By Amlan Chakraborty
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Asthmatic Bangladesh cricketers remained indoors while Sri Lankan players wore masks as poor air quality in smog-shrouded New Delhi remained the talking point ahead of Monday’s World Cup clash between the two nations.
Both teams had already cancelled one practice session in the build up to the match between eliminated Bangladesh and seventh-placed Sri Lanka, who have only the slimmest of chances of reaching the last four.
While the sun did peep out around noon on Sunday, the filthy air prompted the Delhi government to extend the closure of primary schools until Nov. 10, while online learning has been suggested for other classes.
Delhi’s air quality index (AQI) read an alarming 460 on Sunday and Sri Lanka coach Chandika Hathurusinghe said they were trying to minimise exposing their players to such conditions ahead of the match.
An AQI of 0-50 is considered good while anything between 400-500 affects healthy people and is considered a danger to those with existing diseases.
“Our doctor is keeping a close eye on the players,” Hathurusinghe told reporters on Sunday.
“Some of the players didn’t turn up for practice as they are asthmatic, so they stayed indoors.
“Even for practice, we’re very conscious. We train what we have to train, and then go back into the dressing room. They don’t spend time outdoor unless they’re bowling or batting.”
The Indian cricket board has banned use of fireworks in post-match celebration and would hope Monday’s match, last in Delhi, gets over without any drama.
The governing International Cricket Council (ICC) said it was monitoring the situation in New Delhi.
“It’s not ideal, but we have no choice. We have to play in the condition in front of us,” Hathurusinghe said.
Fast bowlers will find it particularly difficult to produce their best in such conditions but Hathurusinghe denied it would influence Bangladesh’s team combination.
“Team selection won’t depend on air quality. It depends on the condition and the opposition and our strength,” he said.
Asked if he thought Delhi was fit to host cricket matches at this time of the year, the coach evaded a direct answer by saying he was not “a qualified person” to give a verdict.
Most of the Sri Lankan players wore masks when they arrived at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in the afternoon.
Skipper Kusal Mendis said they would go by doctor’s advice but team manager Mahinda Halangoda denied the 1996 champions had requested the ICC shift the match to another venue.
“We didn’t make a request to change… We just asked them what’s the plan,” Halangoda told reporters.
“I think they have installed some equipment here, and they’ve got specialists to check (the air quality)…
“They have already informed us that they are planning to go ahead. So we will do exactly what the ICC actually tells us to do.”
(This story has been corrected to clarify that it was Sri Lanka’s manager, who denied that they had requested change of venue, in paragraph 16)
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by David Goodman and Pritha Sarkar)