Friday, 17 December 2010


There is only one possible subject for Fantasy Bob's 111th posting. 

Nelson at the crease
111.  The dreaded Nelson.  For the averagely superstitious cricketer, such as FB, the score standing at Nelson is a cause for anxiety.  A wicket is bound to fall.  Actually, statistical tests by world famous anoraks have found that wickets are no more likely to fall on Nelson than on any other score.   But it doesn't feel like that.

No one is really sure why the Royal Navy's greatest hero, the Rt Honourable Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson KB, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, should be identified as putting the hex on a cricket team.  The commonly given explanation that it is because Nelson had only one eye, one arm and one leg rather loses its force when history shows that Nelson had the regulation number of legs (as can be seen from his stance at the crease on top of his column).  Of course it might be that 111 was the score that Nelson was on when he unluckily got out during his last great innings at Trafalgar, but most historians are sceptical as to whether cricket could actually have been played on a British man'o'war of the period, particularly during a frantic engagement with the enemy.  The force from a broadside would have made maintaining line and length a considerable challenge to any bowler.  Nor does 'Kiss me, Hardy,' seem  the best way of calling for a quick single.  So the use of Nelson remains a mystery.

It's not much clearer why 111 itself should be considered such a dangerous figure.  There is the suggestion that it looks like bail-less stumps and so is a sign of misfortune.  But that's not much to go on.  111 is of course the emergency number in the USA, but that can't have any relevance.  In FB's experience, dialing the emergency services is not a reliable approach to maintaining your wicket.  The equivalent superstitious number in Australian cricket is 87,  the Devil's Number, 13 shy of 100.  That seems more convincing a reason.  But those same anoraks have shown that more Australian batsmen are dismissed on the surrounding numbers rather than 87 itself.

Nelson can put the hex on an individual score as well as the team's.  But as far as individual scores go the commonest wicket inducing number is 0 - apparently 12.4 of dismissals in Test cricket are ducks (that's more than one every innings).  The next commonest scores are 1 then 4. 

David Shepherd averting Nelson
But we should not despair.  Nelson can be countered.  It is umpire David Shepherd who made the Nelson jig popular demonstrating how Nelson can be subverted by all members of the team ensuring that they do not have both feet on the ground.  Quite why the bowling side did not challenge Shepherd giving such covert assistance to the batting side is a mystery to FB. 

Fantasy Bob is fully aware of the power of Nelson.   Twice last season teammates ignored FB's pleas to ensure they had a foot off the ground until the next run was scored and the inevitable happened.   Vigilance combined with effective coaching is needed at all times.

111 is also the opus number of Beethoven's final piano sonata, one of the most intense and challenging works in the piano repertoire.  FB is convinced that he composed it with one foot held carefully off the ground at all times. The second movement is a huge fugue, theme and variations.  Played at the almost impossible speed of Beethoven's metronome marking some of the variations have a syncopated quality that is as close as you can get to ragtime or jazz rhythms without being in the 1930s.  Wow.  Over a hundred years ahead of his time.  Beethoven really did push every boundary - he may well have invented the reverse sweep. Test match quality in everything he did.

Here is a tape of a performance of the first movement of this great work by Svlatoslav Richter.   (Nelson did not play this piece). Enjoy.

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