Cricket in the time of pulmonary disintegration

Soumya Sarkar wears an anti-pollution mask at training PTI

So you think you are smart? You think it's a no-brainer. Delhi gets one international fixture in two years, and the one thing you want to do is not make it the first international match in India after Diwali. You think it is elementary.

For those uninitiated, the weeks after Diwali - because of the pollution from the fireworks and crop-stubble burning in the neighbouring states of land-locked Delhi - are a health emergency. The summary of the health advisory given out is: do not indulge in strenuous athletic activity lest it causes irreversible damage to lungs.

A Test was interrupted two years ago with players getting sick on the field and throwing up. The annual Delhi half-marathon had been moved to before Diwali. Many a former cricketer - and others who can afford to - has moved out of the city for a healthier life. From the moment they have landed, the Bangladesh players have complained of burning eyes and sore throats.

Surely by now you want to ring up the BCCI, and talk to them really slow so that they can understand. Maybe use visual medium and illustrations, you know, just in case they don't really get it.

You want to tell them that November 3 is literally the first Sunday after Diwali, that there was one month before November and there will be three months after December in which to play cricket in Delhi, that it is easy to avoid such a grave risk to the health of such promising young men and the many kids who will think it is okay to go out and play.

At the least, you want the boards to give players an option to not travel to Delhi, just like players are given when touring countries that are considered terror threats. Of course you will try to show off your intelligence by countering BCCI's arguments of rotation policy with common-sense solutions based on the lessons learnt from the Test two years ago. You want to drop fancy terms such as "duty of care".

If you think Indian cricket is daft enough to not know something so obvious, dear reader, the joke is on you. Of course they know it is tough to play in such conditions. But they also know that Indian cricketers are better used to such bad air than any other cricketing nation.

Even Bangladesh, the most polluted cricketing country outside India and Pakistan, is not used to such levels of pollution. They just walked in from an AQI of 107 in Dhaka - yes I know, dear reader, you have ridiculed Dhaka's pollution in the past - to 477 in Delhi.

These readings - at 2pm two days before the match - are a jump from merely "unhealthy for sensitive groups" to "hazardous". Can you imagine the advantage that can be gained by sticking visitors into this hellhole knowing that you already have an experience of it?

India's batting coach Vikram Rathour scoffed at a journalist who asked about any precautions the side might be taking. "You are asking the wrong person," Rathour said. "I have played in north Indian winters all my life."

That's it. This must be strategic. This must be India going full elite-era Australia; to the sledging and ugly send-offs, we add this welcome to opponents. You're smart. I don't need to tell you what happens if Australia start a series in, say, Adelaide and not the Gabba and don't do well. Big, bad, moustachioed fast bowlers tell the suited sellouts at CA to go back to the Gabba as the first Test. Set the tone at the hot, humid, bouncy, quick, seaming Gabba, where their batsmen are better acclimatised to the humidity.

Imagine if India had a venue where they could have a series-starter to demoralise the opposition. To literally choke them. Of course Bangladesh are doing it to themselves what with strikes and unreported bookie approaches, but just like the day-night Test, this is the perfect opposition to try it out against. Imagine if Bangladesh are struggling, how will those sides used to breathing clean air cope? Roll out the Killer Kotla already as India's response to the Gabbatoir.

Yes it is a small sacrifice in that even the Indian players' health is at risk, but the fruits will be reaped later in the series. No player shall be given the option to pull out. Training sessions shall carry on out in the open even though there are many matches when training is skipped in perfect conditions. No mask shall be worn. Our strength lies in the perception of our strength. Bhaad mein jaye duty of care. To hell with the duty of care. Bhaad mein jaye air. We can play in any air. We will take air out of the equation.

Australia's captain Steve Waugh once upon a time sought to get the better of the opposition through mental disintegration. India shall, through series openers scheduled in Delhi's toxic air, introduce pulmonary disintegration to the game. If you feel uncomfortable, dear reader, you are just jealous of India and Indian cricket.