Saturday, 29 July 2017

Notes and Queries

Amongst all the fake news, the jeremiads and hagiographies of worthless footballers, there was an item in the newspapers this week which stimulated Fantasy Bob's interest more than usual. In the Guardian's excellent Notes and Queries section there was posed the question,

'Which requires more skill - returning a 150mph John Isner serve in tennis or defending a 95mph Dale Steyn delivery in cricket?'

As FB perused the answers offered by fellow readers, his brain began to race - if not to 150mph then pretty near 15mph.  Why is not exactly clear - for FB's chances of seeing either delivery would be zero.

It reminded him of a tale he heard a long time ago - he has no idea as to whether it is apocryphal or not.  So in the contemporary spirit of fake news he retells it here.

Middlesex CC were playing against a local club side in some charity match. Their full squad was there including West Indian quickie Wayne Daniel.  An opposing tail ender came into bat.  Carefully took his guard, scanned the filed and prepared to face the demon.  The keeper and slip cordon crouched in readiness.  Daniel turned at the end of his long run and steamed in, arms pumping, nostrils flaring.  A huge leap and his arm came over.  The batsman fended.  There was a huge appeal as the keeper threw the ball skyward. Shaking his head the batsman slowly departed.  It was not until he neared the boundary that he was called back to be told with much mirth and good humour that he'd been conned - the ball had been with the keeper all the time.  It was too easy to believe that the ball was so fast that it could not be seen.

FB is sure that he has been victim to this rouse a number of times, only the perpetrators have not confessed to their deception.

But to return to the question put.  A respondent noted that a tennis ball slows down significantly faster than a cricket ball (something to do with mass) - added to which the distance between the server and returner is significantly greater than between bowler and batter.  That did it for FB - it was conclusive - he still wouldn't see either.

But he noted with interest the fact that the ball slows as it approaches the batter.  This is not FB's experience at the crease.  Invariably the ball speeds up as it approaches him - and in the case of 11 year old leg spinners the increase in speed is exponential. There is only explanation - a special zone of magnetic attraction around FB where the laws of physics are reversed.  So here is a question for the clever clog readers of the Guardian - Is FB a black hole?

Saturday, 15 July 2017


Fantasy Bob feathered the ball.  Perhaps the faintest edge in the history of cricket. But the wicket keeper safely gobbled it up and FB was on his way.   But he was almost flattened by the keeper who having pouched the ball, extended his arm in front of him and ran directly to the bowler yelling with an inchoate scream.  His team mates joined in the cacophony, jumping up and down in a demonstration of pogo-ing not seen since the high days of punk rock (if there were any).  The excitement continued until FB had trudged safely beyond the boundary.  FB had totally dominated the bowling to score a majestic 2, expertly using both the edges of his bat to avoid wearing out the valuable middle.

Even acknowledging the value of FB's wicket, this celebration seemed disproportionate.  More correctly , even acknowledging the complete lack of value in FB's wicket, this celebration seemed particularly disproportionate.
Whirling Dervish XI celebrate the dismissal of opposing skipper
FB has more or less resigned himself to the necessity of sharing high fives with his junior team mates on the rare occasion he takes a wicket.  He may even have ventured a fist bump - and woken in terror in the middle of the night as the horror of the memory sinks in.  But to run around screaming like a deranged whirling dervish, hugging everyone in sight, seems, well, not to put too fine a point on it, just not cricket.

And yet this form of celebration is increasingly pervasive in the lower leagues that FB inhabits. Passing dogs run in terror at the high pitched screaming.  Gibbons in the zoo reach a fervour of excitement at what seem to them endless mating calls drifting on the wind in their direction.  FB is reduced yet again to wondering where the world found this handcart in which it is fast descending.

It is against this backdrop that FB presents the photograph below which was taken in the same match in which FB suffered the indignity of being whooped and hollered all the way to boundary.  He commends it to the appropriate authorities for inclusion in forthcoming coaching manuals.

FB has just taken a catch off his young bowler.  (For the benefit of readers who may be uncertain on this point, FB is on the left and his young bowler on the right). There is no whooping, no dervish dance. Just a nod of the head and a manly handshake.  Proper cricket.

Proper Cricket

Saturday, 24 June 2017

My Dear Old Things

Fantasy Bob shares the national outpouring of grief at the news that Blowers will no longer be one of the voices of summer.  FB always enjoyed his commentary and also greatly enjoyed the shows which with Peter Baxter he took the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in recent years.

It is a wholly unfitting tribute to the great man who will be sorely missed, but FB reminded himself of a posting from a few years back in which Blowers featured prominently.  Having inflicted this punishment on himself, he sees no reasons why his handful of readers should not similarly be tortured.  They will find the link here.

Blowers raconteuring during one of his shows

Obstruction ahead

Roy gets in the way
It is rare for Fantasy Bob to watch any T20 biff-fest with anything approaching interest, but his curiosity was stimulated by the dismissal of Jason Roy in yesterday's match with South Africa.  This was an incident which interrupted the usual tedious sequence of fours slapped through cover and sixes launched over mid-wicket.  Sent back by his partner at the striker's end Roy took an extravagantly circuitous route back to safety and in so doing put himself between the fielder with the ball and the stumps. The throw actually hit him. Whether without that intervention it would have hit the stumps is academic. Whether had it done so he would have been in or out is academic. The Saffies, being Saffies appealed vigorously with all manner of gesticulation at Roy.  After the inevitable reference to the TV umpire, the finger went up and Roy was on his way.  England lost momentum and the match.

On the whole FB thinks this was a correct decision.  Roy clearly knew what he was up to - he willingly chose his route reflecting coaching suggestions that batsmen should think about running in the line of the likely throw.  So it seems a fair cop.

However FB waits with dread the inevitable attempts to replicate this adjudication in the lower league cricket that is his stamping ground.  He can see it in his mind's eye - FB is dozing through his umpiring spell, the concentrated look on his face a dissembling disguise as he tries to remember whether ball 4 or 5 has just been bowled.  The batsman plays a defensive shot and cover picks it up. 'How's that?' the fielders scream.  FB looks querulously about him - has his focus on mental arithmetic caused him to miss something? The opposing skipper bounds up to FB -  'Obstructing the field......' ' Whatya mean, the batsman never moved.' 'Exactly - he wilfully obstructed my guy getting a run out..........HOW'S THAT?'  Not for the first time, FB wonders whether a new law should be introduced preventing QCs from playing cricket.

It is not only for this reason that obstruction is a touchy subject with FB.  For he is perhaps the only fielder to have been appealed against by his own team for obstruction of the field.  Long standing readers of these pages will realise that FB is usually an inanimate presence in the field.  A statuesque navigation point around which the whirl of action can take his place.  Occasionally however he will find he has to move to get out of the way of one of his junior team mates in breathless pursuit of the ball.  With increasing frequency these days - he can find he is unable to move quickly enough to avoid his on-rushing junior team mate.  A collision occurs and while the junior cartwheels through the air the ball safely rolls over the boundary.  Dusting himself down the junior will tearfully maintain that a certain run out was on the way.  He will scream out 'How's that - obstructing the field' The umpire will calmly respond 'Not out - he's on your own side son.'  He is met with a glare that would turn a lesser man to stone,  'That's what you think.'

Saturday, 20 May 2017


Fantasy Bob recently participated in a series of conversations with a group of people from various walks of life.  Hopes and fears for the future were closely considered as were the challenges of doing anything to make the fears less likely.  At one point in the conversations, the subject turned to the stresses members of the group encountered in their everyday life.

There was a member of the police service who described how as a trained hostage negotiator she was regularly deployed to speak to distressed individuals in difficult situations.  She recalled how on one occasion she found herself on the top of a tall building trying to persuade the young man who had threatened to jump to return to safety.  It was dark, freezing, windy; the rain was horizontal.  The slates flickered with the reflected streetlights. The shivering young man was ill-attired in a thin tee shirt. English was not his first language.  The street was a long way below. The discussion seemed to be moving to a positive outcome when, as he moved towards her, his foot slipped on the wet slates. He grabbed at a TV aerial but it couldn't hold him, and he slipped over the edge.

The group was silent, imagining the range of feelings that must have gone through their colleague's mind.  Feelings that would only have been partially relieved by the knowledge that, amazingly, the young man survived the fall.

Then a former army officer told how one night, with 3 colleagues, he was on patrol in an armoured vehicle in Helmand province.  As they moved down the road, there was an almighty explosion - the vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.  It cartwheeled, turning over a couple of times before coming to rest on its side.  Our officer was concussed and seriously injured.  He came to to find he had been dragged from the vehicle which was now on fire.   The heat was causing the ammunition in the vehicle to go off.  There was also the sound of small arms fire.

FB felt humbled.  He realised, not for the first time, that in his long and undistinguished professional life he has had it shamefully easy. There are heroes who continually and repeatedly put themselves in danger on behalf of their fellows.  FB has nothing but admiration and gratitude for them.  By comparison, the most difficult circumstance FB has to encounter is going into a meeting in which someone might disagree with him.  Or the coffee has not arrived.

The group now turned expectantly to FB.  They wanted to hear from him about his heart-stopping moment - when time stood still and danger was all around.  FB racked his brains.  How could he match these shattering experiences?

The room fell quiet.  Then it came to him!  He felt his blood run cold at the memory.  In a faltering voice he began, 'I had just started my innings.....I had dealt with the first few balls......there was a bowling change.......... I looked up........ the new bowler was an 11 year old leg spinner...........'

Saturday, 13 May 2017


Fantasy Bob spent much of this week at St George's House which is within the curtilege of Windsor Castle.  
A modest family home close by the Thames

As he approached the august castle gates he noted that the Royal Standard was fluttering excitedly in the breeze.  Her Majesty was in residence.  'At last,' he thought.  In the course of FB's long and undistinguished official career, many of the Royal Family have had the privilege of shaking him by the hand at various events he has graced. Sadly for Her, in all the many years of Her reign, Her Majesty herself has never had that opportunity.  To the outward world She seems to have borne this misfortune with commendable fortitude.

But this week might be different.    The message would surely get through to Her that FB was close at hand.  Perhaps She would sneak down for a quick word.  It was time to put the disappointments of the past behind Her.  For there is a tragic reason behind Her Majesty's reluctance to come into FB's presence.  After all these years it is time that the truth be told.

Many years ago, he was playing cricket for a lower XI of Aberdeen Grammar School FP.  A match against Crathie CC was played in the grounds of Balmoral Castle.  As FB athletically prowled the boundary, he saw a head-scarfed figure wearing a tartan skirt followed by a couple of corgis in tow. FB prepared for the introduction and the modest shrug he would have to give as his sovereign commended his prowess in the field.   So intent was his focus on the etiquette of the impending occasion that he completely failed to notice the skier coming in his direction until the crude shouts of his teammates reached his ears.  He was about to chide them for the use of such indecorous language in the Royal presence, when the ball thudded into his chest and on to grass beside him.  Her Majesty, and the corgis, walked on. The bowler, having first questioned FB's parentage, let loose a tirade of anti-monarchist sentiments and from that moment on was a confirmed republican.

FB's cricketing career stalled and he never made progress up the ranks of AGSFPCC.

This unfortunate event evidently lived long with Her Maj.  She clearly carried heavily the guilt of distracting FB at this crucial point in his cricketing career. It has deterred Her from coming into FB's presence - she would be embarrassed and tongue tied. What could she say by way of apology?  It would be beyond even Her powers of graciousness.

Sadly, Her feelings must still be raw, for She did not seek FB out this week.  She did not stretch out to him her much-shaken hand in a gesture of contrition.

FB would like to convey to Her that he is prepared to put the past behind him.  He has long got over the trauma of that long gone incident.  She has no need to worry about coming into his presence.  

It was disappointing that She could make use of his visit to Windsor, but if she consults the fixture list of go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton She will see where FB is on A Saturday for the next 3 months. She would be most welcome to walk Her corgis around the boundary.

Saturday, 6 May 2017


Cricketers have found that hasty decisions to cast their clouts have had to be revised. The start of the season has been accompanied by the briskest and coldest winds.  It is the Heineken wind, for its gets to the parts of the cricketer that other winds leave untouched.  Emergency supplies of balaclavas have had to be ordered.
Boreas - making things difficult
for Ancient Greek cricketers

As a native Aberdonian, Fantasy Bob grew up unfamiliar with winds other than balmy summer breezes faintly drifting off the sun-dappled North Sea. However decades of struggling along the streets of Edinburgh in the teeth of the daily gale have steeled him. For Edinburgh is surely the windiest city in the universe, and possibly beyond. The clouds high above may be hanging motionless, but at ground level in Edinburgh conditions will be approaching hurricane force.  Beaufort will be going off his scale.

Edinburgh's winds are cruelly anonymous.   And in these secular times they are godless.  But the ancients ordered things differently. Cricketers in Ancient Greece, considering how many layers to stuff in their kit bag would mutter - 'Boreas cruel north wind bringer of winter is still blowing better put in another golden fleece.'  Even Spartan players, well known for rashly playing in short sleeves early in the season would invoke divine intervention - 'Oh Zephyr, Zephyr,' god of the gentle warm west wind, come to our aid,' they would text, 'We want to cast our clouts, but it's still blowing a hoolie - can you fix it.'

Today's cricketers have no such recourse.  The Gods have abandoned them to their fate.  And even more cruelly, Edinburgh's cricket grounds have been strategically placed where the winds blow strongest and coldest.   For example, the prestigious Peffermill displays the unique metereological phenomenon of a howling gale coming from every direction at once.  Even the Greeks had no name for such a wind.  It is truly godless. It reduces FB to shivering confusion.  For he is long used to bowling arduous spells up the hill against the wind.  There he has to bowl against the wind and with the wind at the same time.  He is even more ineffective than usual.

But Edinburgh's cricketers bravely battle on in bracing conditions.  Unlike the cricketers of Cape Town, where wind stopped all play across the city earlier this year. If Edinburgh followed this example, there would be no cricket at all.

It will shortly be the 450th birthday of Claudio Monteverdi - not known to be cricketer of any distinction, but one who surely captured the sentiment of all cricketers who (clouts firmly uncast) emerge into the bracing air at this time of the season wishing for the return of the warm west wind:

Return O Zephyr, and with gentle motion
Make pleasant the air and scatter the grasses in waves
And murmuring among the green branches
Make the flowers in the field dance to your sweet sound;

Find it on this link into a fantastic rendition by Nuria Real and Philippe Jaroussky - Rock and Roll.