England’s elaborate dietary demands in pursuit of the Ashes cooked up a hugely entertaining media storm. But they could not quite disguise the fact that the complete world stocks of pumpkin seed and goji berry bars or buckwheat pancake with probiotic yogurt and fresh berries – merely two of the tourists’ extensive list equating to a foodie’s heaven – will be unable to help if they cannot get on the park.
While the agave nectar and quinoa were doubtless slipping down a treat, the match against Australia A was rained off without a ball bowled for the second consecutive day. Only two of the tourists had played in the match after three days and, although a score of 318 for 0 represented a dominant position, three of their key players have yet to bat, bowl or field.
With one warm-up match to go before the series begins in Brisbane on 21 November, in which Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen will all need copious time in the middle, there is a serious prospect of England being undercooked. Which is not something that could be said about the food they wish the players to be served.
The files containing the glossy brochures which have been sent to all the Test grounds, entitled “Test Catering Requirements and The Recipes” extending to 83 pages in all, were leaked to the Sydney Morning Herald. Naturally, the newspaper wasted no time in a spot of Pom-baiting, astonished at the detail and affecting delight that England were adopting such delicacies.
Graham Gooch, the England batting coach, saw the amusing side of it all. “I was a bit disappointed because Beef Wellington and jam roly-poly were not on that list for me,” he said. “The England team, as you know, try to cover every angle for their preparation and it is totally professional to be putting out a list of preferable foods if you can get them.
“So the nutritionist has done his job and we’re very happy with that. I think it’s right and proper. I’m not sure all the ingredients are on the list at the eating establishments that I go to! But that’s why my waistline is like it is.”
England’s performance nutritionist, Chris Rosimus, has sent copies of the booklets to the chefs at grounds all round Australia. The recipe booklet with lip-smacking photographs of the food would do a Delia Smith production proud.
The type of food being requested demonstrates how seriously nutrition for sportsmen is taken. Breakfast, lunch, tea and post-match menus are all included for all five days of the Test matches. Breakfast on day one includes probiotic yogurt with fresh berries and agave nectar or honey; lunch on day two embraces sweet chilli and glass noodle salads with pak choi; tea on day three has Thai peanut and tofu wraps; post-match tea on day four contains pistachio and ginger biscotti (protein-based Maximuscle).
Former players were queueing up to poke fun at modern diets. Merv Hughes, the Australia fast bowler, was asked what he would do if confronted with piri-piri breaded tofu with tomato salsa. “I’d dry retch for the next three days,” he said.
But Gooch said: “There’s the old saying – if you get the little things right, the big things will take care of themselves. So it is just one little building block of everything you try to do to get the team prepared as well as you can to cross that white line on the first day of the first Test.”
The building block that England want more than anything else is more cricket. Although Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry have all scored hundreds, against some pretty thin bowling attacks, other batsmen especially Pietersen, Joe Root, Matt Prior and Gary Ballance desperately need more work.
Broad and Swann have yet to bowl and the third seamer’s spot has become still more difficult to pick. Gooch, like the players, was sanguine. “I wouldn’t say it is an issue in as much as we’re whinging about it but you’ve just got to get on with what you can do,” he said. “Ideally, you want all your guys to have a run-out, gain some rhythm and confidence and remove the cobwebs.”
“The guys are in good spirits, they want to get out there, they have come to Australia to try to retain the Ashes. We’ve not come for any other reason. We need to be up to speed if we can before the first Test and we’ll be working hard to try to achieve that.” But time is running out faster than the roast sweet potato Parmentier with garlic and herbs in the corner of the dressing room.