Sri Lanka's struggles no Machiavellian plan

Lahiru Gamage struggled to cope with the conditions
India v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Delhi, 2nd day December 03, 2017

Sri Lanka are an unsporting cricketing nation. In fact they can put village cricketers to shame. There is no low they won't stoop to just to deny the opposition a hard-earned milestone. You know Suraj Randiv, of course. He bowled that no-ball to deny Virender Sehwag an ODI century. They have even forced the ICC to outlaw sudden captaincy changes by executing a captaincy switch to save their real captain from an accumulated over-rate penalty that could result in a match ban. Why, even as recently as Kolkata, as Sri Lanka played for a draw, Niroshan Dickwella hypnotised Mohammed Shami and Virat Kohli into wasting their own time by going after him verbally.

Coming to Delhi, however, Sri Lanka knew they would need something truly diabolical to prevent India from racking up more records. Well they were assured a record-free hour every day - 40 minutes of lunch and 20 minutes of tea - but what about the rest? Things were pretty grim when a few of the leadership group went out for dinner after the first day's play when a Virat Kohli quadruple-hundred and a fitting reply to their 952 couldn't be ruled out.

What these gents saw on the way to their dinner was nothing short of an epiphany. They saw a young man wearing a pollution mask being derided for not being man enough to face the Delhi pollution unmasked. The guys doing the deriding drove a Mahindra Thar, an inscription on which said: "Real men die without airbags."

Over that dinner this Machiavellian plan was discussed in thorough detail. The mask and the macho bravado were the things they were going to play on. They were apprised of the pollution situation in Delhi. They learnt all about the rampant deforestation and unplanned urbanization, so a majority of their work was done. They were also told by their spies about possible triggers that could send the "very poor" air to "severe" levels. They decided they couldn't cause dust storms in gulf countries - not yet anyway - but they immediately sent men with heavy bribes to make sure farmers burnt their crop stubble in Punjab and Haryana, and that there were fireworks at wedding parties in Delhi. Models were arranged to teach the players how to vomit on demand.

Like all shrewd plans, this relied on the deep knowledge of the psyche of the opponent. They knew a majority of India would work itself into a lather seeing such a cowardly bunch of cricketers. The "loser" chants and the boos were par for the course. They knew India cricketers will forget that a recent India cricketer, Ashish Nehra, had moved out of Delhi because of the pollution. They knew India will not think that these cricketers come from a country where the Air Quality Index (AQI) hovers around 50, and that they will outrage at their inability to play when it is "only" 300 or so.

Having failed at everything else, this was their final plan to get Kohli out, just by breaking his rhythm and frustrating him. In fact this plan sounded so good that a young star even berated Kumar Sangakkara for not coming up with similar trickery when Chris Gayle scored 333 against them. It was decided, however, to give it one more session before executing this plan. Kohli left them no option as he moved effortlessly to 225 by lunch. Twenty minutes after lunch, Lahiru Gamage kick-started the proceedings by doubling over and pretending to breathe uneasily. The play was stopped for 17 minutes, which meant Sri Lanka knew India would want to score in one ball all the runs that should have been scored in those 17 minutes. R Ashwin played at a wide ball, and gully took the resultant catch.

The details that the discussion went to are incriminating. It was decided nobody would carry a purpose-built mask to filter the Delhi air; instead they chose to look helpless and pitiable in those surgical masks that would be available with the medical staff at the ground.

The plan worked like a charm. Kohli was blinded in rage and missed the kind of deliveries he had been clipping away for four blindfolded for two days. The final piece of the plan was to offer the Indian slips a copious amount of catches, which they were sure they would drop even in Switzerland, thus proving that the pollution did play a part in the day's proceedings. As we speak, the scheming bastards are enjoying a celebratory drink on the rooftop of their hotel. Without a mask.

The crowd at Feroz Shah Kotla, themselves a victim of this horrible situation in Delhi, chanted "losers, losers" and booed them. The BCCI president was quoted as having questioned Sri Lanka's motives by saying the crowd didn't have an issue with the pollution so why did the bowlers who had performed a highly demanding job for only four sessions complain? B Arun, India's bowling coach who was Hyderabad coach when their match in Delhi was called off last year, albeit in much worse conditions, called the stoppages unnecessary because pollution is everywhere in India. Hindi commentators joked on air that the players were using masks to only hide their faces after having taken the beating of their lives. Prominent people on Twitter lauded Indian cricket team's nationalism as they sacrificed their health to entertain the crowd that had turned up.

In unison, the country took pride in being more used to "very poor" levels of pollution than players from an island known for its cleanliness. For once the joke is not on cricket.

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