Cricket facing its own climate test

Cricket facing its own climate test
Cricket facing its own climate test

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Rain is the scourge of cricket. It has the capacity to whip up conflicting feelings. Players may feel that it has rescued their team from looming defeat or denied them of certain victory.

Spectators may feel the same way but will not have the cover of a pavilion or dressing room in which to shelter. Furthermore, they are likely to feel deprived of part of their entrance fee. These feelings used to be commonly associated with cricket in the British Isles. This may still linger, given the wet start to the 2024 county cricket season, but it is no longer universally the case.

In the UAE, of all places, a year of rain is reported to have fallen in 24 hours, from late Monday to Tuesday. At 3 p.m. on Monday it was as dark as the night. Some reports suggested that cloud seeding was the cause, but why might that have been deployed at that time of year? The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reports that the Earth recorded its hottest March on record, the 10th consecutive month to reach that feat. These all-time monthly highs were observed both in the air and in water. The Copernicus report judged that the temperatures were the result of decades of human-caused warming and El Nino climate patterns.

Obtaining a consensus on the causes seems beyond reach, although data points to an extraordinary surge in temperatures around the planet. This may stop once El Nino patterns end and temperatures cool. It is not yet possible to know if a fundamental shift has occurred in the Earth’s climate. In this uncertain moment, longer-term decisions have to be made by those responsible for running cricket.

An example of this is real in Worcester, England. Since 1896, Worcestershire County Cricket Club’s home has been at New Road, nestling under the watchful eye of the neighboring cathedral. This provides it with iconic status in the eyes of the cricketing world. The ground also sits on the west bank of the River Severn which, in recent years, has flooded with increasing regularity. This season, the county’s first two matches cannot be played there because the ground has not recovered from the winter’s flooding. Instead, they will be played at Kidderminster, 25km north.

The increased frequency and severity of flooding is causing the club’s management to assess alternative options to sustain its future. Amongst these are improved flood-alleviation measures and a move away from New Road, a prospect that is anathema to many supporters. The city is mindful of what happened to its soccer and rugby teams. The former moved grounds in 2013, resulting in a nomadic existence for a decade and a drop of three levels in the game’s pyramid. Its rugby team entered receivership in October 2022.

This sorrowful tale, thrown into stark perspective for Worcestershire CCC by adverse climate events, differs from the effects of adverse weather in other parts of the world. In the UAE, the effects were to cause the cancellation of a quadrangular tournament between the women’s T20 teams of the UAE, the US, the Netherlands and Scotland in Abu Dhabi. This was planned as a warm-up event before the ICC women’s T20I qualifying tournament in Abu Dhabi, set to open on April 25. Players have been deprived of valuable match practice, but that deprivation pales against that suffered by local residents.

During the Asia Premier Cup in Oman, there was rain, not of UAE proportions, but sufficient to disrupt some matches. The urbane curator of south Indian descent, Annop C Kandy, remarked that he had rarely seen rain in his eight years in charge and would normally expect temperatures in the 40°C range during April — an antidote to notions of a warming planet. He also revealed that whatever rain did fall came from the west and was short-lived. Unusually, this rain was from the south and southeast.

It caused much work for the curator and his staff, who coped admirably, notably when placing covers over the pitches during heavy windy conditions. Six of the 24 matches were shortened, two to 18 overs, two to 15 overs, one to 11 overs and one to eight overs. The last one affected Saudi Arabia and Nepal, with the latter winning with four balls to spare. It will never be known how the match would have played out if 20 overs had been possible.

Given that international cricket is now played around the world throughout the year, it should be no surprise that the probability of matches being affected by adverse weather has increased. It also seems that the severity of the impact is increasing. A recent example of this has occurred in Scotland. Unprecedented poor weather delayed pitch preparation at a ground near Dundee where a Cricket World Cup League 2 tournament between Scotland, Namibia and Oman was postponed. Originally due to take place between May 2 and 12, it is now scheduled for July, with the agreement of the three countries and the International Cricket Council.

It should not be forgotten that the 2023 Indian Premier League final was affected by rain in Ahmedabad. The match was originally scheduled to be played on May 28, but was postponed to the reserve day, May 29. This was the first time that the IPL final had been postponed because of adverse weather. Chennai Super Kings’ response was delayed for over an hour by rain and then the target adjusted with the innings being reduced to 15 overs. This outcome for a showpiece final was not ideal.

Although rain is regarded as cricket’s traditional bete noire, other climate issues have begun to be felt. During the ODI World Cup in India last November, extreme heat levels affected players, as did very high levels of air pollution, especially in Delhi. Cricketers and their administrators can do little to prevent the causes of these problems. What they are faced with is the need to devise and adopt measures which ameliorate the impact of climate issues and enhance the game’s sustainability. This may be about to get more difficult.

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