Cricket’s Climate Conundrum: A Battle with South Asia’s Challenging Climate

As the world unites in anticipation for the ongoing Cricket World Cup, a subtle but increasingly significant player has entered the field -climate change. Recent scenario of rising temperatures in South Asia, paints a worrying picture of how shifts in weather patterns and the relentless march of global warming are influencing the game of cricket on multiple fronts. South Asia, a cricketing powerhouse, has experienced a notable increase in average temperatures in recent years. Rising temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) were recorded in monitoring stations in parts of India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Laos last month — which was unusually high for the time of year.

According to a World Bank report, annual average temperatures in the region are projected to increase between 1.5 and 3°C by 2050 relative to 1981-2010 .This warming trend has not only disrupted the traditional cricketing calendar but also raised concerns about the well-being of players as they grapple with sweltering conditions. The impact of climate change extends beyond just rising temperatures. Extreme weather interruptions, such as unseasonal rain showers and intense heat waves, have become more frequent, making the scheduling of matches and tournament logistics an increasingly challenging task for cricketing authorities. 

According to the “Game Changer” report published in 2018 by the Climate Coalition, analysis revealed that approximately 27% of England’s home one-day internationals played since 2000 faced shortened overs due to rain disruptions. Furthermore, the study indicated that the frequency of rain-affected matches more than doubled since 2011, with a 5% abandonment rate.  A 2019 study by The British Association for Sustainable Sport (BASIS) emphasized the vulnerability of cricket to climate change, particularly affecting Test-playing nations in South Asia, Australia, and the Caribbean. It noted that conditions like a hot, still, sunny day with 30°C temperature and 35% humidity could potentially push players beyond recommended safety limits for continuous exercise, as per the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines.

What’s the Impact of South Asia’s Extreme Climate Events on Cricket?

Cricket finds its strongest support in the South Asian countries which unfortunately are also among the regions most susceptible to the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme heat, rain, flooding, drought, hurricanes, wildfires, and rising sea levels due to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Developed cricketing nations like England and Australia have not been immune to the impacts either, experiencing more frequent, prolonged, and intense heat waves.

In the past year, the T20 World Cup narrowly escaped the brunt of severe weather conditions that caused extensive flooding in Australia. The recent IPL final was almost canceled due to unexpected heavy rains in Ahmedabad, of all places.Since the initiation of the Asia Cup in August, more time has been spent checking weather updates than actually watching cricket. Out of the ten warm-up matches for this World Cup, four were canceled due to unseasonal rain. For a tournament already plagued by issues such as delayed schedule announcements, ticket sales, and visa problems, the last thing it needs is rainfall during the main event.

As per a report from 2019 concerning cricket and its interaction with climate change, a professional batsman engaged in play for an entire day can produce heat equivalent to that generated by running a marathon. The difference lies in how these two activities manage heat: marathon runners can cool off with shorts and singlets, while cricketers, due to their gear like pads, gloves, and helmets, find it more challenging to evaporate sweat, particularly in hot and humid conditions where shade is often scarce. Moreover, Cricket is a sport where weather plays a pivotal role, significantly impacting the playing conditions. The prevailing weather conditions can often dictate the equilibrium of power within a match, with sunny weather typically favoring batting and overcast, humid conditions tilting the advantage toward bowlers.

Case Stories
  • In July of the previous year, a record-breaking two-day heatwave gripped the UK during a one-day international match between England and South Africa at Chester-le-Street in northeast England, with temperatures soaring to 38°C. In response to the extreme heat, players were provided with ice towels and more frequent drinks breaks. Nevertheless, the high temperatures took a toll, leading England bowler Matthew Potts to leave the field after just eight overs, citing the adverse effects of the heat. Some spectators were reported to have fainted or required medical attention.
  • During the 2018 Sydney Ashes Test, a heat-index tracker registered a staggering 57.6°C at one point. England batsman Joe Root was hospitalized at the end of the grueling five-day contest due to severe dehydration, gastrointestinal problems, and heat-related stress.
  • Going back to 2017, during a Test match in New Delhi, Sri Lankan players were compelled to wear masks and had oxygen canisters on standby in the dressing room due to severe air pollution. The grim conditions caused some players to vomit on the field.
  • In 2018, when India’s cricket team visited Cape Town, they were asked to take short two-minute showers. This water conservation measure was necessary due to a prolonged drought in the area, which even led to the cancellation of local club and school cricket events.
How Have Cricketing Nations Responded to Climate Change with Initiatives and Actions?

Australia’s Climate Initiatives in Cricket

Australia, a nation acutely aware of the impact of climate change, has implemented a heat policy to combat extreme heat during cricket matches. This policy allows for additional drinks breaks and the possibility of suspending play. While Australia has been proactive, it’s crucial to note that not all national cricket governing bodies have been as forward-thinking in this regard.

Australian Test captain Pat Cummins has demonstrated leadership by rallying male and female cricket players to address climate change. The initiative aims to begin with the nation’s 4,000 local clubs, underlining the role of athletes in championing environmental causes.

England Cricket Board’s (ECB) Sustainability Commitment

The ECB is dedicated to sustainability and has established a £5 million ECB Maintenance Fund to support environmentally conscious projects. This fund is directed towards initiatives like LED lighting installation, energy efficiency improvements, and rainwater harvesting systems at cricket grounds, emphasizing the board’s commitment to sustainable practices.

Sustainability Initiatives at Cricket Clubs and Venues

Cricket clubs and venues are also taking substantial steps towards sustainability. Iconic venues like Lord’s in London have set the pace by adopting 100% renewable electricity, reducing their annual carbon footprint from utilities by 80%. Additionally, venues such as The Oval in London and Edgbaston in Birmingham have ambitious plans to operate as net-zero venues by 2030, combining renewable electricity, waste reduction, and single-use plastic elimination.

Sustainable Innovations in Cricket Grounds

Cricket grounds are not lagging behind in the sustainability race. For instance, Gloucestershire’s Bristol ground boasts 13 EV charging points, 125 bike racks, an Allett C34E Evolution battery-powered mower, and 31 solar panels on the pavilion roof, all powered by renewable sources. These innovations are a testament to the cricketing community’s commitment to sustainable practices.

The BCCI’s Commitment to Green Operations

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has taken significant strides toward sustainability. It signed a letter of intent with the United Nations to green its operations. In the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Royal Challengers Bangalore have emerged as pioneers by claiming to be the world’s first carbon-positive cricket team. They power their stadium using solar panels and actively encourage fans to use public transportation.

Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) are making eco-conscious changes in their operations. This includes adopting recycled paper flags, reducing plastic handouts, and running the ‘Plant a 6’ initiative during the IPL season, where saplings are planted for every six hit at Eden Gardens. These measures align with KKR’s commitment to environmental sustainability in cricket.

Cricket’s Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategies

The British Association for Sustainable Sport (BASIS) recommended mitigating the effects of climate change through a few measures- Implementing heat rules-

  • Implement heat rules: Cricket organizations must follow Cricket Australia’s lead in adopting guidelines to ensure player, umpire, and spectator safety in the face of rising global temperatures.
  • Include hydration breaks: Integrate more hydration and cooling breaks into match schedules when Wet Bulb Globe Temperature exceeds 25°C, with mandatory provisions for water, hydration liquids, and cooling facilities, particularly in hot climates.
  • Youth player guidelines: Recognize the challenges young players face in regulating their body temperatures and launch monitoring programs to assess their health and climatic conditions (WBGT) during hot and humid conditions.
  • Player testing for heat resilience: Elite cricket boards should consider testing players’ ability to perform in hot conditions and establish new heat-resilience criteria for selections. Implement heat acclimatization programs and consider longer tours for better adaptation.
  • Allow shorts and cooling gear: Consider permitting players to wear shorts when WBGT exceeds 25°C and encourage equipment manufacturers to test and develop gear that enhances airflow and keeps players cool.
  • Monitor participation levels: Collect data on global cricket participation across all levels, with a focus on climate-vulnerable regions prone to intense heat, extreme storms, and erratic rainfall.
  • Manage political risks: As access to water becomes contested due to climate impacts, cricket organizations should engage in water efficiency programs to prevent conflicts in water-scarce regions.
  • Raise air pollution awareness: Acknowledge the health threat of air pollution and consider monitoring air quality at cricket venues, particularly those near busy roads, which can impact players’ health, especially youth teams.
  • Evaluate infrastructure: Review infrastructure to address sea level rise, storm surges, and flooding concerns. Invest in clean energy sources and prioritize spectator protection from extreme heat.
  • Establish an ICC global climate disaster fund: Consider creating a fund to support communities affected by climate-related disasters, such as storms, flooding, and heatwaves.

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