NEW DELHI: In an unprecedented turn of events, the embattled Sri Lankan cricket team today held up proceedings in the third Test against India, complaining of poor air quality and forced the hosts to declare its innings.
In a first-ever incident in the 140-year-history of Test cricket, an international team wore anti-pollution masks while fielding and then refused to continue, stopping play for 26 minutes on three occasions.
Sri Lanka's refusal forced an animated India skipper Virat Kohli to declare at 536 for 7 after some of the visiting team's substitute fielders refused to take the field.
Once an angry-looking Kohli signalled declaration to the on-field batsmen Wriddhiman Saha and Ravindra Jadeja, the Lankan players were booed by a 20,000 strong crowd, chanting ‘losers losers’ as the players from the island nation retreated to the dressing room.
Interestingly, when Indian team under Kohli took the field, none of the players wore anti-pollution masks.
According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Delhi’s air quality has been rated as ‘very poor’.
The CPCB states: "Exposure to such air for a prolonged period can trigger respiratory illness. The most dominant pollutants are PM2.5 and PM10. These are ultrafine particulates, which can measure up to 30 times finer than the width of a human hair. The concentration of PM2.5 and PM10 were 223 and 383 micrograms per cubic metre at 1 pm today afternoon. The corresponding 24-hour prescribed standards are 60 and 100."
There is a question mark on whether the match will continue on the third day as both the boards will have to sit across the table to sort out the issue. The ICC may not get into the issues pertaining to bilateral series is the prerogative of both boards.
BCCI acting president CK Khanna said, "If 20,000 people in the stands did not have a problem and the Indian team did not face any issue, I wonder why Sri Lankan team made a big fuss.
I will need to talk to the secretary and ask him to write to the Sri Lanka Cricket."
Sri Lankan players halted the proceedings thrice – between 12:32 to 12:49 for 17 minutes after which they were convinced to start proceedings.
Their pacer Lahiru Gamage, who complained of uneasiness immediately got rid of Ravichandran Ashwin in the 125th over but again felt unwell. He was taken off the field with Suranga Lakmal completing his over.
The next break happened between 1:14 and 1:19 pm when Lankan manager Asanka Gurusinha and Indian coach Ravi Shastri came out with contrasting requests.
It was the third stoppage at 1:28 pm that led Kohli to declare the innings as fielders refused to carry on.
Smog is a very common phenomenon in Delhi as farmers in the adjoining states of Punjab and Haryana burn crops during the end of October and November.
However, smog, over the years, has been prevalent during the first two weeks of November. The BCCI has never been forced to shift the venue of a Test match as the air quality improves during the month of December.