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Warning over Everest cricket game

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

Gorak Shep, the site of the match
The highest cricket match in the world will be played in the Himalayas

A doctor in Nepal has warned a group of cricketers heading to Mount Everest to play a high altitude Twenty20 match not to over-exert themselves.

Dr Buddha Basnyat, who specialises in high altitude health, said a lack of oxygen could pose a danger to the cricketers playing at a frenetic pace.

The highest cricket game on record is scheduled for 21 April.

A team of 50, including 22 players, will trek for nine days to reach an altitude of 5,000m for the game.

They hope to raise 250,000 (about $357,000) for the Lord's Taverners and Himalayan Trust UK charities.

Dr Basnyat said the lack of oxygen at high altitudes posed a challenge to the players.

Oxygen levels at the height are only half what they are at sea level. That can produce illness, sometimes fatal, even for people not running around chasing a ball.

Dr Basnyat said: "The important thing is, if people aren't feeling well and yet push themselves to play, especially if they exert themselves, that can predispose them to altitude sickness."

Acclimatisation

Dr Basnyat said if the players had headache or nausea it would "not be a good idea to push yourself."

"Basically the players should listen to their own bodies."

Acute mountain sickness, with symptoms such as headaches and vomiting, can easily develop into the much more serious high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) or pulmonary edema (HAPE).

If the symptoms are bad, descent is essential.

Gradually acclimatising to the altitude is therefore vital.

The cricketers' trip is described as one of nine days and Dr Basnyat says he hopes that means nine days until the match is played - not nine days there and back.

Not surprisingly, he says bowlers and batsmen will be more at risk, with fielding relatively easy.

A self-confessed "cricket obsessive" from Cheltenham in western England, Richard Kirtley, is organising the Twenty20 match at Gorak Shep, 5,100 metres above sea level.

Cricket pitch at Trafalgar Square
Former England batsman Mark Butcher helped to test the artificial pitch

His team of 50, including 22 players, eight reserves, groundsmen and medics, plans to trek there and play the game on 21 April whatever the weather - blizzards or clear blue skies.

"It's a quintessentially British thing to do," he said.

"I'm quite proud of our history of doing odd things."

Mr Kirtley said the team are "such a competitive bunch, they will put their all into it".

Gorak Shep is a small group of lodges close to the massive Khumbu glacier, usually the last stop before Everest Base Camp or the stunning Everest viewpoint of Kala Pattar, a punishingly steep climb up.

It has a huge flat space which is usually dry and sandy but sometimes has a seasonal lake, especially after the summer monsoons. The flatness accounts for Mr Kirtley comparing it to London's Oval cricket ground.

'Great idea'

The way from there to the seasonal site used as Everest Base Camp, which actually sits on the glacier, is lined with fantastic white pillars of ice called seracs.

It is tempting to think that a highly skilled batsman might end up sending the ball into the ice or down a crevasse - but in truth the pitch and its surroundings form a very large area.

Mr Kirtley does say they will hope for a lot of boundaries to avoid too many quick singles.

Because of the sandy terrain, the team are taking a complete artificial pitch which they have been testing on London's Trafalgar Square. They have also been training in woolly hats and scarves to cope with the unpredictable weather.

Gorak Shep
Doctors warn lack of oxygen could pose a challenge to the players

I have twice visited Gorak Shep, once in November and once in April.

My early-morning November scramble up to Kala Pattar was simply the coldest weather I have ever experienced.

On neither occasion was Gorak Shep in snow. But three years ago the entire Everest region was deep in snow in March and April, taking many trekkers by surprise.

The cricketers may well find that at midday, if it is sunny, they can cast off their woollies - though the ski goggles will be essential.

Dr Basnyat's overall feeling is that given the right precautions, the match is a "great idea".

The more thorough the acclimatisation, the better everyone's health - and the better the game.



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