Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Lago di Como

Lago di Como
Mrs FB has long accepted that summer holidays are for other people.  Not for her lingering balmy evenings sipping chilled prosecco on an elegant terraza as the sun slowly slides into the Mediterranean.  Not for her dining al fresco at the traditional harbourside restaurant as the waves lap gently below.

Instead she must find her own amusement as her life partner's every waking hour is devoted to cricket.  As if playing and net practice weren't enough, he spends the time in between filling the team sheets of the go-ahead Edinburgh club Carlton with increasingly unlikely combinations of old laggards and thrusting young talent.  Compared to FB's challenge of finding 55 players every week, Lord Kitchener had it easy when he was appointed Minister for War in 1914 with the simple task of assembling a force of 2.5 million.

Mrs FB is resigned - it may sizzle, it may drizzle, she may scan the travel mags with longing.  But her only summer trips are those when she measures her length over the kit bag FB has left lying in an unexpected place.

She therefore looked sceptically at FB when he asked whether she fancied a few days away.  Had the searing heat of an Edinburgh June finally fried what brain cells he has left?

She played it safe. 'No way,' she said. 'I'm not going on a cricket tour with you.'  FB appeased her.  While a cricket tour seemed a good idea he was thinking of something more along the conventional holiday lines.  'What ? With no cricket?' she asked distrustfully, searching her contact book for the number of a reputable care organisation in case the time had come.  With a sigh, FB pulled out his dog-eared fixture card and explained that a Saturday fixture followed the next week by a Sunday fixture gave the opportunity for a break.
Local tourist attraction

He was still in mid-explanation when Mrs FB looked up again from a flurry of keyboard clicks and said, 'That's done - Lake Como.  Pack your sun hat - it'll be over 30 degrees.'

FB had no reason to demur at the choice of venue but, as he wearily slotted player number 52 into his matrix for the weekend, he wondered why she had chosen this venue. Then a clue came as he heard a  murmur from another room.  Mrs FB was practising her Italian.  'Dove è villa di Giorgio?'  ' Signor Clooney sarà in visita in questo ristorante? A che ora?' 'Si. Mio marito sembra niente come George Clooney. Egli è ossessionato con il cricket.  Lui e una tragedia. Grazie per la vostra simpatia.'

From the deeper recesses of his memory FB dredged up the recollection that Mrs FB's heart throb George Clooney owned a villa on Lake Como and was regularly reported visiting local restaurants and beauty spots.  Mrs FB was on a mission.  Quite why Clooney, a man of no known cricketing skills, should so command her heart is a mystery to FB.  But life is full of such mysteries for FB.

Later she said, 'You'll be able to read that book I gave you - Who Wants To Be A Batsman.  Looking at your recent scores suggests you need all the advice you can get.' FB let that cruel shaft pass. 'And what will you do, carissima?'

'Oh, this and that, you know,' she said, coyly but with a gleam of excitement in her eye.

Sadly, her expectations were unfulfilled.  No sighting of George was made during their visit.  Villas and gardens, restaurants and cafes were searched without success.  It would seem that George had gone to ground.  Like a batsman on the end of a cruel LBW decision, Mrs FB remained philosophical.

As did FB.  Only once did he remark to Mrs FB that the tranquil lakeside landscape was beautiful in every respect apart from having any land flat enough for a cricket field of any meaningful size, so precipitously do the mountains descend to the water.  This observation seemed of disappointingly little interest to Mrs FB.

This was not cricketing country, concluded FB.  How then, he wondered, does the Navigazioni Lago di Como, the ferry company whose boats run up and across the lake, come to have as its logo a perfect representation of a set of stumps with a ball flying over middle?

Once a cricketing organisation?

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A Comparison of Sorts

Bairstow - nothing like FB
Fantasy Bob has for some time been prepared to acknowledge that Jonny Bairstow might be superior to him in the cricketing skills department.  Experts may struggle to spot the crucial differences but to the layperson, Jonny’s batting average in First Class Cricket of 48.64 is a bit of a clue. 
FB has come to terms with this unfavourable comparison.  He bears Jonny no grudge and has shared the general elation at Jonny's performances this season. They have taken JB to another level. There seemed to be no way that FB could match JB. 
However as Fantasy Bob watched last week’s First Test between England and Pakistan the realisation came upon him that he had downplayed his own skill level too quickly.  For there was the evidence.  His batting average might not show it, but in one critical respect he was on a level with Bairstow.   

Long suffering readers of these pages know that FB’s prodigious skills with the willow dissolve into nothingness when confronted with leg spin bowling.  At the twice weekly net sessions of go-ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton, aspirant leggies from the age of 5 upwards form an orderly queue to take turns in making a monkey of him.  His sacrifice to youthful mirth seems to pay dividends as the youngsters involved who frequently as a result go on to glittering careers for club and country. 

FB is living proof of the 10,000 hours fallacy.  Mozart may have practiced piano 10,000 to be become the towering musical genius that he was.  But 10,000 hours of facing leg spin in the nets has left FB no further advanced than he was at hour zero.  (History does not record how Mozart got on in working out leg spin.) 
Bairstow - just like FB

Now it would appear that FB shares this much with Jonny.   He cowered in front of the TV, feeling the sympathy of a fellow sufferer as he watched Bairstow turned inside out by Yasir Shah.  All the certainties of JB's technique against other bowling disappeared as he was left, FB-like, chasing shadows.
Lindsay Hassett
FB has long sought the Holy Grail of  a plan to improve this area of his performance.  Once seeking inspiration he found an article written by Dean Jones, a great Australian batsman who played spin as well as any other batsman.  Jones reports that he spoke to another great Aussie of a previous generation with an equal reputation for mastering spin – Lindsay Hassett.  Hassett told him:  

''Deano, watch their ball release, watch the rotation of the seam, and try to get down the track and hit the ball on the full. If you can't get to the pitch of the ball, then play them off the back foot. It's easy!'' 

FB more or less understood this advice.  Watching the ball release he could just about manage.  Watching the rotation of the seam would require him to keep his eyes open, a major change in technique.  Getting down the track, yes that seems sensible advice.  FB has never managed it, but it seems sensible advice. He was clearly on a roll.   he had the Hassett method to a T. Mastery would be his.  But suddenly it all fell apart as he reached the final sentence.  ‘It’s easy.’   

Not for FB.  And not, it would appear, for Jonny.


Saturday, 2 July 2016

That ICC Discussion in full

ICC discussion underway in Edinburgh
Fantasy Bob is stung to the core that he was not invited to participate in the Annual Conference of the ICC in Edinburgh this week.  

Not only did the organising committee not rush to seek his views on the important issues on the agenda – the proposed 2 tier Test system, more ODIs, more T20s, more ODIs, more T20s but they did not extend an invitation to any of the glittering social events that surrounded the business.  The reception at the Castle, the dinner at the Assembly Rooms, the tour of Edinburgh’s Home of Cricket aka the Meadows; all were poorer for his absence.

However following a shady transaction with the waiting staff of the prestigious hotel at which the conference took place FB was able to secure a transcript of the important session discussing the possibility of increasing the Test playing nations.

Now delegates we come to the important matter of whether we should have a 2 tier Test match structure.  We must discuss this carefully.

Do we have to? The bus goes for the tour of the Scotch Whisky Experience in 30 minutes.

But this is important – particularly to the Associate nations.


The Associate nations - you know Ireland and Afghanistan ............and Scotland.

Scotland who is that?

We are in Scotland.

Are we – who’s idea was that?

Well you said you wanted to see the pandas.

I did and very good they were too.  But they couldn’t play Test cricket.

No but Scotland wants more matches.

They can play the pandas anytime.

No against Test nations

Surely not.

Yes, their skipper Preston Mumsnet has been banging on about this for ever.

And there’s Ireland and Afghanistan….

And Netherlands….

And UAE….

OK I get it I get – but they can’t all have pandas.

Forget the pandas – these countries want to become Test nations.

What and play against us?

If you think we’re playing at the Meadows you must be joking.

Well we need to do something.

We’re could have two tiers of Test nations.

With promotion and relegation.

Brilliant.  Will the pandas be in it?

No but Ireland and Afghanistan might.

When you say might, what do you  mean?
They won’t.


But what about Scotland?

There is no doubt that the Meadows is a potential test venue.

We love Scotland.

Yes we love Scotland.

We love the Castle.

We love the empire biscuits.

We love the Scotch Whisky Experience.

We love Preston Mumsnet.

We love Fantasy Bob.

Steady on that's going too far.

We love Scotland.

We must do something for Scotland.

I know – let’s have a third tier of Test nations.

Which contains…………..


…….er and who else?

That’s it, just Scotland.

Brilliant – that’s sorted – now who is for the Scotch Whisky Experience?

A visit to Edinburgh Castle

Friday, 3 June 2016

Four Last Runs

Sometimes Fantasy Bob thinks that all the clever clogs in the world simply miss the obvious in their self serving search for metaphor and meaning.  If they all had a better grounding in cricket and cricketing matters they would find things easier.
Strauss in 1948

As a case in point, FB enjoyed this week a performance by the RSNO of Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs. Lush orchestration with a floating soprano line - Test Match Quality.  Looking at the programme note FB was told all manner of guff about how the 84 year old Strauss set these poems as a marker of his own impending death - for he died shortly after he composed them.
This has a superficial plausibility.  However it fails to take account of the fact that the songs were written in 1948.

This was of course the year of the Invincibles, the touring Australian team which swept all before them.  It was Bradman's last tour.  It included his last Test innings.  An innings in which he needed four runs to ensure that he had a Test batting average of 100.  As all children should be taught in primary school, a googly from Eric Hollies gave him a second ball duck and he finished his Test career with an average of 99.94.
Bradman in 1948

It is obvious - at least to FB, and, if to him, why not to everyone? - that Strauss, the last great Romantic composer, was greatly affected by this misfortune.  After all his earlier work had included works which dwelt on the nature of heroism - the great tone poems Ein Heldenleben and Don Quixote among them. Inspired by Bradman's heroic failure, he dashed off in his masterful way a work he carefully entitled Four Last Runs.  Sadly it got lost in translation, and one of the finest cricketing works of the concert hall has never been properly recognised as what it is.

There are no doubt those among FB's dwindling handful of readers who are thinking to themselves, 'Come on FB, there is no link between Bradman and Strauss.'

But that is where they are wrong.  The great batsman had a passion for classical music and in particular the soprano voice, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he was familiar with Four Last Runs, and appreciated its true meaning.

But even beyond that his granddaughter Greta Bradman is a soprano of growing reputation wowing audiences in the concert hall and opera house.  Her repertoire includes Strauss' Four Last Runs.

So there.
Greta Bradman

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Peak Stuff

Peak Stuff?
Fantasy Bob has been reading in the more erudite press earnest discussions of the concept of peak stuff.  Boffins are suggesting that increasing numbers of people in the developed world have as much stuff as they could ever want, far less need, far less find places in the cupboard under the stairs for.

They point to such facts as the stagnation of sales of iPhones and iPads, the downturn in household spending on physical goods, including furnishings, clothing, cars and gadgets.  National statistics show that the amount of  material stuff used in the UK – including food, fuel, metals and building materials – has fallen dramatically since 2001.  So much so that Steve Howard, head of Ikea’s sustainability unit, has been moved to declare: “In the west, we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff… peak home furnishings.”

Peak home furnishings? Yikes!  Are things that bad?

Desperate though this sounds, FB can offer his handful of readers some hope - the cataclysm is some way off.  For the boffins have failed to include in their analysis one area where we are only in the foothills - peak cricket stuff is still some way off.

Player's kit store 1990
In the salad days of FB's long and undistinguished career in the lower leagues, cricketers would arrive for a match bearing only a small haversack containing a box, a pair of boots, a pair of whites. Perhaps a towel if they thought they were on a promise that night.  Perhaps a Mars Bar if they had read something about a new fangled concept of sports nutrition.  Wicket keepers of course had to stagger under the additional burden of a pair of gauntlets - the extra weight of which probably explained the solid foursquare frame of most wicketkeepers in those halcyon days.

Nowadays, even the most youthful of FB's team mates will arrive encumbered with a veritable pantechnicon of kit.  Both parents will follow like native bearers carrying additional items.
Player's kit store 2016

Over the years, FB has watched his junior colleagues unpack their pantechnicons and has observed the relentless growth of cricket stuff:

  • No self respecting junior will have fewer than three bats - one for a quick wicket, one for slower tracks and one that is being knocked in.
  • Alistair Cook may be able to bat for hours in the heat of Perth or Hyderabad without casting a drop of sweat and without changing his gloves.  However, in the sweltering heat of Scottish grounds, a change of gloves is necessary every 5 overs.  At least 3 pairs are needed - along with associated inners.
  • Spikes, half spikes, astros, rubber studs, flat soles, bowling boots.  It is impossible to survive the rigours of the modern lower league tussle with just one set of footwear. Sometimes wellies are essential items too.
  • Match kit, training kit, warm up kit, travel kit, post match uniform.  A player needs a full travel wardrobe - skippers need to make sure that an iron and ironing board are available.
  • A box, arm guard, batting pads, thigh pad, inner thigh pad, keeping pads, fielding pads, chest protector, helmet, cap.  In the salad days a thick cable sweater was deemed sufficient protection.
  • Against all empirical evidence Scottish players also insist on sunhat and sunglasses, the later of which at least keep the biting wind out of a player's eyes.
  • Base layers for cold conditions, base layers for warm conditions.  Scottish players must also add a special base layer which can deal with all seasons in one day.

Gradually senior players are catching up and emulating their junior role models.  Of course they have to add some additional items in particular:

  • Knee support, ankle support, elbow support.  Most senior players also need continual emotional support.
  • A pharmacopoeia of linaments and stimulants (all within the guidelines of the World Anti Doping Administration's list on prescribed performance enhancing substances).

Peak cricket stuff is still far off.  Continuing growth seems essential to the survival of the Western economy.  The sooner IKEA get into self-assemble cricket gear the better for them.

But FB can also offer some hope for those with environmentalist leanings who despair at this relentless material growth.  Is it sustainable they ask.  FB can assure them that the impetus to recycle is strong. At least half of this gear is left behind in the dressing room after each match.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Age Gap

In February 2011 John Davison and Nitish Kumar opened the batting for Canada in their World Cup match with Zimbabwe.  Davison was 40 years old and counting, Kumar 16.  The 24 years between them is reckoned to be the widest age gap between batting partners in international cricket.

Kumar and Davison
This might impress some, but it does not impress Fantasy Bob.  During the first match of the new season last weekend FB was his usual shambolic presence at the crease when he was joined by an 11 year old with all the talent and style that are so conspicuously absent in FB.  Despite the age gap of 50 years and then some more, spectators found it hard to discern who was the senior partner so commanding was the youngster.  FB was in no doubt.  Age was no barrier; the 2 gelled splendidly and the partnership blossomed.  There was talk around the boundary of the great partnerships of old, Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Greenidge and Haynes, Hayden and Langer.

Both were not out at the innings close and they put on nearly 50. It would surely have been more but for FB's inability to connect with any of his characteristic closed-eyed heaves in the final overs. FB and his youthful partner had easily outperformed Davison and Kumar not only in matter of the age gap, since the Canadians were both back in the hutch with a mere 7 on the board.  FB assumes the mantle of greatness with all due modesty.

It is one of the many life affirming charms of cricket - particularly at the elite level that FB plies his trade - that the generations mix, and work together for the same outcome.  Even though FB barely knows what an x-Box is, and his youthful partner was unable to address during their between over conferences FB's questions about the relevance of Wagner's thinking on the gesamtkunstwerk to the concept of theall rounder, they enjoyed mutual respect.

Such inter-generational respect is important.  Senior players ignore it at their peril.  Many times FB has seen senior, so-called mature batsmen saunter to the wicket, take a dismissive look at the youngster serenely tossing the ball from one hand to the other at the other end before pointedly eyeing choice areas of the boundary to which he imagines he will crash the ball in the next few moments.  Moments later the bails lie on the ground as the senior so-called mature batsman trudges his way back to the pavilion - deceived in flight, beaten by the bounce, undone by the spin - whatever.  It is the situation for which the word hubris was invented.   No doubt that was the word on the Melbourne crowd's lips when in 1877 18 year old Tom Garrett dismissed England's James Southerton, then aged 49 and still Test cricket's oldest debutant. The 31 year gap between bowler and victim remains the widest in international cricket.

Many times also has FB witnessed senior, so-called mature batsmen, play the ball and set off with the thought bubble coming out of  his head,  'An easy single to the wee laddie' only to be surprised as the wee laddie in question swoops on the ball and in a single move and with one stump to aim at guns it in a single movement.  The stumps fly, leaving the senior player a long and embarrassed journey to the far pavilion to consider the issues of age discrimination.

Mind you, all this pales into insignificance when considered with age gaps in some other fields. When Hugh Hefner married former Playmate Crystal Harris in 2012 he was 60 years her senior.

Hefner adn Crystal about to open the batting

Monday, 2 May 2016

Another Season?

Earlier this week Mrs FB found Fantasy Bob sitting with a look of worried concentration on his face. That attracted her attention in that it was a noticeable change from the look of amiable vacantness which normally describes FB's demeanour.

'What are you doing, dear heart?' she inquired.

'Nothing,' he replied.

'You did that yesterday.'

'Yes, but I didn't finish.'

There was a pause while Mrs FB returned to the start of her run up.  This time she put a bit of pace on her delivery.

'What are you thinking?'

'I can't help wondering.  Another season might just be too much.'

Mrs FB sighed: she had heard the same moan at this time of year for as long as she could remember.

'It could be the end,' FB felt a lump in his throat.

'You say that every year.'

'It's been one season too many.'  His lip trembled.


'They're gassed.'  A tear started in his eye. 

'What is it this time?  Shoulders?  Ankles?  Knees?'

FB looked askance.  Not that he really knew what askance meant, but he gave it his best shot. He was not sure that his life partner had the full measure of the seriousness of the situation.

'No,' he said as the emotion swept over him.  'It's my boots, they'll never last another season.'

Another Season?