One of the best things about cricket throughout the second half of the 20th century was that its heroes were not six-packed, styled and and trying to be sexy. Sachin Tendulkar always remained a bit portly, Arjuna Ranatunga far more so. And Shane Warne was frequently seen smoking between sessions. The last bastion for the everyman in the gentleman’s game, Pakistan, is now set to fall. The new head-coach-cum-chief-selector, Misbah-ul-Haq, has reportedly put in place dietary restrictions for players in Pakistan’s national camp and in domestic tournaments to address the team’s deteriorating fitness levels. But the ban on biryani is going too far.
Among the immediate provocations for the dietary dictatorship were the accusations faced by the Pakistan team in the wake of their loss to India in the World Cup. Angry Pakistan fans alleged that on the eve of the encounter, the team was wolfing down burgers, pizzas and all manner of desserts and this gluttony was the reason for their lethargy on the field. Of course, junk food should have no place in the diets of athletes. But unlike the junk food of the west, the South Asian comforts of “biryani or oil-rich red meat meals or sweet dishes” ought to be treated with more leniency. After all, Inzamam ul Haq’s batting did not suffer too much, did it?
Meat, rice and a bit of spice. It’s a simple combination that gives the taste-buds and the soul so much more than the sum of its parts. In fact, for years, rumour (let’s call it conventional wisdom) had it that it is the lack of the now offensive red meat meals that prevented India from producing a fast-bowler of an Imran, Wasim or Waqar calibre. And players, working hard as they are on their fitness now, need something to look forward to, lest they rebel against the new cricket leadership. Misbah must be careful not to throw the biryani out with the bathwater.