Whatever the problems faced by England’s Test cricketers on the field lately – and they are legion – the players know that one thing at least will go right in this week’s match against New Zealand at Lord’s: the food. The fare at the home of cricket is legendary.
Ex-England and Middlesex batsman Mark Ramprakash says that in county matches he and his team-mates would sometimes deliberately get out just before lunch so they could ‘pile into’ the food. Even the two batsmen who were still in would promise each other, as they walked back out to resume play, that they wouldn’t run quick singles for a while. David Lloyd’s first lunch at the ground was accompanied by lager. He was dismissed soon afterwards.
Both players started their careers during the reign of Nancy Doyle, who ran the kitchen for over 35 years until her retirement in 1996. She never followed recipes, or even used scales to weigh ingredients, relying instead on the instincts she’d learned from nuns in her native Ireland. So impressive were the results that the players worshipped her. Too much, according to England captain Mike Brearley, who one day dared to suggest to Nancy that her typical lunch (soup, starter, roast lamb with roast potatoes, chips and vegetables, dessert accompanied by custard, cream or ice cream) might not be ideal for professional sportsmen. ‘Tell you what, Michael,’ replied Nancy, drawing herself up to her full height of five feet nothing, ‘you don’t tell me how to feed my boys, and I won’t tell you how to bat. OK?’
Such culinary excess is out these days, with dieticians and nutritionists ruling the sporting roost. Not that the players always listen. Glenn McGrath had seconds every time he played at Lord’s, according to Doyle’s successor Linda Le Ker. Shane Warne stuck to toasted cheese sandwiches (and cigarettes). One of Le Ker’s specialities was pasticcio, a layered pasta and mince dish that Marcus Trescothick loved so much he begged her for the recipe. This from a man whose nickname was Banger, after his love of sausages.
You can see why Australian players might remain unconcerned about healthy eating. England arrived down under for the 2013-14 Ashes armed with an 82-page cookbook of healthy meals, including ‘quinoa with butternut squash, apricot and parsley’ and ‘mung bean and spinach curry’. They lost the series 5-0. The following summer, back in England, the home players saw the visiting Indians getting McDonald’s and Nando’s takeaways delivered to the nets during training. The score in the one-day international series at that point was reflected in the Daily Mirror headline ‘Mung Beans O, Big Macs 3’.
There’s every chance that Nando’s could figure at Lord’s again this week, given new Test captain Ben Stokes’s fascination with the chain. During an under-15 festival in 2006 he spiked Joe Root’s Coke with Nando’s peri-peri sauce. And the night before his most famous innings of all (the match-winning 135 not out at Headingley in 2019), his dinner comprised a Nando’s and two Yorkie Raisin and Biscuit chocolate bars. The following night, he and Root celebrated the miraculous win by joining team-mates Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes and Rory Burns in a £55 McDonald’s drive-thru feast.
Cricketers have always loved their grub. W.G. Grace, who favoured champagne during drinks breaks and whisky with lunch, dined one night during the 1878 Cheltenham Festival on ‘lobster patties, stewed pigeons, veal cutlets and curried chicken’. Ian Botham’s famous Shredded Wheat adverts failed to reflect the player’s real appetite: ‘I don’t like sawdust with milk all over it’. However Derek Randall remained unimpressed with caviar when he tasted it for the first time on the 1976/7 MCC tour to India: ‘This champagne’s all right, but the blackcurrant jam tastes of fish.’
So famous has the players’ food at Lord’s become that the ground sometimes release the menu on Twitter. A typical offering from 2017 included monkfish wrapped in panchetta with lemon beurre blanc, braised lamb shank with baby onion gravy, and pea and shallot tortellini with watercress purée.The desserts on offer during the 2019 World Cup final included fruit tartlet with vanilla brulée.
So if a player has a bad morning session in the Test this week, don’t feel too sorry for him as he trudges back to the pavilion. His average might have taken a battering, but his stomach’s in for a treat.