Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Back Foot No Ball

The end of another season

For certain members of Fantasy Bob's household it is a cause for muted celebration  when he packs his kit up and stores it in its winter hide away.  After months of danger, Mrs FB can stroll around the premises free of the anxiety that he has deliberately left his bag lying in just where she is bound to trip over it.

However for Fantasy Bob the ending of another cricket season is a time of reflection on his achievements.  Not that that takes very long. This season his visits to the crease have been mercifully few.  In the fifteen matches he played, he marked his guard only three times.  He bowled in only eight.  He is mastering the skills required to be non-batting non-bowling skipper.  There is still the fielding to deal with - and it is not clear whether he has ever done any of that anyway.

This season Fantasy Bob contributed more runs to his team's cause as an umpire than as a batsman.

FB uses a scoring shot that other umpires ignore.

Law 21.5.1 is clear:  'the bowler’s back foot must land within and not touching the return crease appertaining to his/her stated mode of delivery.'

Any apprentice umpire can even find a picture of what this means. 

Many a bowler in the lower leagues will swing out in his delivery stride in an attempt to bowl from nearer mid-off than the stumps and will plant his back foot across or outside the return crease.  It only has to touch it to for FB's arm to go up and his clear baritone to sound out,  'No ball'.   

This can lead to an interesting discussion as the bowler, not assiduous in his reading of Law 21 (or probably any other law to judge by the conversation that will ensue) will wheel round with a crazed look in his eye.  He will point to his front foot and suggest that it was well behind the popping crease.  FB will agree but say that the offending foot was the other.  It can come as a surprise to the bowler that he has two feet.  He will look down mystified.  But most bowlers accept FB's explanation.  However every now and then there is one who can't, who suggests that he is just making things up (they may point to his blog as evidence of his propensity for doing so) or that that he is conducting a personal conspiracy against him.  This all adds further to the entertainment of the afternoon.

Sometimes FB thinks he is the only umpire in the whole wide world of cricket world who applies this law.  TV highlights suggest that Test umpires seem to be unaware of it.  For example, the ball that Jadeja got Stokes with yesterday was bowled from very wide on the crease to say the least.  Replays at the fall of wickets examine the front foot but never the back foot.  Perhaps FB is just making it up...................

So FB packs his kit away, he fondly cherishes the memories of the runs his pedantic umpiring has contributed to the cause, he notes his kit is one year more tattered and battered.  It is a miracle that it has survived another season.  Is there another season in that faded cap and those crumbling boots?  Is there another season of back-foot no balls to be scored?

Monday, 16 July 2018


No one took more pleasure than Fantasy Bob in the performance of Leigh Kasperek for New Zealand in last Friday's match against England.  Leigh's 5fer was a huge contribution to her team's victory and showed again why she is so highly rated.  She was ranked second in the ICC bowling rankings in women's T20 cricket last year.

Leigh is one of FB's all time sporting heroes.  He and Leigh first appeared in the colours of go-ahead Edinburgh club Carlton many years ago.  Leigh, then a teenager, was, FB thinks, the first woman to appear for the club, an innovation on which the club has successfully built.  By contrast FB, then something a bit older than a teenager but not quite a pensioner, was the first Fantasy Bob to appear for the club, an innovation  that they would like to forget.

Since they first appeared together, Leigh has followed FB's burgeoning career with interest.  And on her occasional visits to her native City she will always visit the club.  She is forever happy to turn out, even if it means being subject to FB's peculiar approach to captaincy.  Despite that and the evident gulf in class, she always gives her all and plays with a smile on her face.  She's a gem.

Sadly, CricInfo gives no indication of these appearances in their portrait of Leigh - there are mentions of Scotland, Essex, New Zealand and many other sides less prestigious than FB's own Carlton Positively 4th XI (the only cricket team in world named after a song by Bob Dylan).

Readers may therefore think that FB is having them on - surely no international player has played with FB.  But the documentary and photographic evidence cannot be disputed.

Readers will recognise this photograph.

Remove the cropping will reveal

Leigh has just made a sparkling 70.  FB is striding to the crease and will make an equally sparkling 0.

Neither does CricInfo mention Leigh's legendary homemade pancakes - always a treat on the tea table and something which would justify her selection alone.

Well done Leigh.  What a bright star you are.  There's always a place for you in FB's team.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

A Strategic Victory

A quirk in the atmospheric conditions meant that Fantasy Bob’s attempts to listen to Radio 3's fascinating discussion on Gustav Mahler's bowling action were interrupted by a relay of what appear to be proceedings from the board room of the ECB discussing the First Test Match between England and Pakistan.

Well, that was a great victory.

Eh? What do you mean? We were stuffed.

Precisely - it's victory for our strategy.

Ah yes – the final elimination of red ball cricket.

Indeed – and we are making good progress. I mean who would want to watch it after that performance?

Cheers - bring on the 100 ball game.   But some people still don’t get it.

It’s outrageous – this fellow Root for example – he had more than 100 balls all to himself.

Mothers and kids just won’t understand that.

Who is he anyway?

Didn’t I read in a newspaper that he’s captain.

Captain?  He should be showing some leadership then. 120 balls all to himself.  It's shocking.

Never get that chap Morgan doing that – he gets the strategy – he normally does with just 3 or 4 balls.

We need to think what do do next – there’s another of these Test Match things this week.

Who decided that?

We did, apparently.

Good God – what had we been drinking? 

I think we thought it would be a good way to run down our stock of red balls. 

How many do we have left? 

Too many. We’ve had to ask the Irish to help us get rid of them.

Ah yes – good wheeze. Can’t we give some to the Jocks too?

the ICC rules are clear that the Jockos get nothing. 

They get duff LBW decisions.

Obviously.  But nothing else.

That's a bit harsh - who voted for that?

We did.

We do need to think about the County Championship.

Why – nobody else does.

It takes days and days.

And days. 

People say it prepares players for Test Matches.

Crazy - these are days when we could have more 100 ball matches. 

Can’t we move it to February?

Brilliant! That'll get a whole new audience who know nothing about cricket.  

Friday, 4 May 2018

De Maria

It was one of Mrs FB's more challenging asides. Some years ago she was escorting Fantasy Bob through a celebrated temple of modern art.

'Minimalism,' she said, as they entered a gallery devoted to practitioners of that style, 'it's always seemed to me to have a lot in common with your batting.'

'What,' replied FB, 'in its elegant economy of movement and gesture?'

'No,' came the reply. 'In its minimal number of runs.'

FB required an extended stay with the abstract expressionists to recover his equanimity. A challenge, for abstract expressionists rarely express equanimity, abstract concept though it may be.

FB found himself recalling this deeply repressed exchange recently as he watched Simon Schama complete the excellent Civilisations series on BBC. The programme examined a number of contemporary artists who he thought he had relevance to an age where the very concept of civilisation itself seems under attack from the snake oil salesmen of T20 and 100 ball cricket formats.

One artist featured was Walter De Maria, who is described amongst other things as a minimalist. In 1960 he called for meaningless work: art that does not accomplish a conventional purpose. Was it this that gave his work a peculiar significance to FB whose very existence - particularly on the cricket field - can only be described as meaningless and without a conventional purpose?

Perhaps, but more probably it is the fact that in spite of being American, De Maria is one of the great cricket artists. See his great work below.

In 3-5-7 there are 24 sets of stumps in 3 lines obviously expressing something very deep.

time timeless no time

Stumps obviously did it for De Maria for in his later work time timeless no time, they adorn every wall of the gallery and express something even deeper.

But he had more in his kit bag than stumps. In Dem - broken kilometre, he expresses that existential nightmare known to every cricketer - indoor nets.

Dem - broken kilometre

Walter De Maria - inspecting the crease

De Maria - minimalist - cricketer - genius.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Get a Grip

In common with all other cricketers at this time of the year, Fantasy Bob has been conducting a microscopic examination of his kit to assess its suitability for the rigours of the coming season.  As his faithful handful of readers know, the moment that FB's voluminous kit bag emerges from its winter storage is always met with cries of extreme pleasure by Mrs FB who relishes the opportunity once again to find herself tripping over it several times a day.

As he meticulously inspects each item, he is mindful of Mrs FB's strictures on economy.  She suggests that any investment appraisal of new items should take into account the stage that FB's cricketing career has reached.  The twilight years, she suggests, have lingered longer than seems natural even at these latitudes.  The value  to be derived from expensive investment therefore might be limited.  By comparison with for instance, she adds in a slightly coquettish fashion, items of jewelry.  The law of diminishing returns, she says returning to a more trenchant tone of voice, applies not only to FB's visits to the crease

With a sigh therefore, FB puts the glossy Gray Nichols catalogue aside and judges his trusty bat is fit for one season more.  Given his performances over recent seasons there must be many runs still locked in it.  However closer inspection reveals the grip to be in a condition comparable to FB at the end of a trying spell up the hill against the wind.   Refurbishment is not an option.  The bat grip is gone too.  There is no alternative but to purchase a replacement.
The total of FB's new kit for season 2018

This puts FB in a quandary.  FB's bat handle is festooned with grips -  5 in total.  It is perhaps the thickest bat handle in World Cricket.   A cause for wonder by his junior colleagues who struggle to get their growing hands round it.

FB read many years ago in some coaching manual (as if he ever read such things) that a thicker grip would soften his hands giving him greater control over his shot making.  It would be heroic to suggest that this adjustment has worked and turned FB into a master at the crease, but FB has continued to pile on the grips.  Hope springs eternal.

So, what should he do faced with his new purchases - should he put them on top of the existing ones or remove those first?   

Mrs FB's advice has, for once, not been helpful.  Watching him as he agonised at length over this decision, she reached the end of her patience.  'For goodness sake,' she said.  'Get a grip.'

Monday, 2 April 2018

The Crying Game

'I know all there is to know about the crying game
I've had my share of the crying game.....'

Dave Berry
There is no reference to ball tampering in the lyric of Dave Berry's 1964 hit.  And to the best of Fantasy Bob's knowledge the old time rocker never had to face the Australian press to account for  his shameful actions.  But by the end of the week FB certainly had had enough of the crying game as one by one the disgraced Australians accounted for themselves.  This was not family viewing - however much the family was involved in the tearful responses.

FB cannot imagine how the trio feel.  For many years ago FB was close to the position they find themselves in.  He faced the allegation that the crumbs of the empire biscuit he was carrying in his pocket smeared across the ball were having an uncanny influence on the effectiveness of his bowling.  There seemed no other way the opposition could account for the extreme improbability of him bowling a maiden over.  The crisis was soon averted, not by attempting to stuff the biscuit down the front of his trousers but by the expeditious consumption of the biscuit.  FB was able to plead stupidity - an excuse readily accepted, particularly by his colleagues in the leadership team (ie the 11 year old leg spinner fielding at mid off).  The incident was thankfully forgotten until last week's actions brought it freshly to FB's mind.

As he watched the interviews FB felt a great sadness descend upon him.  For those involved, for cricket, for the world. Dave Berry was not enough.  The words of the Latin requiem mass seemed more to the point, the reference to the ashes uncanny.

Lacrimosa dies illa
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem. Amen.

Full of tears will be that day
When from the ashes shall arise
The guilty man to be judged;
Therefore spare him, O God,
Merciful Lord Jesus,
Grant them eternal rest. Amen.

As set by Mozart this is comfort for the soul.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

World Cup Wash Up

Another quirk in atmospheric conditions has meant that Fantasy Bob has been able to listen in to the report back from ICC's representative at the recent Cricket World Cup Qualifiers.

- Gentlemen, I can report that this tournament was a great success.
- Hooray.  [Clinking of glasses]
-The ICC can take great credit.
- Hooray. [More clinking of glasses]
- Our 10 team World Cup is a triumph.  There will be no Associate nation.
[Popping of champagne corks - a song is heard - 9 games for India]
- We can look forward to a golden period of growing the game.  The 8 team World Cup is in our grasp.
- And then a 6 team..
- ...4 teams.......2 teams!!!!
[More champagne corks pop - another song is heard - 12 games for India]
- But I have heard that the Associates are not happy.
- Nonsense - who is saying that?
- Someone called Kylie Minogue.
- Not Minogue - Coetzer.  Kylie Coetzer - he's captain of Scotland.
- Captain of Scotland at what?
- Cricket.
- I didn't know they played cricket in Scotland.
- They almost qualified.
- Surely not.  Who allowed that to happen?
- Yes, it took some exceptional umpiring to keep them out.
- And the rain.
- Well, I suppose Scottish people are not used to that.
- What more do they want?
- More matches.
- Are they mad? 
- They say that is the only way that they will become more competitive.
- What?  If they become more competitive....
- .....they'd get in our World Cup.......
- ......and there'd be less money for India.
- ......which would stop us growing the game.

Kylie sings  'I should be so lucky...(not)'