NEW DELHI: Sixty six premier domestic cricketers will battle it out in toxic Delhi air which has been the cause for health hazards as the Syed Mushtaq Ali National T20 Championship's pre-quarter-final starts in national capital on Monday.
As on Monday, the highest Air Quality Index (AQI) level in Delhi was 349, which is 'Harzardous' and was recorded in Shahdara area.
The place where two of the pre quarter-finals will be played is Feroz Shah Kotla, which is located in Central Delhi, where the condition is slightly better with peak AQI of 249, which is deemed "Unhealthy".
"The conditions are slightly better compared to past week and there is no intimation that we won't go ahead with the game," a senior DDCA official told PTI when asked if there is a chance of cancellation.
Kotla will host one match in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
On the cricketing front, Maharashtra will miss their key and in-form player Ruturaj Gaikwad, who has been called for national duty, when they take on arch-rivals Vidarbha in one of the three pre-quarter-finals.
Ruturaj was the chief architect of Maharashtra's wins in the league stage and he had continued his good run from the IPL, where he was the leading run-scorer for his side Chennai Super Kings.
But having earned a national India call-up for the T20 series against New Zealand, Maharashtra will miss his services.
In his absence, Naushad Shaikh, the vice-captain in the league stage, was on Monday named captain of the side.
This was after Rahul Tripathi, who was named vice-captain in the original squad but missed the league stage due to an injury, requested the selectors to allow him to concentrate on his batting instead of naming him the captain.
"Initially while declaring the team, Ruturaj Gaikwad was captain and Rahul Tripathi his deputy. Tripathi could not travel with the team in league matches due to injury. After reaching the knock-out stage, Tripathi joined the team," a release from Maharashtra Cricket Association said.
"He (Tripathi) was supposed to lead the team. But he requested the selectors that he wanted to concentrate on his batting and relieve him from captaincy for at least this tournament."
"So Naushad Shaikh who was vice-captain to Ruturaj Gaikwad (during league stage) in the absence of Rahul Tripathi was named captain of the team.
" Tripathi's return will surely help Maharashtra, who had won the T20 domestic championship 10 years back.
With Ruturaj not available, the trio of Tripathi, Naushad and another senior player Kedar Jadhav will have to shoulder responsibility if the side has to score or chase big.
Kedar has exactly not been among heavy runs and come Tuesday, he would like to take on the Vidarbha attack with gusto and help his team advance to the last eight.
Naushad, who is an aggressive batter and can take any attack to cleansers on his day, would need to come good at the Kotla'.
However, the duo would need support from other batters.
On the bowling front, the four overs by experienced left-arm spinner Satyajeet Bachhav would be crucial in deciding the game's outcome.
Vidarbha were unbeaten in the league stage and had topped the group.
They would be more than keen to continue the winning streak.
And for that to happen, the role of spinner Akshay Karnewar would be crucial in absence of pacer Umesh Yadav, who is picked in India's squad for New Zealand.
Karnewar had scripted history by becoming the first bowler in men's T20s, to concede zero runs, in his spell.
He will have to bowl in the right areas to stop the Maharashtra batters.
Their batters including skipper Akshay Wadkar, would have to come good, if Vidarbha have to spring a surprise, else Maharashtra are run-away favourites to reach the quarters.
"We are here to play cricket," said India's T20 vice-captain K L Rahul when asked about the rising air pollution levels in the city ahead of the series opener against New Zealand.
Like Delhi, Jaipur's air pollution levels too rose after Diwali earlier this month.
Jaipur reported very poor AQI levels on Saturday and smog enveloped the city even on Monday morning.
"Actually, we haven't stepped out yet. We just reached the stadium so I don't know, I don't have an answer to that. I am not carrying a metre with me in my hand to say how bad the pollution is.
"I am sure it won't be that bad. We all are here to play cricket," said Rahul before the Indian team's first practice session on Monday.
Meanwhile, new head coach Rahul Dravid oversaw his first training session with the national team in the presence of skipper Rohit Sharma, his colleagues and the other support staff members.
The team carried out its first practice session after a three-day quarantine.
India are scheduled to play three T20 Internationals against New Zealand on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday respectively, after which the two teams will engage in a two-match Test series.
Heavy dew, which will minimise the toss advantage, has been predicted for India's opening T20I against New Zealand as Jaipur gears up to host its first international match in eight years on Wednesday.
The winter chill can be experienced the moment you arrive in the pink city.
Officials and groundstaff at the Rajasthan Cricket Association told PTI that in the last two days, the dew has been setting around 7pm, the start time of the first ever T20 International to be played at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium.
The dew factor proved to be a massive one at the recently concluded T20 World Cup in the UAE where teams preferred to chase in better batting conditions.
"Here in Jaipur, there could be dew in the first innings itself going by the last two days which minimises the toss advantage to a certain extent. Since it is a T20, one has to expect lots of runs from this surface," said an official.
"We will use the anti-dew spray on match day but we have all seen its effect is very limited."
In the last ODI held here in 2013, India chased down Australia's 359 in just 43.3 overs with Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli scoring a century each.
Jaipur was robbed of international cricket over the past decade mainly due to administrative crisis in Rajasthan cricket.
It will also be hosting an ODI in February.
With no restrictions on the number of spectators, a packed crowd is expected at the 25,000 capacity stadium.
Around 8,000 tickets were sold in the first three hours after they were put up for sale online last week, said RCA secretary Mahendra Verma.
He is inundated with requests for complimentary passes which he feels is impossible to deal with.
"The excitement is palpable with international cricket returning after a long time. What has also fuelled the demand for tickets is that people are keen to watch a big event after staying indoors for the most part of last 8 months due to COVID-19," said Sharma.
The game also marks the return of international cricket to India since the IPL had to suspend in May due to a devastating second wave that swept through the nation.
It is critical for the BCCI to organise the home series smoothly as it aims to organise the IPL at home next year.
Though the RCA has assured that all COVID-19 guidelines will be followed on match day, most of its in-house and outsourced staff were seen without masks on Monday.
Some of the BCCI broadcast production members were also roaming around without masks.
One has to be at least partially vaccinated to enter the stadium on Wednesday and non-vaccinated individuals can only enter with proof of a negative RT-PCR test.(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)