Climate Change: The Bouncer Cricket can’t Duck

By Manu Nair

Cricket is the second most followed sport in the world. In India, it is not just a sport, but an emotion that brings everyone together as one nation. However, on a distinct note, many sports including cricket have been contributing to environmental degradation (especially through waste generation) and to climate change. It is no surprise that climate change will affect sports. The Sports for Climate Action Framework under the UNFCCC has recognised unseasonal rainfall forcing cancellation or abandonment of sport matches, and increased injuries to players from heat exhaustion and impact injuries from harder playing surfaces as impacts of climate change. In addition to the physical impact, all these impacts have potentially significant financial repercussions and logistical impacts. Such are not projections; they are real impacts and continue to happen all over the world and in sports. This short piece will look into how unpredictable weather or how change in climate has been negatively affecting the game of cricket. While this is only a speck of an issue considering the dangers climate changes poses, this is also something that can’t be ignored.  

Weather has always played a very important role and affects the field of play (the pitch) in cricket. It affects the batting conditions, the way the ball moves, the choice of players on the field, the way the game is played, etc.. Weather usually determines the balance of power in a game with sunny conditions typically more beneficial for batting at any moment, while overcast and humid conditions appear to support bowling. The Game Changer Report in 2018 by the Climate Change Coalition and Priestley International Center for Climate states that, “Of all the major pitch sports, cricket will be hardest hit by climate change”.

The first real exhibition of the effects of climate change on cricket’s ecosystem was seen during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup (2019). England had received just 2 mm of rain in June in 2018 but the south-east of England experienced over 100 mm drops in 24 hours alone. “This is extremely unseasonable weather” said David Richardson, the CEO of  the International Cricket Council (ICC) in its press release regarding the incessant rain during the CWC (2019). On the financial front, the first three world cup matches that were washed out due to rain is said to have cost Indian insurance companies something in between Rs. 150 -180 crores. The latest victim of match abandonment due to wet pitch after rain delayed the match in India (Guwahati) was the opening T20 Match between India and Sri Lanka on Jan 5, 2020. January is considered to be the month with least rainfall in Guwahati and with average precipitation of 0.2 mm. It rained around 7.1mm (>7.6mm is considered heavy rain) on the day of the match, but the weather report suggested only scattered showers. While it cannot be concluded that such individual occurrence can be attributed to climate change alone, what needs to be understood is the fact that such occurrences will become more common in the future.

Droughts and water shortages are unfortunate consequences of reduced rainfall. Water is integral in preparing suitable pitches based on weather of the place. Due to the acute water shortage in Cape Town, South Africa, the Indian National Cricket team on tour were asked not to take a shower for more than two minutes. Indian Premier League (IPL) matches in 2016 had to be relocated from Maharashtra pursuant to an order of its High Court due to the prevalent drought conditions and water shortage. Clearly, watering the pitch cannot be considered a priority when people’s lives are at stake. 

Source: Sujjad Hussain/ AFP

At the domestic level in India, a total of 2036 domestic games were supposed to be played in the 2019-2020 season across various age groups in the men’s and women’s category between August 2019 to March 2020. There is so much at stake and so many people involved in the process. Unpredictable weather will not only put these matches at risk but also have a negative financial impact. With monsoons becoming more erratic in India, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) needs to take a more scientific approach while scheduling matches. This was very evident when BCCI had to rework the schedule of the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2019 twice, since more than half the matches that were supposed to be conducted on the first three days were suspended due to rain.

The changing climate is bound to affect the performance of the players on the field. The extreme heat due to global warming will put the health of players at risk. This can be especially dangerous in case of test matches which are played over a period of 5 days. The players, especially batsmen and wicketkeepers with their knee and elbow pads and helmets on will be impacted more than others. In such attires, there is no way for their body to cool down. Players risk being dehydrated or suffer from a heat stroke. The warm up match between Indian Team and county side Essex (before a test series against England in 2018) was cut short by a day due to extreme heat.

The Hit for Six report by the British Association for Sustainable Sport, University of Leeds and University of Portsmouth recommended formulation of heat rules, hydration breaks, change of clothing (shorts, kits with enhanced air flow) and specific guidelines for young players in the context of a changing climate. Australian Cricket (AC) has done a commendable job by introduction of a Heat Policy in 2018. A Heat Stress Risk Index (HSRI) has been conceptualised, based on which match officials can decide on an extended drinks break or suspension of play until the situation gets better. Extreme Heat Guidelines of 2014 on the other hand provides guidelines for playing cricket in extreme heat conditions. These guidelines take into consideration not just the players and match officials but also the AC staff, volunteers, contractors and spectators. ICC was criticised for not having a policy on conducting play in heat, especially after Joe Root, England Skipper was taken to hospital during the Sydney Test of 2018 (having played at temperatures of 43.7C) retiring hurt with a combination of dehydration and a gastro-intestinal bug. There is a dire need for such policy in India as well considering the vulnerability of India to extreme climate conditions.

Given these inherent features, climate change has not been much of a talk topic in cricket and definitely not given sufficient consideration by the sport’s governing body, the ICC or the BCCI in India. Indians almost always have matches to watch throughout the year, either domestic or international cricket. Weather events or its consequences have now shrunk the window of opportunity for matches to be conducted in India, much to the dismay of the masses. But these alarms can be considered as a wake up call to make the shift towards sustainability. BCCI’s agreement with UNEP in 2018 towards ensuring “green cricket” is a step in the right direction. In a country like India, where cricket is considered a pseudo religion; it is one among the many excellent choices to lead the fight against climate change. The game as well as the cricketers have the potential to influence the masses to make a move towards a low carbon future not just for themselves but for the game they love.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

MANU NAIR

Manu, a lawyer, considers himself jack of all trades. Gave up a high-paying job at a reputed law firm to work on his passion(IPR and Sports law). Playing any sport, especially football is food for his soul. 

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