A test of the gut
February 27, 2006
Spinners may be India’s chief weapons against visiting cricket teams. But often, it is Delhi Belly that makes the first inroads into the opposition.
It’s just 12 days since Michael Vaughan’s England arrived here for three Test matches, seven one-dayers and a few dozen shrimp.
Already, Ian Blackwell, Monty Panesar, Shaun Udal and Simon Jones are down with stomach bugs.
A tour of India is, literally and metaphorically, a test of the gut and there have been spectacular instances of visiting players struggling with their tummies.
In 1993, Graham Gooch introduced us to designer stubble by sporting a gravitassy grey stubble (maybe the destruction wreaked by Vinod Kambli and the spin troika – Anil Kumble, Rajesh Chauhan and Venkatapathy Raju – drove him to the forlorn look).
Gooch also showed us what happens when you walk into the corridor of uncertainty that is the seafood section.
The captain had prawns of questionable quality in Chennai, and paid for it by being unable to play the second Test.
Gooch must have remembered countryman John Emburey then. About a decade earlier, the offspinner had repented for giving into his desire for curry as soon as landing in Bombay.
Emburey and his roommate, John Lever, placed their order almost the moment they kept their bags down.
The effects were just as prompt. Minutes after consuming the fare, Emburey leapt off his seat and onto the toilet.
Aussie leg-spinner Shane Warne likes to sample the local variety when he travels. But when it comes to food, he is known to maintain fidelity to a few things.
So when he flew to India in 1998, he brought with him cans of beans and Vegemite, the traditional Aussie bread spread.
That was a time when the culinary revolution in India was just starting, and Warne, not a spice enthusiast, thought it wise to not take chances.
The cricket scholar Ramachandra Guha remembers that when he went to see Bishan Singh Bedi in his hotel room during the series, a couple of empty bean cans were around. Warne had paid Bedi a visit for bowling tips.
One of the worst cases of India’s gastronomic forces, positive or negative, bowling a team through the gate was in 1988, the sufferers being New Zealand.
At one point the side was so ravaged by stomach problems that they were forced to use former skipper Jeremy Coney, on commentary duty, as a fielder.
Thankfully for them, Sir Richard Hadlee overtook Ian Botham’s then world record of 373 Test wickets in Bangalore and gave them some reason to smile.
It’s not just foreigners whose intestines are susceptible to the wrong ‘un from the dinner plate. Dilip Vengsarkar couldn’t control his culinary libido and pounced on mackerel (baangda) during the Reliance World Cup.
The morning after was awkward and the star was forced out of the semifinal in Mumbai.
India were favourites to beat England in that match and reach the final at the Eden Gardens. But they lost.
It is possible Vengsarkar then placed a picture of the fisherwoman who had procured the fish beside one of Malcolm Marshall in his Foes Gallery.
But just as some players are incompatible with food in India, some are able to enjoy it.
When New Zealand came in 1995, I took skipper Lee Germon for a ‘dinner with the Kiwi captain’ story to the Golden Dragon at the Taj.
Germon and manager Glenn Turner were in charge to bring a measure of discipline to a side with wild individualists such as Chris Cairns, Adam Parore and the enigmatic Martin Crowe.
But neither his class monitor role nor New Zealand’s fastidiousness for food stopped Germon from digging into pork that evening.
In a previous assignment of a similar kind, Mike Gatting forked in so many prawns that the colleague who had taken him out had to augment the office allowance with her own cash to pay the bill.
West Indian, Pakistani and even some Australian players find more angels than devils in food in India.
The great Viv Richards may not have been forthcoming about his romances here but admitted to a thing for custard apple ice-cream on the 80s television show – Sunil Gavaskar Presents.
Wasim Akram is said to be enamoured by the dal bukhara at Delhi’s Maurya Sheraton.
The left-arm swing artist, they say, often packs some of the famous creamy brown dal for his family in Pakistan. Matthew Hayden is a dal person too, except that he prefers the yellow version (is it because that is Australia’s colour in One-day cricket?). And being enthusiastic about cooking, he makes it himself.
Like Akram, his countryman Shoaib Akhtar is not averse to ordering take-out when in India. Except that he does it at Hyderabad’s Paradise, renowned for their biryani.
And a possible reason why Ian Chappell is particular about a vigorous swim in the morning is his fondness for gajar halwa. Hoping then that England, our current guests, get a respite from bathroom trips so that they can make some to the restaurant.