Cricket Australia chief executive Kevin Roberts has said that the health of players, officials and the public will not be put in jeopardy when it comes to the potential of the Sydney Test being halted by smoke from the bushfires burning throughout New South Wales.
Officials are braced for the potential of play being suspended – the forecast for Saturday looks the most problematic – with the ultimate decision resting with the umpires and match referee who will assess the visibility in the middle although Cricket Australia medical staff will be involved in discussions and regularly monitoring the air quality.
ICC guidelines state that consideration should be given to suspending play when the air quality index (AQI) reaches 300 – the marker for a hazardous reading – a number that has been hit in Sydney during the summer, although different bodies use different levels with the Australian Institute of Sport having 150 for high-intensity exercise and the state government 200. On Thursday afternoon, the AQI at Randwick – the closest monitoring station to the SCG – was in the high 70s which is in the moderate level.
In November a T20I between India and Bangladesh in Delhi was put into doubt due to poor air quality although the game eventually went ahead.
Before Christmas, a BBL match in Canberra between the Sydney Thunder and the Adelaide Strikers was abandoned when thick smoke drifted back across the ground with the umpires calling play off due to visibility issues although the air quality would also have been a problem. Earlier in December, a Sheffield Shield match at the SCG was completed in extremely hazy conditions which led to a number of players questioning the decision to play on.
“We won’t be putting the players’ health at risk, we won’t be putting the health of match officials, our own people or fans at risk so that’s something we will be monitoring consistently during the five days,” Roberts said. “It’s a day-by-day proposition as those people effected by bushfires know better than I.
“It is complex, like many things in life and sport we work with experts and good judgement will be required. We are as confident as we can be, this is quite a unique situation, that we have the right expertise around us, good judgement will be exercised and the safety of everyone at this great ground will be put first.”
While the players can be removed from the middle if conditions become unsuitable, spectators would have to decide themselves how to deal with the situation.
Australia captain Tim Paine was content to leave any decisions around the smoke in the hands of medical staff and said that the bushfire crisis sweeping Australia put a sporting occasion into perspective.
“We’re lucky in the Australian set-up that we’ve got world-class doctors and people that are put in place to make those decisions. We’re just focusing on what we can control, which is going out and playing and we’ll be doing that until we’re told otherwise,” he said. “I’ve been given a rough guide, but basically when it goes smoky we’re coming off. I think our doc is having a pretty big say in reading the levels of air quality so it’s all set, we know the number, if it happens it happens and unfortunately that’s life.
“At times for us it’s important to look outside the bubble that we live in as international cricketers. The events that are going on around the country at the moment are a real eye-opener for us. We speak about one of things being humble and showing some humility so as I’ve said before our thoughts certainly go out to the people that have been affected by it. It’s got worse again overnight and the firefighters have been the real heroes of this summer.”
Players from both sides will wear black armbands in memory of those who have lost their lives and pay tribute to the emergency services and personnel fighting fires ahead of play on Friday including a minute’s applause. The ODI series between the two teams which takes place in March will raise money for the Australian Red Cross to support those affected by the fires.