New Delhi, Dec 4: In an unprecedented turn of events, the embattled Sri Lankan cricket team on Sunday held up play during the third Test against India, complaining of poor air quality that forced the hosts to declare their innings.
The first-ever incident of this kind in the sport's 140- year-old history saw an international team resort to anti- pollution masks while fielding and then refuse to continue, stopping play for 26 minutes over three interruptions.
Record-breaking India skipper Virat Kohli, who was dismissed for 243 after the action resumed, was forced to declare at 536 for seven as some of the visiting team's substitute fielders too refused to take the field.
The Lankan move irked the BCCI and Team India's support staff nearly called it a deliberate tactic, though the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)'s rating of the capital's air quality remained "very poor".
BCCI acting president CK Khanna said, "If 20,000 people in the stands did not have 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."
Asked about Sri Lanka's protest, India's bowling coach Bharat Arun said, "Virat batted close to two days and he didn't need a mask! We are focussed on what we need to do. The conditions are the same for both teams, we aren't too bothered about it."
As the day drew to a close, a question mark hung over the fate of the third day's play at the Feorz Shah Kotla, and both the cricket boards are expected to sit across the table to sort out the issue. The ICC may not get involved as bilateral series is prerogative of the two boards.
Once an angry-looking Kohli signalled declaration, the Lankan players were booed by the crowd who chanted 'losers losers', as the visitors retreated to the dressing room.
Interestingly when the Indian team took the field, none of the players wore anti-pollution masks.
Sri Lanka's interim coach Nic Pothas cited the health issues that their players faced, saying match referee David Boon found Suranga Lakmal and Dhananjaya De Silva vomiting inside the dressing room.
"Gamage and Suranga Lakmal were struggling. The match referee was in our change room as well as the doctor. The poor guy (Lakmal) was continuously vomiting. Dhananjaya de Silva was also vomiting. It's tough and you rely on doctors to give you advice, because we aren't medical people," Pothas said.
He said that whether they will play tomorrow will be decided by the match officials.
Earlier in the day, the CPCB, the body that measures air pollution, had stated: "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 1pm today afternoon. The corresponding 24-hour prescribed standards are 60 and 100."
Sri Lankan players halted the proceedings thrice first between 12:32 to 12:49 for 17 minutes - after which they were convinced to resume playing. Gamage, who had complained of uneasiness, immediately got rid of Ravichandran Ashwin in the 125th over but again felt unwell. He was taken off the field with 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 the 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.