As Alastair Cook prepared to lead England into first Test action against India this morning, Leon Wobschall spoke to former Yorkshire spinner Richard Dawson about touring the sub-continent.
IF Richard Dawson has one piece of advice for fellow Yorkshiremen Tim Bresnan, Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root on their maiden Test expedition to India, it is the following:
Embrace the whole experience as it is a life-enhancing one.
Do not worry either about the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’ – if it happens, it happens.
The idea that foreign cricketers spend their leisure hours cooped up in hotel rooms on long sub-continental tours playing computer games and watching endless DVDs is, sadly, not a myth.
Do not broach the subject of the local cuisine either, a no-no for many, including, famously, Alec Stewart. Clearly from the meat-and-two-veg school, the former England captain reportedly ate the same meal of steamed chicken breast, mashed potatoes and broccoli for 43 days during the Cricket World Cup in India and Pakistan in 1996.
As for sampling the cultural pleasures of a richly diverse land in India and making an effort to immerse themselves with cricket-daft locals in a country where the game is a religion, well that is sadly off the menu for most touring players as well.
Dawson, whose memories of his first Test tour with England – fresh from helping Yorkshire to their first County Championship in 33 years – are plentiful, said: “I loved it over there. India was so interesting and you have to just think: ‘This is a fantastic chance to see a part of the world that not many people get to see.’ If you embrace it, it is a brilliant place to be.
“For me, coming from Doncaster as a 22-year-old and getting an opportunity to go over to the sub-continent having never been before, it was magnificent.
“They absolutely love their cricket in India and it is such an experience to go there and see their passion for it. It is like with football over here.
“It is not just about playing yourself, but watching how they play. I learned so much watching how the youngsters played and there were hundreds of them playing cricket. They are so knowledgeable. Players should take it in and come back much improved.
“I remember the endless amount of net bowlers who wanted to bowl at you for hours on end. If you want to train all day, every day, you can do there as people just want to bowl at you.
“But it was not just the cricket, but the place for me. Although to bowl against (Sachin) Tendulkar in front of 80,000 was special. If you go out there worrying and thinking you are going to get ill, you are going to get unstuck.
“Players do get ill, that is part of it; it is one of those things. But you do not worry about it and you just look after yourself health-wise and do the proper things, which the players will all be doing.
“Being struck down with illness can be part and parcel of going there. I remember actually going through the whole tour being okay until the last week when I came down with sickness.
“In the two months I had been there, it had been brilliant and I had been fully healthy and then, for some reason, I came down with illness – for love nor money I am not sure what caused it.”
In truth, Dawson and England’s tour of India in 2001 was almost scuppered before a ball was bowled – due to tragic events on September 11 that year.
For a while, it looked as if the tour might be called off amid security fears before the ECB announced it would be left to the individuals to decide whether to tour.
While the majority confirmed they would tour, a number – including Dawson’s Yorkshire colleague Craig White – expressed doubts before fears were eventually allayed and the cricket began, with Dawson making an immediate impression.
Four wickets, including the prized scalp of VVS Laxman arrived on his Test debut in Mohali but it was not enough to prevent England losing with the other two Tests drawn.
Overall, Dawson, fresh from Exeter University, had a mixed time of it, taking six wickets on the Indian dustbowls.
Dawson, now a coach at Gloucestershire, said: “India is a tough tour and it is attritional cricket and it is a case of who can be the most patient and disciplined.
“All the Yorkshire lads have a good chance of playing on this tour. I do not think it is a closed shop for any of them. It will be a great experience for Tim (Bresnan), Jonny (Bairstow) and Joe (Root).
“England have a very good chance, but it will be tough. The thing is while there are a lot of spinning tracks, the Indians are also the best players of spin! So that nullifies things; it is not like you are bowling on spinning wickets against poor players. You have to earn your wickets.
“If you bowl a bad ball, you will get put away and they do not give you a second chance. Physically, bowling 30 overs a day when it is boiling hot and when things might not be going for you is also draining mentally.
“I found that after a day’s play, physically I was tired as you would expect. But mentally, I was quite exhausted as well.
“I remember playing in Mumbai, which was absolutely roasting hot.
“It was unbearable heat and I have never experienced that again in my life.
“But Mohali was very English. We were in north India and it was quite cold and we were putting jumpers back on to play in!”