It took a while for Liton Das to figure out that all eyes on New Delhi's Arun Jaitely Stadium on Thursday afternoon were on him. The way he picked up the ball during the fielding drill, the manner in which he stretched, the swiftness of his sprints – every move was closely monitored. The last time Liton was observed so keenly by Indians was when he gave the Men in Blue a scare by slamming his maiden ODI hundred in the Asia Cup final in Dubai last year. This time though, it had very little to do with his bat flow or conviction-filled sweep shots which gave a hard time to Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. The eyeballs were following Liton Das because of the bluish white mask he was wearing during Bangladesh's first training session ahead of the series-opening first T20I on Sunday.
A thick blanket of smog covered the length and breadth of the ground and pretty much entire Delhi on Thursday afternoon and it has been the case ever since the last Diwali Sunday. It was presumed that Liton's mask was a precautionary measure to the severe air quality of the country capital. But the right-hander later confirmed that he had a minor respiratory illness and he would have worn the mask irrespective of the air quality.
"It's my personal problem. I was not feeling well then," said Liton after the training session.
Liton was the only Bangladesh cricketer spotted with a mask on Thursday. That, however, may not be the case in Bangladesh's next two days' practice sessions prior to the first T20I. Taken aback by the conditions, the Bangladesh team management is considering to arrange more masks for the rest of the team.
"Yes, we are thinking about getting more masks," said a Bangladesh team source.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) around the Arun Jaitely Stadium at the time Bangladesh players were training was touching 400, which is the optimum range of the 'very poor' category (AQI 300-400). If the number had risen a tad more, it would have entered the 'severe' range, under which it is advisable not to indulge in any strenuous physical activity.
The discomfort among the Bangladesh cricketers was visible. The most affected was Bangladesh head coach Russell Domingo, who complained of breathing problems, burning eyes, and dizziness. "Our coach did not feel well. He said his eyes were burning and he was finding it hard to even breathe because of the lack of clean air," said a Bangladesh team member.
It was after seeing Domingo's struggles that Bangladesh team management started to consider arranging more masks.
Breathing problem not the only concern
Burning eyes, breathing issues were not the only concern for the Bangladesh players. They even had problems in sighting the ball because of the smog. Bangladesh wicket-keeper batsman Mushfiqur Rahim even pointed towards the sky multiple times during the fielding drill suggesting that he couldn't spot the ball.
"Yes, sighting the ball was definitely a problem but I think under lights on Sunday it should be alright," said Liton Das.
Despite alarm bells from various quarters regarding Delhi's poor air quality, BCCI decided to go ahead with the match as newly elected president Sourav Ganguly pointed out that it was too late to change the venue.
"We have spoken to Delhi authorities in the last two days. They are expecting the match to go through. It could not be cancelled in the last minute," Ganguly said.
"I spoke to the groundsman in Delhi. He said once the sun comes out everything will be fine. He was my groundsman in Delhi Capitals," Ganguly said.
The BCCI chief, however, did indicate that in future they will take the Delhi weather at this time of the year into consideration.
"We came in on the October 28 and it was too late to do anything, Lot of preparation go in matches. I hope it goes through. Post-Diwali is a difficult time in the North. There is smoke and dust and everything, in future when we schedule matches in North at this time of the year, we have to be a bit more practical," added Ganguly.
India stand-in captain Rohit Sharma too sounded confident about Sunday's match going ahead without any difficulty.
"I have just landed and haven't had time to assess. As far as I know the game is to be played on November 3 and will be played," Rohit said.
There is a possibility of the AQI improving – the lower the number the better the air – towards the end of this week but it is unlikely to come down from the 'very poor' category.