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Tue 10 Sep 2019 09.00 BST
New study suggests raft of possible consequences due to changing weather, from more drinks breaks to playing in shorts
This year the UK experienced its hottest winter day, its hottest Easter, its hottest day on record. That peak of 38.7C came as England’s men played Ireland at Lord’s, when MCC members in the pavilion were allowed to remove their jackets for the second year in a row – surely a sign of doom to match the best of Jericho’s trumpets.
All around the cricketing world the climate emergency has started to bite, affecting everyone from elite players in their air-conditioned hotels to the two billion fans who play and watch in some of the most climate-sensitive places on the planet.
And yet – despite the cancellation of club and school cricket in South Africa in 2018 because of drought; the movement of IPL matches because of lack of water; extreme flooding in the UK; the suspension of play due to air pollution during a Test in Delhi, and hurricanes devastating the Caribbean – cricketers and cricket authorities have shown no great inclination to stand up and shout about this threat to the game.
The gold medal Olympians Helen Glover and Etienne Stott, who was arrested in April at the Waterloo Bridge Extinction Rebellion protests, were among 19 sports stars who wrote a letter to the Guardian last month calling for sports to reduce their climate footprint and sportsmen and women to lead the fight. No cricketers signed the letter.
Nor have the ICC or any member boards joined the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework – which has members as varied as the Rugby League World Cup 2021 and Bowls Australia.
Alas, the difficult file marked climate crisis seemed destined to sit forever on the pending shelf, until perhaps now, with Tuesday’s publication of the Hit for Six report.
This follows where the Game Changer report of February 2018 dipped its toes, drilling deep into the climate data – not only detailing the impacts already felt by cricket-playing countries and the likely problems to come, but also discussing the impact these environmental changes will have on individual cricketers, particularly in situations of extreme heat.
Experiments at the University of Portsmouth revealed that the heat produced by an international batsman with what is essentially a series of shuttle sprints between the wickets is equivalent to running 8km an hour. That’s 8km an hour in full cricket kit – long-sleeved shirts and trousers, padding and a helmet – for what could be eight hours in the hot sun. When the air temperature becomes higher than the skin temperature, the only way the body can try to cool down is through sweating – which becomes difficult when the skin is covered with protective clothing. The body becomes unable to function properly and this can result in anything from heat cramps to the medical emergency that is heatstroke. Joe Root is a case in point, taken to hospital during the Sydney Test of 2018 after retiring hurt with a combination of dehydration and a gastro-intestinal bug after playing in temperatures that peaked at 43.7C. Understandable, when you consider that the ideal temperature for exercise in light clothing is 10-11C.
A handout picture released by the British Association for Sustainable Sport and the University of Portsmouth University shows a participant posing during a heat test. Photograph: Handout/AFP/Getty Images
The report also details psychological responses to heat, with increased body temperature interfering with the efficiency of the human brain. While simple tasks, flipping a coin at the toss, should remain invulnerable to heat stress, more complex decisions – the report suggests, “vigilance (the ability to maintain attention, for example, when batting), short-term/working memory (for example a bowler remembering how the ball bounced off the pitch) and dual tasks (for example, a batter keeping an eye on an incoming delivery while simultaneously manoeuvring to take a shot)” become much more difficult – which, as cat follows mouse, will result in a less skilful and less watchable game. These stresses will also affect umpires – who, if not so active, stand for hours and have to make split-second decisions with unwavering concentration.
To date, only Cricket Australia have any sort of rules surrounding heat – last August they introduced Heat Stress Risk Index Management Interventions – which involve mitigations from increasing the number of drinks breaks to, ultimately, suspending play. As anyone who has desperately waited for the temperature to fall during the suffocating torpor of a sweltering afternoon knows, these will not be short sharp rain breaks.
What next, then? The report comes up with a page of suggestions that cricket would do well to heed. These range from encouraging all countries to come up with their own heat rules, and kit manufacturers to make heat-resistant clothing and equipment, even suggesting that cricketers should experiment with shorts, to suggesting authorities test players’ abilities under heat stress and, controversially, extend the length of tours to help acclimatisation. It points out authorities have a duty of care to children, who are less able to regulate their body temperatures. It calls on cricket to bear in mind that in times of climate crisis, authorities will prioritise food and drinking water, not watering cricket pitches, and recommends the setting up of an ICC global climate disaster fund.
Much, then, to think about – before cricket even gets on the existential question of how it marries the constant desire for expansion with responsibility for the planet. As Kevin Mitchell, the prime minister of Grenada, writes in the report’s forward: “Climate change is real. It’s as simple as that. Every ball bowled at us is currently a bouncer. We’re ducking so much we’re struggling to build an innings that will ensure a safe, secure and sustainable future for our people.”
A new report suggests raft of possible consequences of changing weather patterns, from more drinks breaks to playing in shorts