More than half the game was played before the smoke got thicker and the match was abandoned. (AAP: Lukas Coch)
Elite sport is now prone to moments of self-awareness during times of crisis.
So thankfully, when the Sydney Thunder and Adelaide Strikers were forced from Manuka Oval by heavy smoke from nearby bushfires during a BBL match on Saturday night, no-one suggested the loss of play was a tragedy.
Not when lives have been lost and untold damage caused to property and precious wildlife and national parks by this unprecedented inferno.
But the obscured sight of players and spectators in a foggy haze choking on acrid smoke before the game was rightly cancelled provided a stark reminder of one of cricket’s greatest challenges.
The politicisation of climate debate means there will be two stark opinions about the cause — or, more pertinently, the extent — of the current bushfires and the subsequent game-spoiling smoke.
To some, it will be clear-cut evidence of climate change and a call to arms for greater action domestically and globally to reduce carbon emissions, including by bodies such as Cricket Australia.
Others will continue to insist this is a once-in-a-generation event and even that the current fires are part of an ancient pattern of destruction and renewal.
But, ignoring the clash between science and ideology that has poisoned sensible discourse on climate change, any club cricketer can tell you the Canberra cancellation is merely the latest example of how increasing temperatures and other associated weather events are imposing themselves on the game.
Heat has replaced rain as the scourge of the game in Australia. Just as hurricanes in the West Indies, air pollution in India and drought in South Africa have caused havoc for cricket in recent years.
Cricket Australia described the conditions as “dangerous and unreasonable”. (AAP: Lukas Coch)
There are obvious reasons cricket is more prone to changing weather than most other sports.
The game is played outdoors in the hottest months, its duration is greater than most and it is played in its own quasi-natural ecosystem, making it heavily dependent on the right climatic conditions to produce suitable pitches and outfields.
In September, a report titled Hit For Six, compiled by climate scientists and sports physiologists, was released at Lord’s. It highlighted the dangers cricket is already enduring from global warming and made recommendations about potential courses of action.
A Sheffield Shield game between NSW and Queensland was played in Sydney’s smoke earlier this month. (AAP: Craig Golding)
Typically, the most prominently reported response to this report was that of Shane Warne, whose most notable contribution to the climate debate had previously been the smear of white sunscreen on his nose.
“At times in the past it has been hard to know who to believe, but I think we all have to admit now that climate change is a huge issue,” Warne, a member of the MCC World Cricket Committee, said.
“Scientists with proven facts are telling us things we can’t dispute about the rising temperatures, the rising sea levels.”
Sports stars commenting on political and particularly scientific issues in which they have little expertise can be fraught, but Warne’s contribution to this debate resonated.
Not just because Warne agreed with the scientific consensus, but because those in cricket advocating direct action to address the symptoms, and hopefully even the causes, of global warming needed an advocate with the great leg-spinner’s broad appeal.
At the very least, the fact Warne found aspects of the report describing the potential impact on cricketers playing in extreme heat, the damage of flash flooding to local facilities and other threats listed in the report “scary” gave hope that others could be convinced to take the problem seriously.
At least, more seriously than those who believed climate change’s most grave threat to cricket came when MCC Members were permitted to remove their jackets in the Lord’s pavilion during this year’s Test against Ireland, when the temperature rose to 38.7 degrees Celsius.
Cricket Australia had already responded to rising temperatures with its Heat Stress Risk Index Management Interventions, which provided guidelines on heat cancellations, drinks breaks and other such measures now commonly employed by local associations.
The cancellation of the Big Bash game in Canberra was just the most dramatic indication that the dangers of climate change have been heeded and embraced in official policy.
At club level, there has been an extra emphasis on imposing rules for junior competitions, with games typically abandoned or suspended when the temperature reaches 36C.
But it remains to be seen how many of the more challenging and unorthodox recommendations in the Hit For Six report — including heat-resistant equipment, extended tour itineraries to enable acclimatisation and a fashion statement that would be an even more stunning reminder of the rising temperatures than an MCC member in shirt sleeves: first-class players wearing shorts! — will be implemented.
Forcing bowlers to spend long, hot days in the field is often part of the tactics in Test cricket. (AP: Andy Brownbill)
Yet, much of this is relatively straightforward, commonsense and reactive. Far more contentious is whether cricket across its various levels, from the ICC to community clubs, goes beyond treating the symptoms and uses its status, political affiliations and vast numbers to lobby for climate change action.
The problem is that cricket, like society, is a broad church, and gaining the kind of consensus required to become a loud voice in a political debate is difficult.
Can you act in the best interests of your constituency while ignoring the beliefs of a large proportion of those members, who insist the game should keep its nose out of the issue — regardless of how compelling the science seems?
That’s a leadership question for cricket administrators who are busily applying bandaids to a problem that, the smoke in Canberra seemed to suggest, needs a full-body cast.