Tuesday, 30 November 2010


Following the WikiLeaks revelations this week, senior figures from Edinburgh cricket club Carlton are reported to be meeting in emergency session today to review the future of Prince Andrews globetrotting role as the clubs special ambassador. 

Prince Andrew rubbishing Grange's batting
Leaked documents have revealed how the Prince railed against rival Scottish Premier cricket clubs Grange and Greenock during meetings with senior international business figures.  A memo from a top US State Department official reported that a meeting involving the Prince had been astonishingly candid, the discussion at times verged on the rude.  He likened Grange batting to the French and said Greenocks bowling reminded him of the Kyrgyzstanis.  Her report continued, ‘I had no idea what he was talking about but he reacted with almost neuralgic patriotism when any comparison between Carlton and Grange came up.

A spokesperson for the go-ahead Edinburgh club said,While we are fully in favour of free speech, we regret anything which puts our cricketers' wickets at risk.  It is essential that clubs are able to operate on the basis of confidentiality of information. We hold all our rival clubs in the highest regard.

Fantasy Bob's St Andrew's XI

St Andrews Day and here is something to interest all the keen historians of the game in Scotland. 

Fantasy Bob has selected his All Time Honorary Scots XI - the qualification is simple - eminent cricketers who played for Scottish clubs at some time in their career.   They might have come from greater things, or go on to greater things, but at some point they graced fair Caledonia's cricket fields.

What about this for an XI? 
Fit like - an Aiberdeen loon
  • Gordon Greenidge - the West Indian great was on Greenock's books when he was Scotland's hired gun - 108 Tests, batting average 44.72 
  • Sadiq Mohammed - stuffy Test opener, more free flowing when he turned out for Poloc - 41 Tests for Pakistan - batting average 35.81
  • Hanif Mohammed - Poloc's Shawholm was graced by the original little master - 55 tests for Pakistan - batting average 43.98
  • Rohan Kanhai - played for Aberdeenshire.  Another W Indian great - 79 tests - batting average 47.53  (The great cricket writer CLR James once wrote 'Kanhai would hit Test bowlers in Australia as if they were league bowlers in Scotland….....' ahem)
  • Jimmy Adams - came to Royal High as a young spinner, left as a batter who would captain W Indies - 54 tests - batting average 41.26
  • Kim Hughes - Australian captain at a tough time had happier years at Watsonians - 70 Tests - batting average 37.41
  • Intikhab Alam - from West of Scotland to captain and manager of Pakistan - 47 Tests - 125 wickets at 35.95
  • Abdul Qadir Pakistani leg spinner who played for Stenhousemuir - 67 tests - 236 wickets at 32.8.
  • Terry Alderman - another Watsonian - the bowler Gooch didn't want to play against - 41 Tests  - 170 wickets at 27.15
  • Bob Massie - Kilmarnock and a bright but too short Test career including that miracle Test at Lords and 8 for 53.  6 Tests, 31 wickets at 20.87
  • SF Barnes turned out for Carlton on a couple of occasions.  Dubbed by many the best bowler ever.  27 Tests, 189 wickets at 16.43.  See the Carlton website for the full story.
Not a bad team.  Maybe a pace bowler short but a long batting line up.  And there are many others in the squad:  Justin Langer, Desmond Haynes, Mike Hussey, Derek Stirling, Omar Henry among them.  For coach we have Sri Lanka's current coach Trevor Bayliss who was at West of Scotland as was our selector, former Pakistan player and selector Salahuddin.

However Dravid cannot make the team since although he played for the Saltires in 2001 he had no club affiliation.  Pity, he would have made a pretty impressive top line up with Kanhai and Greenidge and Hanif.

FB is happy to receive reminders of other greats who qualify.

(With thanks to Carlton's doughty - now bionic - groundsman for selection advice).

Monday, 29 November 2010

Collingwood's sock - the first test

Fantasy Bob brings you unique insights into the First Test of the Ashes series through his exclusive contract with Paul Collingwood’s sock.

The sock was quick to congratulate England’s top order batting ‘This is the first time in the Ashes that our top 3 pairs of socks have got tons.  But on a road of a wicket like that all us middle order socks just wanted to get out there.  Not a lot in this game for PC, but the stress of FB’s nomination of him as fielder of the series was too much, since he dropped a simple catch off Swanny in the final session.  Colly says why don’t you pick on someone else.’

After the game Strauss said. ‘There will be all this momentum chat again now.’   The sock confirmed this to FB.  'Yes we're building up momentum for the momentum chat.  It's good to have momentum to go into that momentum.  It's all been momentous.'

Day 1 was the day of Siddle’s hattrick – what a birthday present!  Commiting that schoolboy grammatical error Siddle’s mum 'watched him on TV taking the hattrick in her pyjamas.'   Siddle recently gave up his other sporting love – competitive woodchopping - to avoid an injury which would harm his cricket – like chopping his hand off. 

Siddle commented on his hattrick ball, ‘The plan was pretty similar all day, to pitch it up, make them play, be patient and consistent with those lines. I got Cook and Prior with two balls like that and I think the third was a bit of adrenaline from the crowd, I bowled it fast. It didn't really come off as the ball I wanted but I got him so there's nothing more I could ask for.’ So much for technique applied with unrelenting skill - in time honoured fashion he just closed his eyes and hoped.  Just like Fantasy Bob.

England’s man of the day was Ian Bell whose top score 76 seems penny numbers in the light of what followed.

Day 2 -  One of the out of form Aussies had to come good and it was Mike Hussey.  Surviving his first ball snick which didn't carry to Swan at slip he began to look like the Hussey of old.  Coming into the match he has been called a koala in the local press, suggesting not that he was a cuddly, uniquely Australian creature beloved by one and all (obviously he is all of these), but that he was an endangered species.  Selection policy seemed to be guided by wildlife species protection legislation.  But he is now off the endangered list - to the delight of the World Wild Life Fund who called on the Australian selectors to include the threatened Asian Tiger in their squad for the next match.

But other species are still in trouble – the Marcus North tree frog, caught at first slip for one, has 17 scores of 10 or less in his 20 Tests. So long as North remains a feast-or-famine batsman his Test future will remain under extreme scrutiny.  Even the World Worldlife Fund concede his average of 36 may not be irreplaceable.  Day four saw North start his second career as a bowler taking the only wicket in a long day for Australia’s bowlers.

England came off second best with the umpire referral system not once but three times.  England blew their remaining unsuccessful video referral after umpire Aleem Dar gave Michael Clarke not out on a caught-behind appeal off Steve Finn. Video replays and hot spot technology failed to give cause to overturn Dar's decision.  However the Snicko  replay a few minutes later suggested Clarke had got a faint edge.  Snicko was dropped from the referral squad after a series of indifferent performances.

Have a look at Channel 9's report of the Gator Tracker, which they have been attaching to players to monitor heart rate.  On Day 2 it was with umpire Billy Doctorove.  There is no truth in the rumour that the pilot of this device by FB and the Carlton Fourth XI last year had to be abandoned when it suggested that several of FB's senior players were clinically dead.

Day 3 – H&H – Hussey and Haddin give Australia a first innings lead of 221and records begin to fall.  Steve Finn keeps going to finish with 6 for 125.

Again the referral system added extra drama.  Replays showed Hussey was out stone wall lbw early in the morning, but Strauss had used up all his referrals.  Hussey went on to 195.  Later Strauss himself survived through the referral system.  A big moment –  he was on a pair.  Just as well the Gator Tracker wasn't on him - it would have gone off the scale.

England coach Andy Flower returned the dressing room having had a cancerous growth on his cheek removed.  Suggestions that England lost their way a bit in his absence were denied, although England kit men were later seen carrying in industrial supplies of factor 300 sun cream purchased from the local Superchem.

Day 4 - the records keep tumbling with a huge opening partnership of 188 between Strauss and Cook.  Alastair Cook has revealed the secret to his form at the Gabba after he added an unbeaten 132 to his first innings half-century. ‘Over the last 12 months I've had a bit of a tinker with my technique and tried to improve it,’ Cook said. 'The results today, I'm very happy with.'  Cook will now have a bit of a tinker with his syntax to improve it before the second test.

Day 5 – All records broken.   Cook scored his maiden double-century and Trott hit his second hundred against Australia, making it the first time England's top three had scored Ashes tons. The only previous occasion England batsmen had done this was at Lord's in 1924 against South Africa, when the trio was Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe and Frank Woolley.  Both Trott’s tons have come in the second innings.  Cook beat Bradman’s highest individual score at the Gabba.   But have a heart, the forlorn Mitchell Johnson was wicketless in a test for the first time.

A winning draw for England then.   But FB questions why the Gabba subcontracted the preparation of the wicket to the highways department.  Before the match The Gabba strip was described in the local press as 'a green monster'.  They want to come to Scotland!

Finally, Fantasy Bob is a keen student of trends in cricket equipment.  Here is the latest development being marketed by Geoffrey Boycott specially for playing Mitchell Johnson.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Snow stopped play?

Well it didn't actually.................one year, too long ago to mention, Fantasy Bob was playing in the opening league game of the season for his then club Royal High.  The match was at Freuchie, who round about then won the small club championship final at Lords.  It had been cold that week, but maybe no colder than many other opening weeks of the season, or weeks in the middle of season come to that.   Freuchie's ground was not as exposed as many others, but it generally wasn't a warm place either.  Now those were the days before Skins and thermal base layers and all that techno stuff, so FB usually found himself bound up in several sweaters - at least 5 until well into June.  A modelling contract with Michelin was always promised but never delivered.

As RH took the field the temperature dropped gradually, until 15 overs or so into the innings, snow flakes began to dance in the icy wind.  It was not clear if this was a hindrance more to batting or bowling, and the game stituation was evenly poised, so the umpires just thrust their hands deeper in their pockets and play continued uninterrupted.  Men were men in those days.  Even so, FB was standing at slip and the thought crossed his mind that if the ball came fast to him one of the icicles that were his fingers could just snap off.  It seems common sense that only in blizzard conditions should play be stopped - gentle snowfalls are well within the range of playable conditions.  Notwithstanding his 5 sweaters, FB has never found tea more welcome than on that day.

Cricket, of sorts, has been played in the snow, rather than while snowing. 

In 2009, Kapil Dev and some others played a 6 a side match 6,000ft up in the Swiss Alps.  View the link to assess how serious this stunt actually was.  FB is not confident that it had the tourism impact it hoped for. More authentic is this Canadian report of cricketers in St Lawrence

The splendid book Penguins Stopped Play by Harry Thomson contains a description of an attempt to play cricket in the Antarctic.  (If you haven't read the book, there is a very sad sting in the tail).  And there are reports of 18th and 19th century games being played on skates.  So that feeling of England being on thin ice may be older than you think.

Carlton's Grange Loan ground - 27 November 2010 - with thanks to John Boyd

Strauss and Cook

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow....
 Fantasy Bob has noticed that the blizzard conditions in Scotland are obviously to the liking of English batsmen.  Who were we to doubt the reslience of Strauss and Cook?  They've obviously spent quality time with the huskies in the nets.

But Ponting must be wondering why his bowling can't perform in the snow.  The appropriately named Marcus North may have saved his place in the side by taking the only wicket - he can't be played as a batter anymore.

A chance tomorrow for England to build up some momentum to take to Adelaide.  It's still snowing.  We're whiting out here.

FB will be posting later this morning with more nonsense about snow.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Oh Mr Porter

Porter - master of the googly
With England having to climb a very steep hill in Brisbane following Hussey's return to form, Fantasy Bob thinks his readers might welcome the opportunity to contemplate other things.

Fantasy Bob has long been an admirer of Cole Porter the great American songwriter.  A great lyric writer - test match quality.  FB had not thought that Porter, as an American, was interested in cricket, but FBs recent researches in the Cole Porter archive have discovered this discarded manuscript an early draft of the classic list song Brush up your Shakespeare which would appear in Kiss Me Kate, possibly Porters finest musical.  Judge for yourself whether Porters relationship with cricket should be re-evaluated.

The girls today on an Ashes trip
Go for classical batsmanship
To win their hearts one must bat all day
Like Hobbs Hammond or Peter May
But the batter of them all
Who will get them goin’ mad, man
Is the batter people call
The Don – the great Donald Bradman.

Brush up your Bradman
Start quoting him now
Brush up your Bradman
And the women you will wow
If your strokes through the covers are wanting
Just imagine that you’re Ricky Ponting
When your girlfriend’s ardour is fadin’
Square cut it just like Mathew Hayden
And if your true lover she falters
Play right down the line like Doug Walters
Brush up your Bradman
And they’ll all kow tow.

Brush up your Bradman
Start quoting him now
If your girl complains that you’ve vexed her
Well give it the charge like Ted Dexter
You can’t be a coward or cower
Play with the flair of a Gower
But when your chatter gets too slick
Go back to the Marcus Trescothick
Brush up your Bradman
And they’ll all kow tow.

Brush up your Bradman
Start quoting him now
If your love should get suddenly avid
Go onto the back foot like Dravid
If she says your passion is phony
Then it’s time to start sweeping like Dhoni
But when you want your love to go faster
Start driving like the Little Master
Sachin Tendulkar
And we’ll all kow tow
Yes we’ll all kow tow
Not out!
Yes we’ll all kow tow

Forget the sprinkler dance.........

The scene from Fantasy Bob's window this morning.

  A little of this in Brisbane could help England get out of trouble.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The hattrick

By the time you read this you will know whether England bowlers managed to find the right length on the second day at the Gabba.  Length seemed to do it for Siddle on the first day.

Birthday boy
 Was it not that flamboyant batsman Oscar Wilde who put the following words into Lady Bracknell's mouth in his timeless play The Importance of Being Side On in the Delivery Stride, 'To lose one wicket  may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness, but to lose 3 in a row on the first day of the Ashes is a bloody disaster.'?

How can it happen?  Hattricks are exceedingly rare.   There have been 38 in Test History.  In Fantasy Bob's long and undistinguished career he has achieved only one and that was many years ago.  So long ago that the memory is now fading and sepia-toned  - 3 middle order bats, 2 bowled, one LBW (no referral) and a modest hand shake with his team mates.  Of course his first thoughts were, 'Shit! I can't afford to buy every one a beer.'  Whether it was the fear of the financial penalty that unconsciously has marred the third ball in subsequent hattrick attempts, FB will leave his readers to determine.  But he has not managed to repeat the feat.

Indeed FB has rarely witnessed a hattrick.  But 2 occured in Carlton ranks last season.  One by 14 year old left armer Cheeky Gosain playing on the adjacent pitch to FB and one later in the season under FB's stern captaincy when Neil Browning did the trick.  Neil is Australian and promptly returned to the land of Oz at the end of the season, obviously taking the hattrick habit with him.  On landing in Oz he must have siddled up to Siddle and said 'Listen, mate, nothing to it, this is what you do.'  And like all Carlton coaching tips it worked.  Rats!
Hattrick king

The last time England succumbed to the hattrick was to Shane Warne's (who? was he any good?) at Melbourne in December 1994.  England's last hattrick hero is Ryan Sidebottom in New Zealand in March 2008.  Their last in the Ashes was by Darren Gough in Sydney in January 1999.

But the Test hattrick King of the modern era must be the great Wasim Akram.  He has 2 to his name, both against Sri Lanka in consecutive matches and he also one of the few who has taken 4 wickets in 5 balls in a Test.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Back to basics?

The Gabba - where biscuits are biscuits
 By the time you read this, the first day of the First Test will be over and done.  Needing his beauty sleep more than most, Fantasy Bob will decline from commenting on play from day to day, unless, of course, he decides to comment on play from day to day.  But his exclusive contract with Paul Collingwood's sock will ensure that he has all the inside comment and analysis at the end of the match.  So stay tuned.

But as the match gets underway FB thinks he should return to more serious matters than the nonsense that has been appearing on these pages recently.   So back to basics for the players, back to biscuits for FB.  While biscuits have had occasional mentions in posts recently, it is time that they returned to their rightful place on centre stage.  So what about Aussie biscuits, what kind of team could they raise?  Are they in decline and injury struck like the cricket team?

According to FB's sources, Australia's biggest biscuit manufacturer is Arnotts, which, appropriately enough, was established yonkeroonies ago by an immigrant from the land of mist, mountains and biscuits viz..............er Scotland.  So here is an Arnott XI

Some of Arnott's leading players
SAO: A plain cracker style biscuit. The name is rumoured to stand for Salvation Army Officer 
Milk Arrowroot: Past flagship biscuit brand of Arnott's
Cheds: a savoury cracker
Chocolate Butternut Snap: a crunchy oatmeal and coconut biscuit covered in chocolate
Lemon Crisps: two sweet crackers with a light salt sprinkled with lemon cream sandwiched in between.
Jatz: a round savoury cracker also available in a cracked pepper flavoured variety
TeeVee Snacks: A bite-sized chocolate coated biscuit, promoted as being ideal for TV snacking
Tic Tocs: Clock shaped iced vanilla biscuits, with clock faces printed on them
Tim Tams: reckoned by experts to be Australia's most popular biscuit - A cuboid chocolate-coated biscuit. Flavours include milk chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate, double coat of chocolate, caramel centred, chilli, coconut, berry filling (Pink Wish charity edition), Kahlua, Love Potions series (chocolate and raspberry, vanilla and toffee, choc mud) and latte filling. The latest flavour to be released in 2008 is orange.
Tiny Teddies: Thumb-sized teddy bear-shaped snacks.
Honey Jumbles: Small honey gingerbread cakes, topped with pink or white icing.

Is this an Ashes winning XI?  Here for comparion purposes is CricInfo's All Time Greatest Australian XI (ie cricketers).  It is crunchy and cream filled. 
Victor Trumper; Arthur Morris; Sir Donald Bradman; Greg Chappell;  Allan Border; Keith Miller; Adam Gilchrist; Shane Warne; Bill O'Reilly; Denis Lillee; Glen McGrath.
In your endless spare time why not try to match the players to the biscuits?   The only clue FB will give you is that Denis Lillee is probably not the Tiny Teddies.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

From Bird to Bowden

Without the laws there is no game.

As the countdown to the Ashes reaches single figures, Fantasy Bob thinks it appropriate to spare a thought for the men without whom it would not be possible. The umpires. 

As everyone who, like FB, has stood in any keenly contested club game knows, umpiring is a hard spot.  Hitting in line but too high?  Did I hear a snick?  Did the bat ground before the wicket was broken?  Was that the 5th or 6th ball of the over?  Is it tea time?  Tough calls. What can it be like in the intense competition of an Ashes Test?

But here in sunny Scotland match officials in another sport are in the news.  Referees in Scottish Football have had enough and intend to strike this weekend.  Good on them, says FB.  How anyone would willingly put themselves through what they encounter week in week out is beyond FBs conception of masochism.  FB cannot comprehend  why football tolerates institutionalised dissent as part of the game.  Players openly abuse the ref after every decision.  Managers are vitriolic in post match interviews.  Clubs smugly join in.  In Scotland there is the added excrescence of the Old Firm who think they are entitled to win everything and nurse historic grudges.  And it all percolates down to the junior and amateur game where players imitate these behaviours.  Tragic.
Without the laws there is no game. If refs just raised the yellow card every time dissent happened things would soon change.  Other games take a harder line.  Rugby for instance, where the slightest bit of backchat leads to an instant 10 yard penalty.  Cricket too at least at the top level where shows of dissent are heavily punished.   Although in club cricket things go off now and then as some dismissed batter thinks he is a footballer and reacts.  Cricket of course has other problems but generally dissent this is not one of them. 

Time was when there were no celebrity umpires. Two stern figures with white coats down to their ankles did the job.  No names no pack drill.  Now umpires are a special breed - tweeters in their own right. The first superstar was the great, the one and only Dickie Bird, heading a lineage that leads to Billy Bowden.  Forget Warney forget Flintoff the 2005 Ashes were Billys stage.  Do they attract too much attention to themselves?  Not in FB's view.

Without the laws there is no game.  FB wishes good luck to all the match officials during the series.  It could not happen without them.

Happy birthday

24 November is the birthday of Ian Botham, Fred Titmus, Herbert Sutcliffe and Ken Barrington.  Some day for English cricket.  Happy birthday guys. 

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Downhill from now on

As the start of the Ashes series gets nearer, Fantasy Bob needs a distraction and something to calm his nerves.   He suspects many of his readers are also on tenterhooks.  What to do with all this nervous energy?

It is about this time of year that, nothwithstanding the Ashes, FB begins to be slightly distracted from, well, most things, as he begins to check obsessively the Ski Club of GB website for the snow reports in the Austrian Alps.  A large proportion of FB's disposable income has been invested in his annual pilgrimage to the ski slopes, so it had better start snowing. 

FB is a relatively late convert to skiing, but has found cricket and skiing to mix well as sports - unless you are invited on things like the Ashes tour, there is little chance of them overlapping.  Having to go skiing is not a good reason to call off at most times between May and August, even in Scotland.  So, once it was clear that FB was not in the England selectors' mind for the trip down under he was able to confirm the visit to St Anton at New Year.

But just as Test cricket is a bit far removed from the lower divisions of the East of Scotland League where FB demonstrates his complete absence of batting or bowling skills, so the world of performance skiing is far removed from the gentle piste bashing that FB indulges himself in.

Downhill skiers are a race apart.  They hurtle down precipitous slopes at speeds faster than any Brett Lee delivery.   The emphasis is absolutely on the hurtle. The strength in the legs and core needed to be able to do this is truly astounding - these guys (and girls) are all thigh.  Real athletes.  And that is quite apart from the courage.  Man this a mean sport.  The great Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson made a fine film about the downhillers last year - unfortunately it is no longer on BBC iPlayer.   You can get an idea of what it is like from the Hannenkamm link below - the commentator (German again) skis the course with a camera in his hand (former Olympic Brit Graham Bell does this as well on Ski Sunday on BBC2 which will start its season shortly).   Awesome - just like the stump camera.

But here are the 2 skiers who would open the batting in FB's Skiers XI.

The great Hermann Maier - the Herminator.  Here he attacks the super G course at Kitzbuhel.  About one minute in, you will see the speedometer.  !!!  (Commentary is in German)

And here is the unconventional American, his own man,  Bode Miller, absolutely blitzing the course in Wengen Switzerland 2 years ago.  Bode finally got Olympic gold in Canada earlier this year.

So - here is your choice - going down the Hannenkamm at 80mph or facing Shoaib Ahktar on a fiery wicket..........................which do you fancy?

Monday, 22 November 2010

The luck of the Irish?

Ready to help the Irish
Fantasy Bob invites his readers to share his great sympathy for the desperate plight of Irish cricketers, traduced by an unholy trinity of corrupt politicians, venal financiers and gangster property developers. 

They are now forced to follow on and accept an emergency injection of billions of runs into their game.  More even than Eoin Morgan can score during a power play.

The experts term this a bail out - although exactly why a relatively minor, but essential, part of cricket equipment should be given such potency is beyond FB's grasp.  FB assumes that the severity of the conditions requires the heavy bails to be used.

In a gesture of solidarity with Irish cricketers, FB changed his customary weekend tipple to down a couple of pints of Guinness - and excellent they were too.  He may repeat the gesture.  He expects Magners drinkers everywhere similarly to rise to the occasion. 

What went wrong?  It is tempting to turn to that great sage and middle order batter Father Dougal for an explanation.  In an episode of Father Ted in 1995 is the following propheticexchange :
Father Dougal: I know! We'll lure them into a giant bingo game!
Father Ted: And how are we going to do that?
Father Dougal: We'll print up some bingo cards on our printing press and... oh.
Father Ted: Yes, it's the lack of a printing press that lets us down there. Or bingo balls. Or a PA system. Or in fact, any bingo paraphernalia at all.
Father Dougal: Damn. So near, yet so far.

But FB has instead reminded himself of the work of the greatest of Irish batsmen WB Yeats.  His poem The Second Coming was written in 1920 about the batting collapse and the enforced follow-on after of the First World War; is it not eerily relevant to the current situation? 
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

What rough beast indeed.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Yet more from Collingwood's sock

Collingwood's sock was very positive in his exclusive report to Fantasy Bob following England's 10 wicket victory over Australia A this week.  'Life in the sock drawer just gets better and better.  I shared a big partnership with Belly-boy who showed he is a different class of sock altogether, hitting it to all parts of the ground.  Good wickets for our back up bowlers too.  Job done. Colly lent Monty one of my chums from his sock drawer for the game - and just see what a difference it made to his fielding.  What a catch - what a man - what a sock!'

And here's a link to Monty's catch.  Internet hit of the day - whatever that means.

The sock went on 'And I hear Scotland turned over South Africa at Murrayfield.  Fantastic.  The boys are very pleased - well all except KP and Trott obviously.....'
Elsewhere as the big day approaches there has been a lot of balls talked.  To be precise, the differences between the Kookaburra and the Duke have had as much coverage as the Royal Wedding, and a damn sight more interesting too.  The conventional view is that the Kookaburra's seam is less proud and the ball gets softer sooner (and some of us thought that everything in Australian cricket was hard). This makes it less useful for swing bowling.  Glen McGrath has been amongst those opining - pointing out that he averaged six wickets a Test with the Dukes, and four with the Kookaburra.   'Give me a Duke anytime,'  he said.  A tweet from Kate Middleton responded - 'A Duke? How common - I've got a Prince.'

No one told Tim Bresnan that he had the inferior ball as he took 4-86 in the second innings in Hobart. 

And here's the best comment on what bowling is all about that FB has seen for some time - again from McGrath interviewed in the Guardian:
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to keep it simple. The two weapons I had were accuracy and bounce. I could land the ball where I wanted. I don't really know where that accuracy came from. I put plenty of hours in the nets but it was always the feel to me, rather than looking at a spot on the wicket. I only looked at getting a batsman out in three ways: bowled, lbw or caught by the keeper or slips. And because of my accuracy I always had the fielders there. I didn't need extra guys on the leg side or at cover in case I bowled a half-volley. I wanted those guys catching.
Then Ben Hilfenhaus says he has plans to get under the nose of England captain Andrew Strauss during the Ashes series.  The Hilfenhaus Moustache could be the fashion statement of the year.  Start growing yours for Christmas now.

And former  Australia opener Justin Langer believes former WA team-mates Hussey and Marcus North will make it through the Ashes, as long as they ignore the 'mountain of distractions'.  Yeh, yeh - distractions like straight balls, in-swingers, off-cutters, bouncers, yorkers and arm balls.

But the state games have seen some of the Aussies run into form, with much needed confidence boosting performances by Mike Hussey and Mitchell Johnson.  The main surprise is the Australian selectors have left out Nathan Hauritz in favour of left arm spinner Xavier Doherty.  (Panesar for Swanny anyone?)  Could he be the first player with a name beginning with X to play Test cricket?  Expect excruciating puns about the X-factor in all the popular press this week.  These puns have been spotted by Fantasy Bob, but even he would not stoop so low as to use them.

And the cracks in the once mighty structure of Australian cricket seem to be spreading.  This is a picture of the square at Perth this week.

Fancy a bat?

And finally, Fantasy Bob cannot remember ever having watched cricket on ITV, a channel for him forever associated with Bob Monkhouse and the Golden Shot, Morse, Taggart and Magpie.  But it's ITV that is doing its duty by showing highlights of the Ashes to non payers of the Murdoch tax.  10pm on ITV4.  God bless them. 

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Nostalgia - it's just not what it used to be - part 2


Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life (Herbert Asquith).

This is the second part of Fantasy Bob's fading memories of growing up in Aberdeen and how his interest in cricket was nurtured.  If the first part bored you stupid, then you know what you're in for.

For a short time, when he was 10 or 11, FB lived close to Mannofield home of Aberdeenshire CC.  By concidence so did his parents.  That summer he and chums used to hang out in the nets - a beautiful suite of grass facilities, now covered by an office block or something similar FB suspects. 

Those long summers also brought many centuries - scored in the street, or in the garden, or on the waste ground cum playground.  Cricket just seemed to be there - part of the fabric. The names of top county and Test players were in currency and sweet cigarettes had cards with their handsome sun-burnished and brylcreemed features.  A last flourish of a golden age before Beatles cards and similar junk dominated the market.  Ted Dexter was a colossus striding the known world.  As the winds of change stirred through Africa and the Commonwealth so the coming of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith loomed and the first vigorous shake of West Indian supremacy would thrill FB and his chums. 

But despite all this background, coaching eluded FB for some reason.  Maybe some one looked at the raw material and thought that coaching was not going to do any good.  A tough but probably accurate assessment.  But it just seemed things in those days weren't set up that way.  Coaching at Mannofield was for older boys, and by the time FB was old enough he had moved house and his immediate sporting priorities had passed elsewhere.  But he remembers vividly batting in the garden with a stump with his father bowling to him with a golf ball (and a wondrously side on high action) and saying sensible but incomprehensible things like, 'Get in line.'  'Keep that elbow high.'  But no school coaching, and no club participation, left an aching void and a skills gap that is there until this very day.

But cricket was still a keen interest.  He still had the hand knitted sweater. 

Period knitting programme
- isn't the kid just loving every moment of it? 
A present for FB's 12th birthday was a new full size bat - he chose a Slazenger Rohan Kanhai (a local after all) with a dark red grip.  Part of that present was also a pair of  what the shop said were the latest high tech batting gloves.  'As worn by all the top players.'  Now there's a phrase of which FB has been suspicious ever since.  These articles were brown and had 'state of the art' sausage padding on the fingers, but they weren't really gloves.  You placed your fingers individually inside a mitt kind of thing and the thumb piece dangled on a bit of elastic which was wrapped round the wrist before the thumb was inserted.  If they had anything going for them, it was that the hands did not get as hot as they would be enclosed in a glove.  Not that the risk of a long innings where that might be an issue was one that FB faced.  But fingers would pop out on the slightest pretext.  So perhaps it is not surprising that the design has not proved a lasting success. 

Sadly, cricket at Aberdeen Grammar School was a bit of a  non-event, so this wonder bat with all the Kanhai shots locked up in it was rarely used.   But occasionally a cricket team had to be pressed into service.  It was selected on roughly similar criteria to that at primary school, basically the rugby team minus the front row who, in those days before total rugby, wouldn't know what to do with anything resembling a ball.

FB remembers a match in Fraserburgh and his intense objective of hitting a six into the caravan site on the square leg boundary.  Epic fail of course.  But even in midsummer there is nothing between Fraserburgh and the Arctic, and FB thought it would be a bloody good idea if someone invented base layers. 

In some years, school house games were keenly fought and lasted all evening.  FB can remember first bowling in anger during these games and seemed to have more success than he deserved by simply aiming at the batter's toes.  He still does this and calls it an inswinger.

But as rugby dominated FB's sporting attention, cricket became a more passive, almost academic, activity.  His father's interest continued.

All through his childhood FB and his Dad played long games of rainy day cricket (not that it rained in Aberdeen so this name is an inappropriate mystery - presumably a joke).  This was played with nothing more than paper and pencil.  A page would be totally covered with figures 1,2,3,4,5,6 or relevant letters, b, lbw, c, etc.  Players would draw up their XIs and, after the toss had been won and lost, play would commence by closing the eyes and plumping a pin on the page.  (This may well be where FB gets the habit of closing his eyes while batting). The outcome of each ball would be recorded.  There are variations of this game with a bowling and a batting sheet, and using dice but his version made solo play possible.  The great attraction was that it allowed you to pick your own team - a hugely critical task.  FB can remember great partnerships he played with Sobers, Dexter, Popeye the Sailorman and Julie Andrews.  Another virtue of this game is that it taught the mechanics of scoring – a vital skill to learn and nurture.  Why cricket scoring is not on the school syllabus is one of life's dad mysteries.

During the Test summer, FB home from school and father home from work would be excused the dining table and would  hold their plates balanced perilously on their knees in front of the flickering black and white cathode ray tube of the TV to absorb the last 30 minutes play before lunch - which in those days was taken at 1.30 – or close of play at 6.30. 

And then Peter West would say in his cut glass tones 'Over to Jim Swanton for a summary of the session's play.'  And EW Swanton (why Jim? - a continuing mystery to FB) would roundly describe the events that had just been seen.   He would talk through a beautifully hand scribed score-card.   This was pre-instant replays, pre-video analysis, pre-Hawkeye, pre-hotspot, pre-snicko, pre-everything in fact.  At first the camera angle on TV coverage was not even behind the bowler's arm and the camera was fixed at one end.  We really have come a long way - but some of the magic may have been discarded along the way.  Because there was no replay, you paid attention both to the screen and to the words.    And in those summaries the words had to tell what happened, not support slow motion pictures. One thing that has never been bettered is the class of Swanton's summary of play - eloquent, precise and engaged in effortless and beautifully phrased sentences.  The names of that period still trip through FB's mind with Swanton’s (and later John Arlott’s) inflection - Simpson, Cowdrey, Barrington, Titmus, Trueman, Lawry, McKenzie, Sobers, Nurse on and on and on and on..........

But there was more to TV coverage than the Test matches.  Limited overs games began to be seen adn cricket came to dominate Sunday afternoons.  At first there were Cavaliers games – in which mixed teams of cricketers and what would now be called celebs played in charity matches – often for senior players’ benefits but also for external charities.  These were great fun – FB remembers Leslie Crowther in particular being a stalwart.  But among the teams on any day were retired players and FB remembers such stars as Tony Lock and Fred Rumsey in matches.

These gave way to more serious contests with the Gillette Cup, and who can forget the 1971 semi final at Old Trafford when Lancashire’s David Hughes came in at 8.45pm to blast 24 off an over to take them to the Final.  Lancs were unassailable in the limited overs game at that time and FB can still recite the majority of their team from Farouk Engineeer to micro batter Harry Pilling, from skipper Jackie Bond to David Lloyd, Bumble himself, Ken Higgs and Peter Lever. 

The John Player League then gave us limited over cricket every Sunday afternoon and showed us all the county grounds and their idiosyncracies.  The tree at Canterbury.  The football pitch at Northampton.  The sea view at Hove.  And grinnin' Jim Laker.  When it comes down to it, it was the BBC that maintained  and nurtured FB’s interest in cricket.  Unless he paid the Murdoch tax, he would be lost now.  What a sad indictment of broadcasting policy. 

As FB grew up, Test Match Special on Radio 3 was discovered and revered.  Long mornings in the summer holidays would be spent lounging in the garden - yes I'll mow the lawn today Dad - with John Arlott and Brian Johnston.  How could that ever be bettered?

FB's last cricketing in Aberdeen was in the summer when he left school. The AGSFP 3rd team being desperate, he was summoned as an enthusiastic eleventh fielder for a couple of games.  One of those was in the grounds of Balmoral where Her Majesty walked her corgis round the boundary.  FB remembers having to restrain potentially treasonous language at a misfield because of her presence.  But playing in front of the Queen is not something that many of Carlton's elite can claim.  Sadly the Queen affects to have no memory of this major sporting event.

And so the sun dims on these early days.  The stumps of a blissful childhood are drawn.  Youth is indeed wasted on the young.  The googlies and flippers of adolescence and adulthood have to be faced.  But what a base for an unending love of cricket.

Son - unlike father
FB feels a huge debt of gratitude to his Dad for having stimulated quietly and unobtrusively his interest  in this game.   His Dad now lives in Linlithgow and still wanders round Boghall  as he did at Mannofield all those golden summers ago. (Of course unlike subtropical Aberdeen of all those years ago it rains now and again in West Lothian.)  He still longs for the returnof Jim Laker to the England team. 
But Fantasy Bob also has a huge sense of lost opportunity that he never had coaching or more playing opportunities as he grew up.  What did he miss?  He could have been a contender............ Marlon Brando's words in On the Waterfront - tru for everyone in some way.

Fantasy Bob didn't come to play cricket regularly until several years later - anotehr story for another day - and found out how hard the skills are to develop. 

That is  why he will eulogise the junior set up at Carlton at any opportunity - it has given FB's son Neil all the structure he never had.  It will set him up for life.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The natural order of things

Fantasy Bob thinks that there may be an explanation after all. 

He read today that the journal Nature (allegedly a prestigious scientific publication and not an in-house magazine for nudist clubs) has published a paper describing how physicists at the CERN facility in Geneva have captured anti-matter for the first time ever.  Star Trek fans in particular will know that anti-matter is important stuff since the Starship Enterprise is powered by an anti-matter reactor.  Given that outside the Star Trek studio, anti-matter was, until this capture, only an hypothesis this looks like a pretty important scientific achievement.  Perhaps not quite as important as the invention of HawkEye, but quite important nonetheless.  Apparently 38 atoms of anti-hydrogen were captured for 1/6th of a second.  Now this might not seem much but it probably cost about £3bn to achieve.    But it's tricky stuff this anti-matter and it escaped, presumably to return to the wild.  All in all a bit careless of the boffins who should have known to put the lid back on the jam jar. 

The search for Hussey's batting average
However it is obvious that even this fraction of a second's disturbance to the critical balance between matter and anti-matter has had a massive impact on the universe and the natural order of things.  Regrettably, Nature being a wholly lightweight and non-serious publication, there was no examination of the cricketing implications of this experiment.  

So, as usual, FB has to fill in the blanks.   The evidence is clear.  Less than a week before an Ashes series and Australia are on the floor, all over the place, a shambles - their top seven batters have managed only penny numbers between them in this week's state games so far.  England are all conquering, serene and, most unnatural of all, confident.   The natural order of things is disturbed.  Who can tell the consequences?

So FB says, if this is what one experiment can do, can we plug another £3bn in the meter and get some more anti-matter captured.  We need to keep the Aussies in this space for a few months more. 

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A fielding side

They also serve who only stand on the boundary for 50overs.  For no reason that makes sense, Fantasy Bob found himself musing today on fielding.

The development of one day cricket has brought fielding to the fore and to a level of perfection far beyond what was seen when Peter West and Brian Johnston sat in the commentators' eerie.  Cricketers seem hugely more athletic now than in the days of black and white.  Or is it the development of biological washing powder which makes players less anxious about getting their whites covered in grass stains?  Chases to the boundary seemed gentlemanly in those flickering days and  FB doubts if Johnners ever saw a sliding stop - this technique seemed suddenly to appear fully formed and now everyone does it, particularly Carlton's juniors.

While it is interesting to speculate, it is impossible to know how the greats of the past would match up to the demands of the present.  So who have been the greatest outfielders?  When FB was growing up there was only one contender - Colin Bland.  So fantastic was he in the covers that South Africa had to be banned from international cricket so that batsmen could sleep easy at night and the quick single could remain part of the game. 

Then a line of greats followed one after the other: there was Clive Lloyd, a man whose arms seemed preternaturally long as he menacingly stalked the covers.   He was able to get to any ball in just one stride, pick up and throw all at the same time.  Lethal. Then Rags, aka Derek Randall, a jack in box, never still and always a threat -  FB suspects it may be Rags who invented the slide since he threw himself around.  Then Jonty Rhodes - perhaps the first player to be picked first and foremost as a fielder - his batting was a little below the class of the others (35.66 compared to Bland's 49.08).  Others came near - David Gower was as sharp a cover as any before his shoulder fell apart, Neil Fairbrother might not have been as great a bat but he was special in the field.  FB also recalls Paul Sheahan as a superb extra cover in the late 1960s. 

Nowadays, there are just too many to choose from.  Dilshan, Youvrav, de Villiers, Gibbs, Ponting - the list is long adn getting longer.  Ponting makes a claim for being the most versatile since he can excel in just about any position. 

World's best?
But, in true patriotic fashion FB's vote for best contemporary fielder goes to Paul Collingwood.  This may be because he is the only one he has actually seen live: when the Saltires played England in June this year Collingwood must have stopped 30-40 runs at backward point.  There were no flash run outs and no spectacular catches came his way - just as well for Scotland - take a look at this link.  But for anticipation, speed of movement and security of handling on the ground, it was a breathtaking exhibition.  Worth the admission price.  The memory  of his performance still warms the cold November night. 

FB tips Colly to be the fielder of the Ashes series.