The Air Quality Index (AQI) in New Delhi was once again the talk of the town before the start of Bangladesh’s first T20I against India at the Arun Jaitley Stadium yesterday.
Concerns had been raised about visibility, with reports that 32 flights had been diverted to nearby cities as visibility dropped to around 300m at the Indira Gandhi International Stadium. There were even talks of the match being cancelled, but visibility improved towards the evening.
AQI is deemed ‘unhealthy’ when it is between 151 and 200 and ‘severe’ above 500. Only 7.7 kilometres from the ground stands the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and the AQI recorded there was 912, and several other locations had recorded 999 -- the highest number the machines are capable of recording. A day in spent in those extreme conditions is the equivalent of smoking 33 cigarettes a day.
In these conditions, with the local government issuing a health advisory, one could expect a low turnout. But New Delhi hosted its last T20I in 2017 and it is not often that the city gets to enjoy the national team. So, ignoring the ongoing pollution levels, the crowd turned up in numbers and people of all ages attended the match.
Some fans said that it was their first time at the stadium. Asked about the pollution, one replied: “It’s bad, but it’s for an India match so it’s okay.”
Inquiring about whether they were worried about the players, another said: “Not an issue for the match and sportsmanship wise they can perform well. Lots of people are attending the match for 3-4 hours so it’s okay.”
This reporter confronted a particularly interesting group of fans who had all donned Rohit Sharma’s jersey in a concerted move. They resonated as a choir stating their support for India when this reporter approached them. “ [MS] Dhoni is not playing, [Virat] Kohli is not playing, so the only man behind our enjoyment is Rohit Sharma,” they said excitedly.
“He is going to score a hundred today,” they cheered during entering the ground. Unfortunately, the Rohit fans must have been left disappointed as he was removed by Shafiul Islam in the very first over.