From batsmen, wicketkeepers and bowlers struggling in extreme heat to droughts and floods affecting cricket pitches, the game of glorious uncertainty now needs to adapt to climate change
Cricket, the most popular game in India, is feeling the effects of a warming planet. In September 2017, when Australia and India met at Eden Gardens in Kolkata for a one-day international game, it was so hot at 42 degrees Celsius that Aussie pacers Pat Cummins, Kane Richardson and Nathan Coulter-Nile had to leave the field to cool down after bowling spells of just four overs. Wicketkeeper Matthew Wade and all-rounder Hilton Cartwright required on-field medical attention due to the humid conditions.
The match at Eden Gardens is no longer an exception. Extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts and flooding, made more likely by climate change, have started hitting the game of cricket and a new report says that the game now needs to adjust to it.
Youth matches in Australia have been disrupted, dire water shortages have hit India’s recent tour of South Africa, many cricket matches in the UK have been washed out by flooding, and more recently in the Caribbean, the Bahamas is counting the cost of Hurricane Dorian, says Hit for Six: the Impact of Climate Change on Cricket, a report that was released today.
Documenting these impacts, the report has for the first time combined climate science with heat physiology to show how batsmen and wicketkeepers are becoming increasingly susceptible to poorer performance as heatwaves continue to turn more extreme and frequent in cricket-playing nations. On the basis of safety-related heat stress guidelines, more games may need to be postponed or rearranged to cooler times of the day, said the report produced by the University of Leeds, University of Portsmouth and British Association for Sustainable Sports (BASIS).
“Above 35 degrees Celsius, the body runs out of options to cool itself, and for batsman and wicketkeepers, even sweating has limited impact as the heavy protective cladding creates a highly humid microclimate next to their bodies,” said Mike Tipton, Professor of Human and Applied Physiology at Extreme Environments Laboratory, University of Portsmouth, and one of the report’s authors. “It’s not the average temperature increase that climate change is bringing that is worrying, but the extremes of heat combined with high humidity. Particular care must be given to young players and the grassroots of the sport where elite-level cooling facilities simply aren’t available.”
The adverse conditions are not just hitting the players by spectators and groundsmen as well. On 27 July 2018, the Marylebone Cricket Club allowed members to enter its historic pavilion at Lords without jackets due to “abnormally warm temperatures.” Two days earlier, on 25 July, India’s warm-up match with England in Essex was cut short by a day.
“This is a wake-up call not just for cricket, but for all sport,” said Russell Seymour, Chairman of BASIS and Sustainability Manager, Lord’s Cricket Ground in London.
“Scientific analysis shows specific droughts, heatwaves and storms made more likely by climate change are already impacting the game of cricket,” said Kate Sambrook of the Priestley International Centre for Climate and co-author Game Changer: How Climate Change is Impacting Sports in the UK. “The world is warming, but not equally, meaning some spots including cricket-playing nations India and Australia are seeing the mercury maximums reaching much higher than the average.”
The Hit for Six report has a host of recommendations to these changed circumstances that range from heat stress rules to hydration breaks and air pollution monitoring. Cricket equipment manufacturers should be developing helmets, gloves and pads that enhance airflow, it said.
The report also called for extra care for youth players, who by nature of their physiology are more susceptible to extreme heat.