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Review: Hit for Six - The Impact of Climate Change on Cricket

Review: Hit for Six - The Impact of Climate Change on Cricket

Last year, Pakistan experienced the highest temperature recorded in the world with Jacobabad hit an all-time high of 51°C. Back in 2015, an unprecedented heatwave in Karachi took away 2,000 lives.

The Hit for Six Report on 'the impact of climate change on cricket' is an eye-opener and especially relevant for Pakistan which is among 10 countries impacted most by climate change. The detailed study by the University of Leeds, University of Portsmouth and British Association of Sports has brought to light the devastating effects of the climate crisis on cricket, put forth recommendations, and highlighted the tepid response from cricket boards and governments in this realm.  

A similar report 'Game Changer'  noted “of all the major pitch sports, cricket will be the hardest hit by climate change and mentioned that more than a quarter of England’s home one-day internationals since 2000 have been truncated because of rain and at Glamorgan, 13,000 hours of cricket have been lost in the same time.  

The report recommends the International Cricket Council (ICC) to formulate heat rules and allow light clothing such as shorts so it increases airflow and evaporation of sweat. Moreover, it advises cricket officials at the ICC to allow an increase in the number of hydration breaks and also urges ICC to set up 'ICC global climate disaster fund' to help vulnerable regions in the event of extreme weather conditions. The report suggests governing bodies of cricket to consider testing air quality during playing time and at stadiums situated near busy roads. 

Introduce water efficiency programmes

The report stresses introducing water efficiency programmes in water-stressed countries such as Pakistan, India and South Africa to prevent future conflicts with authorities. Cricket in the subcontinent and developing world could also get a hit if water and food crisis exacerbates. According to a DAWN article by Ahmad Ahsan, who has worked for World Bank’s Disaster and Climate Resilience Improvement Project, Pakistan's excessive groundwater extraction is likely going to drop water table by 20 percent by 2025. With rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers, Pakistan could go under the critical threshold of 1,000 cubic metres per year. This means there will be less water to maintain lush green outfields as grass requires plenty of water. 

Sweltering heat hinder players to play at full potential    

The report shares many startling revelations: "A professional batsman generates the same amount of heat as a runner traveling at 8 km/hr – equivalent to a marathon over a day of batting." Imagine batting in the suffocating humid weather of Lahore these days during Quaid-e-Azam trophy with heavy pads ?— the sweltering heat hinder players to play at their full potential as a huge amount of energy is consumed in cooling down body and sweating doesn't always help in homeostasis. Amidst hot weather, a batsman wearing heavy protective gear makes thermoregulation cumbersome and could cause cognitive deterioration, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps, and other heat-related illnesses.

Lord's runs on wind-generated electricity, MCC uses solar power

Global warming isn't a hoax as US President Mr. Donald Trump once described but it is a stark reality that we all have to contend with. We saw numerous rain truncated games in this year's ICC World Cup and washouts which was an anomaly. Some members of the cricket fraternity have already taken measures to lower their carbon footprint: The iconic Lord's Cricket Ground runs fully on wind-generated electricity and Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) uses solar energy to meet its energy needs.

Joe Root retired hurt while batting in extremely hot weather in the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney in 2017-18. The temperature near the ground recorded reached 43.7°C. Spectators fun was marred by soaring temperature as they were looking for shade and battling the heat in the aisles during the gripping contest. Smog masks worn by Sri Lanka players during their December 2017 Test with India in Delhi brought the rising air pollution problem to the fore. Drought conditions in South Africa forced authorities to ask the touring West Indies side to keep their showers to no more than two minutes at Cape Town to conserve water. Limiting the use of water which has a direct impact on grass growth alters playing conditions, for instance, a change in the outfield and contours of the pitch.

In another similar incident in September 2017, Australia and India met at Eden Gardens, Kolkata in what Australia bowler Pat Cummins described as the “hottest one-day game anyone said they had played". Cummins and fellow fast bowlers Kane Richardson and Nathan Coulter-Nile left the field of play after four-over spells to cool down, while match reports indicate wicketkeeper Matthew Wade and all-rounder Hilton Cartwright required on-field medical attention. In 2017, scorching heat led to all of Sydney’s senior club games being canceled for the first time in history

Climate Change is the shift in weather patterns across the globe. A surge in global average temperature has led to warming up of the oceans and rising sea levels which increases the likelihood of flooding in overpopulated urban centers and results in unpredictable weather patterns—hurricanes, tropical cyclones, change in precipitation patterns, rapid glacier melting, erratic monsoon pattern, biodiversity loss, and scorching summers are some of the catastrophic effects. The burgeoning use of fossil fuels has led to an increase in greenhouse gases emission such as carbon dioxide which results in higher absorption of Sun's heat and that in turn warms up the Earth. Other human factors that are aggravating the global challenge include rampant deforestation, industrial activities, and air pollution.

‘What will it take – a player to collapse on the field? - Tony Irish (Head of FICA)  

Former Australian batsman turned commentator Dean Jones tweeted that cricket should not be played if temperatures exceeded 41°C. Tony Irish, head of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Association (FICA), warned authorities they needed to take the heat issue far more seriously: ‘What will it take - a player to collapse on the field? I don’t know what it’s going to take for the ICC to take action,’ he said.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc on West Indies and brought life to a standstill in 2017. These natural disasters are becoming frequent as a result of global warming. West Indies cricket is still reeling from the disastrous effects of those hurricanes as many pitches were damaged and several players left the islands. In May 2018 the Hurricane Relief T20 Challenge match took place at Lord’s Cricket Ground, London, between the West Indies and a World XI. The purpose was to raise funds to repair Ronald Webster Park in Anguilla, Dominica’s Windsor Park, and Sir Viv Richards Stadium in Antigua, which were damaged or converted to host refugees during the calamity.

Windward Islands cricketer Liam Sebastien, who was caught in Dominica when Maria hit in 2017, told 'Hit for Six' report “some playing fields are no longer of use” due to the storms, while other players have left the islands in search of work. Drawing the attention of ICC on the climate change effects, Liam said,  “they need to take a closer look - the West Indies is important to the ICC due to its global brand and the flair the players bring,”

Dehydration hinders cognitive and physical performance

Dehydration equivalent to losing just 1-5% of body mass can hinder cognitive and physical performance in the heat which could increase the likelihood of a batsman making an error of judgment and become indecisive in his shot selection and footwork. The bowler may lose track of his radar and face a drop in his speed.

The report predicts that while heat acclimatized players may be better at staying cool, and top-class batsmen will rely on good “instincts” (predictive motor programmes) that carry them through, eventually, rising body temperature without thermoregulation impacts the performance of all.

The report mentions a specific incident that took place on March 2019 when Indian water conservation charity Aam Yuva Jan Kalyan Sanstha filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal, asking the government to assess water use by the country’s flagship IPL cricket league. The charity said that in a time of drought, they are concerned about the wastage of water in the IPL matches and seeks directions to stop it.

Galle, one of the main Test venues in Sri Lanka is typically “hot, steamy and debilitating” according to Times cricket correspondent Mike Atherton. Joe McDougall described the heat in the third Test between Sri Lanka and England in Columbo December 2018 as “paralysing”. According to the Sri Lankan government “atmospheric temperature is gradually rising almost every-where in the country” while “intensity and the frequency of the extreme events such as floods and droughts have increased during recent times.” 

It's high time cricket governing bodies and governments work together to bring comprehensive reforms and shape policy by taking into account the perils of climate change on the cricket industry.