x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hot and bothered in world of sports

As the UAE gets ready to host a cricket series starting this month, Osman Samiuddin looks at instances when temperatures got too high.

Matthew Hayden, right, scored a Test match-winning century against Pakistan in Sharjah 10 years ago from which the Australian took six months to fully recover. Hamish Blair / Getty Images
Matthew Hayden, right, scored a Test match-winning century against Pakistan in Sharjah 10 years ago from which the Australian took six months to fully recover. Hamish Blair / Getty Images

When Australia begin their cricket series against Pakistan with a one-day international in Sharjah on August 28, the expected temperature for the 6pm start will be anywhere between 35°C and 40°C. Humidity at that time of day could be between 35-65 per cent.

It is not surprising then that Australia expressed repeated concerns about playing in the UAE at this time of the year, agreeing to it only after changes to the start and training times, the addition of extra drinks breaks and provision of ice baths. It is likely to remain, however, among the most stifling conditions cricket has been played in.

But other sport? We pick five occasions when the heat got too much; Australia feature regularly on the list, as a team or a venue, though not by design.

Australian Open, tennis – Melbourne, January 1993

A day in Melbourne during summer is famous for being able to accommodate all four seasons. But when it gets hot - and it is a dry heat - it burns.

The 1993 Australian Open was plagued by an especially hot summer. Throughout the early rounds, temperatures on the rubberised hard courts regularly went up to 54°C while normal air temperatures often reached 40°C.

In the women's doubles final, in on-court temperatures of nearly 50°C, Pam Shriver double faulted regularly because she was not sure whether to toss the ball to the left or right of a blazing midday sun. Natalia Zvereva, partnering Gigi Fernandez on the other side said, despite winning: "It was really burning, it was hard to play under those conditions."

The hottest day arrived for the men's final between Jim Courier and Stefan Edberg. Courier eventually won in four sets, in over two-and-a-half hours, but temperatures rocketed on court to a startling 67°C (it was 40°C around the stadium). It was so hot Edberg wore a baseball hat for a while, which he never did.

"I hope you have a good swim in the river," he said to Courier afterwards, referring to Courier's victory jump into the Yarra River nearby after winning the previous year. "It was a hot one today. Sometimes I wondered, when I was two sets down, 'What am I doing out here?'"

Before jumping into the Yarra again, Courier responded: "He said he wondered what he was doing out here, two sets down. I wondered what I was doing out here, two sets up. It was really hot out there."

Pakistan v Australia, cricket – Sharjah, October 2002

If Pakistan and Australia feel sorry for themselves having to play in the UAE summer, they can console themselves with the thought that it could have been worse. They could have been playing Tests, like their predecessors did a decade ago.

Security concerns in October 2002 about Pakistan were less specific; there was a general fear of spillover violence from the war in neighbouring Afghanistan after 9/11. But it was enough of a threat for Australia to accept Sharjah as a Test venue.

As soon play began it did not seem such a bright plan. Temperatures reached as high as 51°C during the day. "It was 50°C on the first day of our match," wrote Shoaib Akhtar in his autobiography, "and I had managed to bowl a couple of overs when my body temperature shot through the roof and I blacked out. I spoke to the management and said I couldn't do this anymore, my body was collapsing, and so I came back home."

Rashid Latif, Pakistan's wicketkeeper at the time, did not think it a big deal. "We had no special preparation for it from our side though drinks break were every 45 minutes [instead of an hour]," he said. "Shorter spells are the way for fast bowlers - in that series most guys bowled two-over spells - but as a keeper or batsman it doesn't affect you so much."

It did affect Matthew Hayden, who batted over seven hours for a century in one Test and said it felt like batting inside an oven. It took him three weeks to recover and six months to be back to 100 per cent. The only relief, other than Australia's ice packs, was that they won one Test in two days and the second in just over three.

10km World Cup, swim – Fujairah, October 2010

Fran Crippen was an elite open-water swimmer, who finished third at the 2009 world championships in the 10km swim. He had been a top college swimmer (in the pool) at the University of Virginia, came from an established swimming family and it is not inconceivable he might have been a contender for an Olympic medal in London last Friday.

Crippen drowned, however, nearly two years ago off the coast of Fujairah during the 10km Fina Open Water World Cup race. Crippen, 26, was just 400m from the finish line when he died.

The heat is thought to have been the cause; water temperature when the race began in the morning was 29°C and reached 31°C by the end, at 11.45am. A number of swimmers complained that conditions were too hot for swimming and at least three others were treated in hospital afterwards.

The German winner that day, Thomas Lurz, a nine-time open water champion, said: "The water was amazingly hot. Nobody thought such things like yesterday could happen."

The UAE swimming federation said Crippen had died from "physical exertion", pointing out that temperatures for the race the previous year were warmer.

The following year, the US swimming association introduced more stringent guidelines insisting that if water temperatures exceed 31°C the race should be called off, or if the combined air and water temperature is greater than 63°C.

Many insist Fina has not done enough, however, including Alex Meyer, a close friend of Crippen's who finished 10th in London's 10km race. The UAE has stopped hosting open swim events for the near future.

Oman v Australia, football – Muscat, June 2012

This World Cup qualifying match may look insignificant at first glance, but in hindsight of Qatar's bid to stage the 2022 World Cup, it may grow in importance over time as a test case of sorts.

The game began at 5.30pm local time, a bewildering bit of scheduling given it was peak summer. Temperatures in the first half were said to have ranged between 35°C and 43°C. Inevitably the heat played a huge role, as the 97th-ranked hosts had the better of a scoreless draw against the group's top seeds and one of the region's strongest sides.

Australia were content to sit back throughout much of the first half, allowing Oman to dictate the flow. Eventually Australia did push but the pace remained slow.

In the second half, the game became more error prone as the heat began to take a toll.

Oman should have taken the lead near the hour mark, but Mark Schwarzer made an outstanding save as he turned away a header from Amad Al Hosni.

Schwarzer was fuming afterwards. "It is ludicrous that you play at this time of year at five o'clock in the afternoon," he said.

The coach, Holger Osieck, pointed out that even locals did not venture out at that time of day in the summer. "I don't know what the rationale behind that kick-off time was. It's already tough enough to play in this area at that time of the year," he said. "It was 3.30 when we arrived [at the ground] and there is no local person that goes out that time – they say 'you have to be joking'. They wait until 5.30 or 6pm to go out."

Qatar 2022 has 10 years to find a solution.

New York City Marathon – October 1984

Few sporting pursuits are as gruelling as the marathon, so much so that it is thought the ideal weather to run 26.2 miles include temperatures as low as 7-10°C, with clouded skies and some air moisture.

The Boston Marathon is famous for occasionally stifling conditions. This year was one, as was "The Inferno" in 1909, "The Run for the Hoses" in 1976 (which began in temperatures of 38°C) and the fabled "Duel in the Sun" in 1982.

But the New York City marathon of 1984, run at the end of October, was probably the worst of all. The sun shone bright, temperatures hovered around 24°C and peaked at 26°C four hours in and humidity was as high as 96 per cent. The toll was predictable: of the 16,315 people who started, 14,590 finished, a lower percentage (89.4 per cent) than average (93 per cent), many pulling out from dehydration. Most disturbingly, the course recorded its first casualty, the Frenchman Jacques Bussereau who collapsed 14 miles in and died later from a heart attack. More than a dozen runners were taken to hospital for heat-related issues; the winner, Orlando Pizzolato of Italy, claimed the men's race six minutes slower than the winning time a year previous.

The late Fred Lebow, the race founder and director, would refer to it later as "the disaster of 1984", making sure that the race was subsequently always scheduled for November.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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