Climate change, of course, is a big talking point across the world right now. Pardon the pun, but cricket is feeling the heat too.
Cricket is a summer sport and played outdoors with many international matches played in oppressive conditions, particularly in the UAE and subcontinent. Many cricket nations are situated in areas deemed most vulnerable to the changing climate.
And it’s a game where players are attired in long-sleeved shirts, trousers, padding and a helmet with Test matches – the sport’s longest and most treasured format – lasting the equivalent of a working week.
Cricket is a sport where weather has a major factor and influences the playing surface. Conditions at any moment can dictate the balance of power in a game with sunny conditions usually more helpful for batting, while overcast and humid conditions tend to favor bowling.
Despite those innate characteristics, climate change hasn’t been much of a talking point in cricket and certainly not given much attention by the International Cricket Council (ICC), the sport’s governing body, but momentum is shifting.
A Hit for Six report released earlier this month by the University of Lord’s and University of Portsmouth found that “a full day in the crease, given the shuttle runs you’re required to make when you’re running between wickets, can be the equivalent of running a marathon”.
The dangers of heat stress was magnified last year during the Ashes in Sydney when England captain Joe Root was only able to bat an hour on day five of the fifth Test and retired unwell. He had been in the thick of stifling temperatures on day four with temperatures hitting 57.6 degrees in the middle of the Sydney Cricket Ground at one point.
Cricket Australia has introduced a heat policy which can lead to the enforcement of extra drinks breaks or even the suspension of play. But other national governing bodies have been slow off the mark.
The report advises governing bodies to develop specific “climate for cricket” action plans and recommends the setting up of an ICC global climate disaster fund.
A Game Changer report last year, published by the Climate Coalition, noted “of all the major pitch sports, cricket will be the hardest hit by climate change”.
Influential cricket figures have urged authorities to take note. “The effects of climate change on the game are a major concern, and the solutions rely on decisive action being taken by some annoyingly reticent politicians,” former Australia captain Ian Chappell wrote on ESPNcricinfo.
“For starters, drastic increases in temperature will add to the health dangers for players. There’s nothing more frustrating than a game delayed by rain, but imagine if players are off the field because the sun burns too brightly.
“That is the reality if temperatures keep rising; players will need to be protected from heat stroke or more lasting skin-cancer damage. In a litigious era, cricket boards will need to proceed with caution.”
Chappell is an advocate of day-night Test matches, believing it is “critical” for cricket’s future. Day-night Tests have become popular fixtures in Australia but suffered declining enthusiasm in other parts of the world. Mighty India are the only major Test nation who have not played in a day-night Test and their reticence has perhaps tempered widespread support of the concept.
During India’s tour of South Africa last year, the team was asked to follow restrictions – including showering for just two minutes – in Cape Town due to the city’s acute water shortage.
“There’s also the damaging effect of reduced rainfall, which has already seen one Test-match city – Cape Town – come perilously close to running out of water in recent years,” Chappell wrote. “Water is integral to the proper preparation of suitable pitches, but that, of course, will remain well down the list of priorities when compared with the life or death of citizens.”
Australian cricket legend Shane Warne, who is on the MCC World Committee, has also voiced his concern. “At times in the past, it has been hard to know who to believe, but I think we all have to admit now that climate change is a huge issue,” the former leg-spinner said.
“Before I’d seen the report I hadn’t really thought about how it would impact the game of cricket. How the risks affects local club cricket, how clubs have had their changing rooms destroyed by flooding in the UK, how the rising temperatures affect the way grass grows, was scary.
“The game has to have a plan, a strategy for how we adapt for it. It wasn’t something I’d really talked about with ex-cricketers until this year at Lord’s. I was really taken aback.”
As we have seen around the world, where it has been turned into a political football, sentiments widely vary on climate change. It will be interesting to see the response it evokes in cricket, a traditionally conservative sport.