Mike Gatting (left) and Jack Simmons © Getty Images
Mike Gatting (left) and Jack Simmons © Getty Images

The culinary exploits of Mike Gatting have been chronicled. However, he had a predecessor in Jack Simmons, as cited by innumerable anecdotes. Abhishek Mukherjee envisages a rivalry between the two.

Everyone loved his Mike Gatting joke, and why not? That girth and the famously voracious appetite made him a feast — pun obviously intended — for columnists and cricketers alike. One wonders how many of these were actually true.

Even as the rubbles of the Ball of the Century subsided, they rubbed it in even further. Martin Johnson, for example, raised a pertinent question in The Independent: “How anyone can spin a ball the width of Gatting boggles the mind.”

“If it had been a cheese roll, it would never have got past him,” Graham Gooch had quipped. Gooch added that a flummoxed Gatting looked like “someone has just nicked his lunch”.

The jokes had started years before that. Dennis Lillee had apparently once stopped his run-up and yelled: “Hell, Gatt, move out of the way, I can’t see the stumps.”

The easiest way for Richard Hadlee to get Gatting out on England’s 1983-84 tour of New Zealand was, to quote a teammate, “Hadlee has to run up and bowl an orange, and he will get out.” It is not known exactly who said this, but it is assumed to be Geoff Boycott.

His teammates were probably more brutal. Sample this conversation between Chris Cowdrey and his captain David Gower:

Gower: Do you want Gatt a foot wider at slip?
Cowdrey: If he gets any wider, he’ll burst.

Gatting did not help his own cause by indulging himself in overeating. He was certainly spotted sending the twelfth man to fetch food during matches.

Gatting was hit on the mouth while fielding in a tour match at Toowoomba on the 1994-95 Ashes tour. A well-wishing physiotherapist had unsuspectingly instructed him to stay off solid diet. They later discovered several empty pizza boxes inside the room.

A few days later, at Sydney, Darren Gough asked him for directions. Gatting’s response was one of a kind: “Easy. It’s right at the Italian, left at the curry house and just beyond the Chinese.”

There were rumours of Gatting inviting Louise Shipman, a barmaid, to his room at Leicester’s Rothley Court Hotel, during West Indies’ 1988 tour of England. Gatting denied. He found support in Ian Botham — if you can call it support, that is: “It couldn’t have been Gatt. Anything he takes up to his room after nine o’clock, he eats.”

The most famous Gatting story involves a selection committee meeting. They apparently passed him a chit: “SHALL WE HAVE LYNCH?”

Rumour has it (I hope it is a rumour) that Gatting misread ‘LYNCH’ for ‘LUNCH’, and Monte Lynch made his debut.

Flat Jack

Mike Gatting was truly hard to emulate, but there was at least one predecessor worth a mention.

‘Flat Jack’ Simmons never played Tests, but was no ordinary cricketer either: he toiled hard for Lancashire in a career spanning over two decades, and had a haul of 1,033 First-Class wickets (at 27.18) to show for that. He also got 9,417 runs (at 22.52), so he could bat a bit as well.

He played First-Class cricket till he was 48. It was surprising that he did not get a call-up despite England’s many shambolic performances (especially against West Indies) in the 1980s. The selectors preferred John Emburey.

Simmons was named Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1985 (incidentally, the year after Gatting). He was 44 at that stage.

But this is not about the off-spinner who played some of his best cricket after turning 35. This is about the man who, to quote Vic Marks, was “less concerned about the efficacy of his arm ball than the whereabouts of the best fish ’n’ chips in town.”

There are numerous stories of Simmons, but David Lloyd probably made a more relevant statement: “The stories of his eating habits are legion. They are also all true.”

Lloyd himself narrates one where he dropped Simmons to a fish-and-chips shop about half a kilometre from the latter’s place. Simmons predictably ordered, and once the newspaper-wrapped treasure was acquired, he sat on a wall outside and went about business.

This struck to Lloyd as odd: surely Simmons could have gone home to finish off his meal instead of making Lloyd wait in his car? He asked the obvious question: “Why don’t you take them home, Jack, eat them in your own kitchen?”

“If I take these home, Jackie’ll not make me any supper!” came an alarmed response. Simmons knew his wife.

Simmons was obviously not the most enthusiastic when it came to pre-season training. When forced to go on one of those arduous runs, he once got on to a lorry.

His concept of diet would not have impressed nutritionists, either. He once had two massive apple pies and justified it by announcing that he was on a fruit diet.

He also used to book restaurant for lunches on match days. He left the moment the last ball of the first session was bowled and invariably returned on time.

At times he did not even bother to show up on time. Lloyd mentions a match at Trafalgar Road, Southport, one of the home grounds of Lancashire. At lunch they invariably served their famous gooseberry-and-cherry pies.

Unfortunately, Simmons had just started on one of these (one can safely assume it was not his first of the day) when the bell rang. Most men would have left the pie unfinished (stowed away, perhaps, for tea?).

But Simmons was having none of it. He made sure he had his pie, all of it. “For an over, Lancashire fielded with ten men,” Lloyd reminisced.

Yes, Simmons could do that.

Gatting or Simmons?

It is a tough call. Who takes the cake (not literally, though both would have loved to)?

Gatting was more about jokes. In fact, even the typically unperturbed Richie Benaud could not resist himself: “Gatting at fine-leg, that’s a contradiction in terms.”

On the other hand, Clayton Street Chippy, a fish-and-chips shop at Great Harwood, have a signature dish that consists of a fish perched happily on top of steak pudding, chips, peas, and gravy.

What makes this dish special? As Simmons told Robin Marlar (narrated by Richard Thomas in All Out Cricket), “it started one night when I just couldn’t decide between meat pudding and fish, so I had both — with chips and mushy peas, of course.”

Yes, they did name it the Simmo Special.

Whom do you give the award to, the one for being the greater gourmand of the two? The man who got Benaud to indulge in an uncharacteristic on-air pun? Or the man who had a dish named after him — not for on-field achievements but for an excellent show on the plate?

I will leave that to you, readers.