In his autobiography ‘Out of my Comfort Zone’, Steve Waugh didn’t have kind words for India after the 1987 World Cup, his first tour of the country. He described the Ferozshah Kotla as an “intimate but ugly venue with mismatched stands, poor seating, polluted air that stung the eyes, and a bumpy outfield”.
When Australia came to India in search of a series win in 2001, beating the heat was one of the priorities. The solution came in the form of cooling vests that made Matthew Hayden look even bigger. A few years back, Shane Watson was advised to pop a stomach-lining tablet before every meal to prevent sickness.
“I’d order a two-egg omelette with chicken every morning for 55 days because it was safe and non-spicy, and I saw no reason to be more adventurous this time around and risk a week of dashing to the toilet,” read an excerpt from Waugh’s autobiography.
Memories of Shane Warne having his spaghetti and baked beans flown in from Australia are still vivid but it is passé now.
The new India
India, as a cricket destination, has become cooler. All IPL teams boast at least two Australians in their ranks. Plus, there are coaches and their assistants along with other support staff. It’s a grand assimilation of Australians every year in what was considered the final frontier even some years ago.
Of course, the hundreds of thousands of dollars in IPL contract money have helped, but there are other factors too.
“I know some players didn’t like it diet-wise but now we have so many options,” said former Australia wicketkeeper and Kings XI Punjab captain Adam Gilchrist. “Tours have become more comfortable now with five-star hotels in almost all the cities. Plus, now we have many youth teams coming here. IPL also helps in exposure,” said Gilchrist.
Former batsman and Deccan Chargers coach Darren Lehmann felt improving facilities is the key. “I feel the biggest growth has been infrastructure-wise. Now India has state-of-the-art gyms everywhere and the grounds have become much better. Overall, it has become much improved,” said Lehmann.
“But Tests are different from Twenty20s. We had to adjust and learn a lot. Surely, it’s more comfortable but it doesn’t really translate to success on the field,” said Gilchrist.