The opening day of the Saurashtra-Baroda match in Khandheri, on the outskirts of Rajkot, had an unlikely visitor. At the foot of the pavilion steps, several kids wearing identical uniforms clustered around the distinctive 6ft 4in figure of Alex Tudor, the former England fast bowler. A few other trigger-happy spectators, who had braved the cold Sunday morning, took out their camera phones, scrambling to get the best shot. Tudor is in the country for ten days on a coaching assignment with G Force, a cricket academy based in Dubai, and the 29 teenagers under his tutelage are in Saurashtra to play against local teams and experience Indian conditions.
Tudor, who played ten Tests for England between 1998 and 2002, went off the radar in the late 2000s, when he was released by Surrey. He has since then taken up coaching full time and admits he finds the experience of being around youngsters stimulating.
"I just seem to have a good relationship with kids, wherever I go," Tudor says with a laugh. "Maybe it's because I'm tall. I suppose I behave like them at times, I'm quite young at heart. I just enjoy seeing them with smiles on their faces, playing the game I love. If they go away learning something new from something I've taught, that gives me more fulfilment than a five-wicket haul or any runs I've got."
Tudor's international career was only restricted to games in England and Australia. On pitches with bounce, he was a handful. When the opportunity came to tick off a box and visit India, albeit as a coach, Tudor wasn't going to pass it up. A mutual friend introduced Tudor to Gopal Jasapara, who runs the academy and Tudor was on board.
"As soon as he spoke of the opportunity to work in India I was sold," Tudor says. "I had never been to India before. I told my wife about it and she was very accommodating.
"I've always wanted to sample India, to see the kids looking happy, though not having the facilities that some of our kids have back at home and still enjoying the game, not moaning about the state of the outfields etc. I'm just really happy to be here and hopefully it won't be my last visit."
In the short time he has been here, Tudor has already noted a few aspects his students can learn from, particularly on the fitness side. "Our guys played a game yesterday and I was very impressed with the locals, with their fielding and attitude. I told my guys to take a cue from these kids. Twenty years ago, the fitness levels would have been different. The guys now are fit and I think the intervention of the IPL has helped because you can't hide in the field any more."
Saurashtra has traditionally been a graveyard for fast bowlers, with pitches in Rajkot producing stale draws. Bowlers have had to go the extra mile, beyond their levels of patience, to fetch wickets. Tudor says that on flat tracks, a defensive line and length tactic will not work. The key, he says, is to induce mistakes by getting the batsmen to drive.
"You need to bowl fuller, mix your pace up because it skids on. Keep close catchers and set straighter fields. You shouldn't be cut and pulled on these wickets. Sometimes set silly fields, like my captain Adam Hollioake used to do at Surrey. He wasn't a tactical genius but he would never let the game dwindle and be boring," he says.
"I find bowlers nowadays want to do too much. The art of bowling six balls on the same place is also a skill. But I think bowlers should look to bowl top of off stump repeatedly and bowl maidens. I don't see too much of that."
While passing by the Baroda dressing room, Tudor had a quick chat with Irfan Pathan, who is playing only his second Ranji game of the season after returning from a rib injury. Irfan's return is being monitored, and he is playing purely as a batsman for the time being. When asked about the injury-management tips he would pass on youngsters, Tudor says that fitness training should be non-negotiable. Tudor's career was ravaged by injuries at various points and he said there were lessons learnt from his own experiences.
"Prevention is paramount. Some people don't like doing fitness training but if you want a long career, it has to be done. It's not about looking like Hercules. You have to be supple, have good tummy muscles so that will help the back. You don't have to go a gym for everything. Just do some running. Dennis Lillee would say that if you had 15 minutes in a day, just do sit-ups."
As for those who aspire to be allrounders, particularly of the seam-bowling kind, Tudor says players have to give every part of their skill the same amount of respect. Tudor was not a genuine allrounder but was still a handy lower-order batsman, scoring an unbeaten 99 in a Test and two first-class centuries.
"For me, an allrounder is someone who is good enough to play as a batsman if he can't bowl and vice-versa," he says. "He isn't someone who can just score 30. That doesn't pay the bills."