December 22, 2008

Thought for food

Aakash Chopra
Players enjoy the selection of food available, including a Kiwi barbecue after the ICC Under-19 World Cup opening ceremony at the Christchurch Convention Centre. 14 January 2002.
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Dear readers

I'm back home, and having my first home-cooked meal in the last fortnight made me realise what I had been missing out on. We have been on the road for two back-to-back matches, the first one in Rajkot, followed by another in Jaipur. Cricket has made all of us adventurous when it comes to experimenting with food, and also very accommodating about it - half of the time we don't have any choice anyway. And it goes without saying that nothing can beat home-cooked food.

If you haven't already guessed it, the topic of today's blog is the food we get while travelling to play cricket within the country. Travelling gives us an opportunity to get acquainted with the local flavours and develop a liking for their food in due course. So we look forward to visiting these places again. For example idli, dosa and rassam from the south, poha in central India, and batata vada and khakra in the west.

Even though thinking about food while playing a match is right at the bottom of our wish list, it can’t be totally ignored. We spend at least nine hours on the ground, and are quite famished by the end of it. The BCCI gives every staging association Rs 25,000 per day to look after the meals for both the teams and the officials. I'm told that the amount is more than sufficient to provide a good breakfast, lunch and an evening snack to top it all. So, for once, I'd request you to refrain from blaming the BCCI.

But going by the food provided at certain centres, it makes you feel the money they're getting isn't quite enough. We played a game in Hyderabad earlier this season, and the quality of food left a lot to be desired. The breakfast comprised a few loafs of white bread (not toasted), butter and jam, omelets (which were cold by the time we started eating) and idli with sambhar. If that was not enough to get us worked up the lunch definitely was. The cook was far too generous on spices, chilly and oil despite our repeated requests, and it left most of us, including the officials (umpires and match referee), with stomachs half-filled. I wouldn't blame the hosts for the evening snack, even though it was invariably something fried like a samosa or a bonda, because that's what we get in most places after the game. We decided to get our breakfast packed from the hotel instead of eating at the ground, and avoided the evening snack, but we still couldn't do much about lunch. I have a light lunch during a match so I managed to cope with that, but there are always a few who like a decent meal and deserve better.

It reminded me of the game I played for the Board President's XI at the same venue just a few weeks ago. The catering was taken care by the Taj hotel, and it goes without saying that it was top notch. It just makes the difference more glaring and the importance of the occasion more obvious.

Then there was Valsad, a relatively smaller town when compared to Hyderabad. The food was still a problem: it left a lot of us with stomach infections, but the hospitality of the local people bowled us over. They were at our beck and call, and did everything to make our stay comfortable. Unfortunately increased affection and care was translated into an increase in oil in the food. The more you cared the more oily the food got. Too much chilly and oil remained our constant gripe.

At the risk of sounding parochial I must admit that the food we get in the north is much better, or perhaps we are just used to it. But this is the popular consensus among us cricketers regardless of which state we belong to.

If one has a closer look at the needs of the players, one would realise that it isn't too much that we ask for. A decent breakfast would include cereal, preferably whole wheat with hot and cold milk, fruits, toasts with preserves and eggs. Lunch could be slightly on the lighter side with one or two vegetables, dal and a non-vegetarian dish with rice and chapattis. The only requirement would be to go easy on oil and spices. The evening meal is the one all of us hog on and unfortunately that's the one which is neglected the most. After a long day in the field one tends to eat more and hence it's important to have either pasta, poha, grilled sandwiches or something that isn't fried. But that's seldom the case and we have to make do with either a samosa or a kachori.

In Delhi we make sure that it happens, but during other matches we are at the mercy of the hosts. Since there is a lot of emphasis on improving the structure of the game, perhaps it's about time the state associations gave this small aspect a little more thought.

Ciao

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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Posted by AN on (January 10, 2009, 21:40 GMT)

It is not the calories but the quality of nutrition along with the calories that count. And 11,000 calories for cricket players is absurd because it would mean 3-4000 calories per meal! Unless you are in a super active state and weigh 300 lbs this cannot be justified. This overconsumption will kill you in the end. (Sumo wrestlers, weight lifters etc.) There are many sensible balanced and tasty items available in every region of the country amd I have not had a problem during travel. BCCI should have someone accounting for all this as it impacts player health in their prime development years. I am well connected to the Chennai Super Kings and the BCCI and will send my feed back to them. Unfortunately, this is one of many issues and a large organization will by definition, act at a snails pace. I share your concern and it is worthy of discussion. I would also urge other players to join in and lobby BCCI, (I am assuming you have done it already) for a multi pronged effort will be needed.

Posted by Dev Gavaskar on (January 9, 2009, 21:21 GMT)

Dear Akash: Something that really made me burst out laughing after reading this blog was how you jotted down your requirements for lunch. One/two Veggies, Daal, Non-Vegeterian Dish, Chapattis, Rice: and this was described as "slightly light". I don't know about you, but if I were to eat this light lunch during a match (or work), I would really also want the lunch break extended to 1 hr 40 min instead of 40 min), so that I can also get a "slightly light" nap. I really enjoy reading your blogs since sometimes you bring our very valid points. But many times your blogs are written in such a way that it gives the impression that you are a personality that has a lot of complaints and misgiving. For a suggestion: I would love to read about your experience on the Australia tour, including what you guys did in leisure, who were the people you bonded with the most, what you got to learn when you were in the company of Sachin, Rahul, Saurav, Laxman etc., what were the differences in your prep?

Posted by Bal on (January 2, 2009, 9:27 GMT)

This is a valid post. Not one about Delhi's recent performances on the pitch - so why are people commenting on that?

This issue, like state of pitches, accommodation, etc all add up and can affect performance on a pitch. Most other countries take nutrition seriously at all levels, so it's about time domestic cricket in India starts learning.

Again it's interesting to hear first hand the experiences of a chap who's played at domestic and international levels. Keep it up Aakash and forget these draft responses from ignorant people.

Posted by ila on (January 1, 2009, 16:11 GMT)

i am horrified reading this post. How on earth can we produce professional sportsman if their meal plans on match days include samosas and kachoris? And your description of the meals at valsad and hyderabad was simply astounding - you should have your local association write a stinker to their counterparts and copied to pawar and srikkanth. Clearly, association officials are pocketing money that should be going into balanced and appropriate meals for sportsmen. Christ, and we think we can be no. 1 in any game !

Posted by Rajit on (December 30, 2008, 11:11 GMT)

Hey Aakash,no hard feelings in my comments,but Delhi's elimination has probably denied a cricket lover to watch a final between a full strength Mumbai and Delhi team (an unrealised dream).But It surely would have been a mouth watering prospect,better than the food on offer at some of the venues in domestic games.

Posted by Longmemory on (December 29, 2008, 9:04 GMT)

Its fascinating to hear about life in the Ranji-Duleep segment of things. There's too much attention to Tests and other interationals that we hardly have any idea about what life is like at the domestic level. Thanks Aakash for yet another informative blog. I know it must be hard to keep your spirts up when you've lost your contract despite being such a top performer. Its incredibly unfair but if its any consolation, there's literally thousands of us fans who think you are a terrific bat. Keep playing and keep enjoying the game.

Posted by naresh mishra on (December 29, 2008, 6:58 GMT)

sad to hear the travails of ranji players while on domestic circuit.Rs 25000 per day for say 50 people translates into rs 500 per head which is not a small amount for decent 4 meals a day.or say rs 250 per head in case one includes every one into the fold of officials.

Posted by anand Kumar on (December 28, 2008, 2:41 GMT)

Hi Akash,

Why not tell us something about the experience in Australia and Pakistan also? We'd love to hear :P

Posted by Shefali on (December 26, 2008, 19:30 GMT)

Just a couple of observations regarding the previous posts. Eroll Flynn hope you really dont expect our cricketers to eat 11, 000 calories a day- 2 weeks of it and they can be used in place of the heavy roller. Even Michael Phelphs ate 11,000 calories a day for intense training sessions, and he is over 6'7' tall. And to Rohan, like you the players are allowed to express their views, and yes a captain is only as good as his team, and it was just bad luck that Delhi started peaking 1 game too late.

Posted by ErollFlynn on (December 26, 2008, 1:34 GMT)

One of the most overlooked aspect of the Indian cricketers diet is nutrition. BCCI should appoint nutrition consultants who should construct the menu and the same should be catered/offered at all cricketing venues (from U-16 to first class levels). The sum of 25,000 is not enough to cover the calories that cricketers require. The champion swimmer, Michael Phelps, eats a 11000 calorie breakfast during training season. I wonder if our cricketers even get 1100 calories a day. Only when we play international matches we compare the physical strength of our cricketers to those of Australia,England and South Africa and are found wanting. Even a tall and lanky cricketer like Ishanth Sharma doesn't have the muscles to support his heavy workload. Kudos to Aakash Chopra for highlighting this on his magnificent blog. I only wish that his batting was as good as his blogging. But then again, since his Delhi team mates are on a song write now, he should look at batting at No.3 and try to get in!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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