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Taste of India for hungry team
- Players troop in batches to desi restaurant for masala & mithai

Johannesburg, March 15: If there’s anything that makes Sachin Tendulkar’s eyes light up more than a juicy half-volley on off-stump, it’s a spread of Chicken Kolhapuri, Daal Akhbari and Raan Bombay Blues, in so-far-from-home Jo’burg.

If there’s anything that makes Sourav Ganguly’s eyes light up more than a juicy half-volley outside off-stump, it’s rumali roti, Daal Akhbari and Raan Bombay Blues on the table, in so-far-from-home Jo’burg.

Bombay Blues is the culinary key here, proving that the way to Team India’s homesick heart is through its Indian-delicacies-starved stomach. The 150-seater restaurant in upmarket Rosebank promising a ‘gourmet adventure’ for those seeking “authentic North Indian food” has found adventurers aplenty — white, brown and black — since it started serving it up in August 2002. But for telecom tycoon Asheesh Aklekar and doctorate in chemical engineering wife Leah B. Wasker, both nostalgic about hometown ‘Bombay’ and both passionate about food and cricket, hosting Sourav and his boys, in batches, has been the high point of restauranting, by far.

First to drop in, after feasting on Sri Lanka at the Wanderers on Monday, was the Karnataka trio of Rahul Dravid, Jawagal Srinath and Anil Kumble, who not only “loved the food, but also the homeliness”.

Next in line was a mega lunch for Sachin, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Ajit Agarkar, straight from a workout at the SuperSport Park.

Sachin, in fact, called up twice to warn the hosts that they were all “famished”. And true to form, they took no time to settle down, carving up whatever there was on the table — a specially spicy Chicken Kolhapuri for Sachin, Tandoor Ka Badshah, Kalmi Kebab, Daal Akhbari, Paneer Mussallam, Raan Bombay Blues...

Sachin (who “loved” the Jagjit Singh ghazals playing at mealtime) and gang had a taste of it all, though in small measures, not wanting to upset Andrew Leipus by gorging on masala and mithai. “The food is out of the world,” said Sachin, known to cook up a storm in his Bandra kitchen once in a while, and promised to be back “after the finals” to run through the course, from starters to sweets.

A sinful nibble at sweets was something our boy from Behala could not resist, when he turned up for dinner that night, with Mohammed Kaif. The skipper “freaked out” on the Daal Akhbari with rumali roti, Murgh Kaali Mirch and special prawns, before falling for a spoonful each of kulfi and gajar ka halwa with ice cream, blaming it on the good ol’ Bengali sweet tooth. For Kaif, of course, the superhit Raan Bombay Blues (leg of baby lamb cooked overnight, charcoaled and flambeed) was modified to be served minus the rum.

But that did not stop him from uncorking some heady stuff against the Kiwis two afternoons later.

“Giving the boys a taste of India and providing them a space to be themselves so far from home is all that matters. Now, we just hope they come back to the restaurant after winning the Cup,” say Asheesh (who used to be a hard-hitting number three for Shardashram School in Mumbai under coach Ramakant Achrekar a few seasons before Sachin put on his pads for the same school) and wife Leah (who now counts the Sachins and Souravs as family).

The only other cricketer to have touched down for a taste of the restaurant set on steam by legendary Bukhara cook Kader Khan and now manned by seven speciality Indian cooks was Shoaib Akhtar. The Pakistani paceman was served special keema for dinner the night before the India showdown, and confessed that he feared only one batsman: Sachin. The day after, of course, the Little Master made mincemeat out of Shoaib. The Rawalpindi Express should have been warned that Bombay Blues is of, by and for Team India.

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