Players suffering like this due to pollution not normal – Pothas
Sri Lanka’s interim coach Nic Pothas speaks about the difficulties his players faced after being affected by pollution on the second day of the Delhi Test
There were players vomiting inside the Sri Lanka dressing room. There were “oxygen things” used. Eventually they were reduced to only 10 fit and able cricketers who could go out and field in the Delhi pollution when Virat Kohli declared India’s innings closed on 536 in order to “get on with the game”. India felt the stoppages in play, when the Sri Lankan medical staff looked after their players and match officials deliberated, were unnecessary and unfair.
It was a bizarre day’s cricket, played in the notoriously poor air of Delhi. After lunch, with Kohli set to give a maiden triple-century a fair go, and with India’s sights set on a mammoth total, at least five of Sri Lanka’s fielders came out wearing masks. About 20 minutes into the session, fast bowler Lahiru Gamage complained of respiratory problems, which resulted in a 17-minute stoppage. In the next hour, there were more complaints. When Suranga Lakmal went off the field to vomit inside the dressing room, Kohli, who was dismissed on 243 during this stop-start period, declared the innings closed. It was only 127.5 overs old.
Prior to that, India coach Ravi Shastri had come out and seemed to have a stern word with the umpires. “Ravi was pretty simple,” bowling coach B Arun said at the end of the day’s play. “He said. ‘Please get on with the game, don’t stop, you don’t need to stop. You take a decision, and just get on with the game.’
“I think the umpires and the match referee, they have a job on hand and it’s not up to the players to go and protest. They know what they are doing. When the play was unnecessarily being stopped, we just wanted to get on with the game because our focus is to win this Test match.”
Asked if, as a fast bowler himself, he felt any sympathy for the Sri Lankan seamers who were ill, Arun said: “Why should we? We are focused on what we have to do, and what we need to do in the Test match. I don’t think we need to be thinking about what the opposition does. It’s their lookout, and their problem to keep their bowlers fit.”
That was not the only dig at the Sri Lanka players. “Virat batted close to two days, he didn’t need a mask,” Arun said. “We are focussed on what we need to do, what we need to achieve as a team. The conditions are the same for both teams, we aren’t too bothered about it.”
When asked if a review was needed when it comes to playing in Delhi, because the air quality is not great for athletic activity, Arun said: “I think pollution is everywhere in our country. We are not too worried about the pollution. The BCCI schedules these matches, and our job is to go out and play and get the best out of our team. Focus is more on that.” Incidentally, Arun was the coach of the Hyderabad side last year, when their Ranji Trophy match against Tripura was called off due to heavy smog, along with the match between Bengal and Gujarat. The air quality was much worse at that point. On Sunday, Kuldeep Yadav, India’s 12th man, wore a mask when he came on to the field with drinks in the first session. This was even before the first drinks break, when physio Patrick Farhart came on to check on Kohli’s back.
Arun didn’t expressly say that Sri Lanka held the game up in order to break the rhythm of India’s batsmen, but he didn’t deny that the stoppages might have resulted in it. That was the farthest thing on Sri Lanka’s minds, according to coach Nic Pothas. They were more worried about the safety of their players.
“It is well documented that Delhi has high levels of pollution,” Pothas said. “They had got extremely high at one point, we had players coming off the field and vomiting. There were oxygen things in the dressing room. It is not normal for players to suffer in that way while playing the game. From our point of view, it has to be stated that it is a very very unique case.
“I thought all the officials, the match referee and others handled the situation very well. When it is a new situation for everybody, it is not easy to make decisions. I feel for the umpires, and I feel for the match referee. It’s not easy but the job of myself and the manager is to make sure that the players are safe. That’s all what we were trying to do.”
Apart from Lakmal and Gamage, Dhananjaya de Silva vomited. “The bowlers obviously were struggling,” Pothas said. “Suranga and Lahiru were struggling. The match referee was in our change room and the doctors, and Suranga, poor guy, was just continuously vomiting. Doctors were in there as well. Dhananjaya de Silva was vomiting. It was tough.”
Pothas himself had to go out to discuss matters with Dinesh Chandimal as they were left with only 10 players to put on the park. Trainer Nick Lee had changed into whites when Kohli did declare. Pothas clarified, though, that they never asked for play to be stopped but wanted clarity from the officials regarding players’ safety.
“We are here to play cricket,” Pothas said. “Under most circumstances we wanted to play cricket. This wasn’t a case of us wanting to stop. We just wanted to have some clarity on the safety of players. You could see the two fast bowlers fast bowling is a high-intensity activity. The two guys were struggling. When it becomes unsafe that is when the conversation started. The safety of the players is of paramount importance.”
The final decision regarding player safety rests with the ICC. An exchange between the ICC and the officials is expected overnight. “That (future course of action) is in the hands of match referee and umpires, and I am sure they will have meetings tonight and try and put together some sort of precedent if that happens tomorrow again.”
Asked if he would personally like to see a precedent being set, Pothas stayed non-committal. “It is an abnormal case,” he said. “I will leave that with the ICC. The match referee and the umpires will file a report, and it will go back to the ICC. Our job is to play cricket.”
Pothas also refused to comment on the crowd’s reaction – they booed Sri Lanka and chanted “loser, loser” – or the appearance that India were less than understanding of their plight.