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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.
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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.