight.
Former international umpire AV Jayaprakash feels that no matter what, the umpires should have the final say.
"Once you give a little bit leverage, the players always demand. But it is up to the umpires to give it or not," Jayaprakash says.
"If there is a break every 10 minutes, then there is no rule followed. Everybody gets frustrated, even the spectators and people who are involved in the game. Though the matches are getting over in three or four days and it might be at the back of the mind of the captains that anyway, the match is getting over early what is the point in denying it, that is not correct. I think the umpires are right in this. Players may say anything but ultimately it's the umpire's decision.”
Jayaprakash is of the opinion that uniformity in decision-making for both the teams is paramount. "If they had given more water breaks to the West Indies team and less to the Indians then I can say yes, it's not correct. But they have looked at it uniformly, so I don't see any problem."
Sandhu's reaction is typically aggressive.
"Are they paid to just stand there and do nothing. It's their responsibility to know whether the players are there to waste time or are they actually dehydrated and need water. So they have to take a call and they have to be strict when somebody is trying to waste time."
Niranjan Pandit, however, is of opinion that a little leniency can help.
"There should be a discretion according to the venue and the time the batsman has spent in the middle and the phase the player has been in the game. These perspectives have to be given consideration. There should a little leniency there. Health would come above any rule for me," says Pandit who has worked with MCA and BCCI on various assignments in the past.
This also brings us to the point where we ask, should the rules be different for different venues?
"When ICC makes the rules, it need not apply everywhere," says former first-class cricketer Amol Muzumdar who, in his 20-year long career, played in different conditions across the country.
"Maybe, it can apply in places like Australia, England, South Africa or places like that like New Zealand where you don't need water breaks. But in India, in October if you come and play a Test, ODI or T20, it is sapping, boss! It is not easy for a player to focus or to stay to the best of his playing ability. So I think it is important for the people to judge the on ground conditions and then work accordingly. You can't be saying that what applies in Hamilton can apply in Rajkot.
"When you play in India, sometimes, you end up playing in conditions which sometimes are inhuman. I played in one Ranji Trophy final I remember at Wankhede of the old which was a furnace. We played the final in the first week of May, it was unbelievable. I honestly felt someone might have a heat stroke, it was that bad. It depends on ground conditions. You can't just have one set of rules."
If the external factors are unpredictable and can't be controlled, is the over-rate factor controllable?
"When it is about the over rate, it is about the time we take to change and the time you take to bowl every single delivery," explains Muzumdar. "That is the concern. That should be the talking point, not the drinks break, the drinks break is just a getaway thing from the real problem. The real problem is the turnover, the changeover between two overs, it has to happen quickly or between the deliveries, if you cut short that by 15 seconds, you will bowl the over quickly."
And this is where the captain's role becomes important.
"When I was playing for Mumbai, I made a rule and made the players aware that the ball needs to go back early to the bowler," Muzumdar explains. "A bowler goes to his mark, then he waits, then he turns, somebody throws the ball to him, then he shines and then he starts off, that's extra 7-8 seconds. Every ball you save those 7-8 seconds you have saved about 40 seconds in an over, which is almost more than half a minute."
Sandhu believes that in extremely hot conditions, it's the spinners who bowl more than the pacers, and thus the question of maintaining over rate doesn't arise. In fact, he reckons that the extra break could bring in more money.
"The extra water break will also help the TV guys, so if it is a 3 or 5 min break, the TV guys will get more time to make money."
One option could be carrying small bottles in the pocket like Pujara, but that's hardly a permanent solution.
— BCCI (@BCCI) October 4, 2018
While Jayaprakash spoke about uniformity in decision-making earlier, it also brings up another question: Isn't the fielding side at an advantage considering the fact that the players can swap places and hydrate at the fence with bottles placed and support staff assisting?
"The bowler also shouldn't get it, if it applies to the batsmen, it should apply to the bowler as well," says Muzumdar. "You don't allow them to go inside (in the dressing room) also after four overs. You can't allow them, they can't go in and come back again fresh. It applies to everyone then."
There is an argument to both sides. Yes, the over rates and getting on with the game are important considerations, but so is health. There are a lot of questions unanswered. How do you define extreme heat? Where do you draw a line? What is paramount, players' health or over rates? Other sports like tennis and football have already realised the seriousness of the issue and started taking the necessary steps. There are a lot of grey areas when it comes to the ICC rules and a collective effort in arriving at a conclusion might be in the best interest of the game. There are a lot of questions. Perhaps the ICC should start trying to provide some more concrete answers.