Monday, 31 January 2011

Ashes to Ashes

Fantasy Bob understands that there are red faces among the top echelons of the East of Scotland Cricket Association following the announcement this week of league fixtures for the coming season.  It has led to signficant developments that have rocked the cricket world.

We must go on meeting like this
It was announced soon after the ESCA announcement that, as a result of the unprecedented press of fixtures, England and Australia will play each other in 10 consecutive Tests across two series home and away in 2013-14, and that could be followed by a further five-match series in 2015. 

An ESCA spokesperson said 'We had no choice but to extend Division 7 and 8 fixtures to accommodate all the teams in the league but it seems that an unintended consequence is that the dates of the next Ashes series Down Under have had to be brought forward by a year.'

A host of other major events over this period have added to event congestion - including the Rugby World Cup, the UEFA championship and the World Synchronised Knitting Tournament all scheduled in 2015.
But these were relatively minor considerations to the power brokers of the ESCA.  The spokesperson clarified the issue,  'This was the only option which would ensure the Carlton 4 vs Fauldhouse 2 fixture would proceed.' 

Fantasy Bob understands that there is no truth in the suggestion that members of England's Future Tours Programme Committee were seen closely reading Aesop's tale of the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs.

Chair of the Future Tours Programme

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Anyone for tennis?

In all honesty, Fantasy Bob would rather watch the grass grow at Carlton's Grange Loan HQ than watch a tennis match end to end.  He can take one point, even a game, occasionally a set.  He fully admires the althleticism and stamina of the game, has himself dabbled in it, but to FB's heightened sensitivity it gets a bit one dimensional after 10 minutes and 5 sets can easily seem at least 5 sets too many.  Not even Wagner dared a fifth opera in the Ring Cycle.

Not his day - again
But FB recognises he was in a minority of one in fair Caledonia as Andy Murray did battle in Melbourne in the final of the Australian Open.  It all looked good for the Dunblane Destroyer to become the first British Grand Slam winner since Fred Perry in 1937 - and the first Scottish winner ever.  But then the game started and, well, you know the rest.  Instead, Murray became the first man in the open era to have reached three Grand Slam finals without winning a set.  A nation mourns.

Inspiring soccer casuals everywhere
Mention of Fred Perry reminds FB that sports good branding started there.   Those Fred Perry aertex shirts with the green laurel leaf preceded all the Adidas, Nikes, Filas etc and were very desirable when FB was a lad.  But then the marque got taken over by the casual soccer louts.   You might think that would be cause for shame but the front of the Fred Perry website now carries the following narrative of decline:

1979 - the Perry Boys were a unique underground fashion subculture emanating from inner-city Manchester and Salford to become trendsetters on the terraces and night clubs of the city.  Rebelling against everything around them, wedge hair cuts, Fred Perry's and northern confidence became the new order of the day.  Spawning the casual and rave scenes that followed.
Well!  FB is unable to advise  his readers on whether this is post modern ironic sarcasm type stuff or a serious statement.   He suspects the latter.  Whatever it is, the clothes on offer on the website seem to have been designed firmly with those with low and spotty foreheads in mind.

It is clear to FB that there is cause and effect here - had tennis not existed, Fred Perry would not be a brand name and this naff clothing would not be making wee hard men feel harder and, therefore, none of these unfortunate social trends would have followed.  It is time tennis acknowledged this responsibility.   We must be vigilant.  Civilisation will truly have ended should Fred Perry show any interest in designing cricket wear.

But - bad luck Andy - fourth time lucky.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

FB's letter to the Philistines

Arthur's Seat
Fantasy Bob is reeling.  His readers, all 3 of them, are likely to agree that FB can hardly be called a Philistine.  Indeed an appreciation of the true place of art and culture in the world of cricket might be regarded as one of FB's more annoying characteristics. 

However his enthusiasm for culture took a bit of a knock this week when he read of a decision to award a king's ransom to a troup of 'site specific artists' whose 'work' (and FB uses the term advisedly) to consist of strapping neon lights to people's so they can run around Edinburgh's Arthur's Seat in the dark. 

Exactly why this is described as art is beyond FB's limited understanding of these concepts.  The fact that these lights may also be in the line of sight of a batsman or fielders at Carlton's Grange Loan HQ should there be late finishes in evening games does not appear to have been taken into consideration by these artists or their funders.  This is wholly shameful.

£750,000 have been allocated.  Now that could buy a lot of bamboo for a panda.  More significantly it could buy a whole lot of cricket coaching for kids - or any other sports coaching for that matter.  This is meant to be part of the Olympic celebrations for 2012.  FB wonders exactly how running about in the dark will contribute to the sporting legacy of the Olympics. 

No doubt this is how St Paul felt when he got in the mood for an Epistle.  Like him, Fantasy Bob is therefore writing to the Philistines seeking immediate membership.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The Oscars

Fantasy Bob can hardly contain his excitement.  The Academy Award nominations have been published this week.  FB is a lapsed film buff so has actually seen none of these films.  But he understands that the films on this year's list, most unusually for Tinseltown, all have some cricketing importance.  So he'd better get along to the cinema (that's an old fashioned term for multi-plex).
Here is FB's guide to the contenders.  

  • Black Swan - a psychological thriller about a spin bowler and the new England ODI kit
  • The Fighter – a sporting biopic that follows Jimmy Anderson as he prepares to square up to Mitchell Johnson during the Perth Test
  • Inception – very smart, very slick, a complicated plot, yadda, yadda - how to steal bowling plans from the unconscious mind of an opposing captain
  • The Kids Are All Right - a family friendly film about Carlton's junior section 
  • The King's Speech – based on the  difficulty West Indian great Collis King faced in preparing to give the after dinner speech following his match winning World Cup final innings in 1979 
  • 127 Hours – a harrowing account of one of Chris Tavare's shorter innings
  • The Social Network – a social and cricketing indequate finds a role and fulfilment in inflicting on the world a nonsensical cricket blog
  • Toy Story 3 - how the poor form of batsman Tony O’Ystory and his confidence sapping run of low scores, 1, 2 and 3, gets him very animated
  • True Grit - a tribute to one eyed cricketers Colin Milburn and Nawab of Pataudi
  • Winter's Bone – a film about wicket preparation in cold climates – summer is bone dry but winter is bone hard.
................just a dream.  But wouldn't it be good if there was just one film about cricket, or with cricket in it, which could be a real contender?

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Northern Outposts

Fantasy Bob recognises that, in all his excitement this week about Burns Nicht and Australia Day, he is remiss in not mentioning that other great celebration - Up Helly Aa.  This is Europe's largest fire festival which occurs in Shetland on the last Tuesday of January every year.

Like all long standing traditions, Up Helly Aa is remarkably young, originating in 1888 - long after the Vikings, to whom it pays some kind of tribute, had matured from their wild young lives of ceaseless rape, pillage and sailing to America.  FB has to acknowledge that there is relatively little to interest the cricket lover in this Festival.  It involves Guizer Jarl and his squad marching about Lerwick in helmets and breastplates before burning their long boat and (the main point of it all) going on to endless celebrations, parties and dances which last through the night.  As the official website puts it 'Wednesday is a public holiday to allow for recovery.'

Orkney vs Shetland
the 2007 contest
FB accepts that it is unlikely that the Vikings could have brought cricket to Shetland, whatever other legacy they may have left.  But they didn't bring Up Helly Aa either.  However it will be a comfort to FB's readers to learn that cricket is played in Shetland,  where there is an active indoor league during the winter and a summer season, the highlight of which is the 'county fixture' against Orkney - a battle more keenly fought than the Ashes.  Orkney hold the Northern Light Trophy following their victory in 2009 - but the match was not played in 2010.

Cricket is also played in Norway where about 4000 play, out of a population of 4.5 million.  As is common in many countries, the national team is composed entirely of players of Asian extraction who also dominate the player base.   Scotland has played Norway once, when they were briefly in Division One of the European Championship in 2008 - Scotland won by 9 wickets with Sean Weeraratna getting 6 for 24.  Norway's fortunes have declined since then and they are now in Division 7 of the World Cricket League. 

Ibsen - cricket a step too far

Not a Norwegian cricketer
Roald Amundsen might be the Norwegian that most people have heard of - he was the first to reach the South Pole.  But other significant Norwegians include Henrik Ibsen,  the father of realist drama who shocked the late Victorian world by dealing with incest, syphilis and domestic abuse amongst other cheery light hearted themes.  But he dared not address cricketing themes which he thought would be a step too far for his audience.  And composer Edvard Grieg (no relation to Tony Greig) whose Morning Mood, from his Peer Gynt suite, has been plundered by a thousand coffee and breakfast cereal advertisements. Anni-Frid Lyngstad of Abba is also Norwegian. 

As at the time of writing, no Norwegian has played Test cricket.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

From michty to strewth

Fantasy Bob has just got over the excitement of Burns Night to discover that more celebrations are in order.  Get that haggis on the BBQ.

Australia Day is celebrated on 26 of January. It was on that day in 1788 that Captain Arthur Phillip took formal possession of the colony of New South Wales and became its first Governor. FB is unsure from whom he took possession, but since he had a string of convict vessels in tow he guesses there wasn't much of an argument and rolling the wicket and cutting the outfield could proceed immediately. The first official celebrations were held in 1818 marking the 30th anniversary. The previous year Governor Macquarie had accepted the recommendation of Captain Matthew Flinders, first circumnavigator of the continent, that it be called Australia. FB is not sure what it had been called before that - presumably neither was anyone else.

Australia Day has grown and developed in the intervening years - in particular to reflect and recognise the importance of the aboriginal population and the impacts of settlement on them. Community celebrations are a cornerstone of the day but Australia Day also sees the award of a series of national honours - including Australian of the Year. This year there are no cricketers in the nominations, although previous winners have included Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor and Allan Border who all received the award at the end of their captaincy. Will Ponting bag one when he finally retires?  FB suspects the jury is out.

All this nation building stuff reminds Fantasy Bob how young as a country in many respects Australia is. It was only in 1984 that Australians ceased to be British subjects and 'Advance Australia Fair' replaced 'God Save the Queen' as the national anthem. Up until 1954 when the Australian blue ensign was designated the Australian national flag, precedence was given to the Union Jack. Had the Barmy Army been a feature of the landscape in those days they would have been greatly confused.

Australia Day is not without its cricketing significance. Australia could take an unassailable 4-0 lead in the present ODI series on Australia Day 2011.  FB supposes this has some importance in restoring national pride following the Ashes. But there are other events in the history books.

Hughes at his elegant best
Kim Hughes was born on 26 January 1954. Hughes was of course Australian captain during Botham's Ashes in 1981.  Although he may be remembered for resigning the Australian captaincy in tears following a dismal run of form, kinder memories will reflect on how he lit up the Centenary Test at Lord's in 1980 with two high quality innings, not just batting on all five days but hitting a six on all five as well - the second leg of that must be a record likely to stand for some time. In Scotland he is also remembered for a spell as a master at George Watson's College and for turning our for Watsonians.

On 26 January 1993 in Adelaide, the West Indies held on to win the closest Test in history by one run. With the Aussies chasing 186, it looked all over at 144 for 9, but Tim May and Craig McDermott inched towards the total until McDermott was was given out caught behind off Courtney Walsh, although doubt remains as to whether McDermott actually gloved it. This is eerily similar to the ending of the second closest Test - England's 2 run victory at Edgbaston in 2005.

FB wishes all Aussies everywhere the most happy and enjoyable Australia Day.  He will be indulging in Lamingtons (coconut and chocolate covered cakes) at the generous insistence of an office colleague.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

For a' that

Burns - overlooked by Wisden
For Scots everywhere, today is sporran polishing day. Known locally as Burns Nicht when tribute is paid to Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns.
Now Burns is yet another great figure to be mentioned by Fantasy Bob whose cricketing importance has not been properly respected by Wisden or CricInfo.

But have no fear, FB is here to correct those blind spots and shine the light of inquiry into these dark recesses of history.  Here is the original version of Burns’ great egalitarian lyric
Is there for honest poverty
That hings his bat, an’ a’ that
The gowden duck, we pass him by
We’ll nae be oot for a’ that
For a’ that, an’ a’ that
We’re aff the mark for a’ that
The scorer’s pit it in the book
A run’s a run for a’ that

For through the slips oor shot has flown
It’s crossed the rope for a’ that
The bowler’s radge, the fielders moan
A four’s a four an’ a’ that
For a’ that, an’ a’ that
A big top edge an’ a’ that
The honest bat should aye play straight
A run’s a run for a’ that

Ye see yon birkie Pietersen
Wha struts an’ stares an’ a’ that
A' the world reminds him when
He couldna score for a’ that
For a’ that, an’ a’ that
His reverse sweep and a’ that
Holin’ oot at deep third man
Is nae damn good for a’ that

A Cook can mak a double ton
No breakin’ sweat an’ a’ that
But Fant’sy Bob slaves o’er a run
They’re rarer chiels for a’ that
For a’ that an’ a’ that
He taks a swing an’ a’ that
Aff either edge he disnae mind
A run’s a run for a’ that

Then let us pray that come it mun
(As come it will for a’ that)
That Fant’sy Bob’ll score a ton
An bear the gree an’ a’ that
For a’ that an’ a’ that
It’s coming yet for a’ that
That man to man, the world o’er
Shall cricketers be for a’ that

Monday, 24 January 2011

School day

Fantasy Bob's birthday took place at the start of the month.  When it comes to a present (as if FB ever did anything to deserve anything), FB's true love has given up on the cricket equipment.  Apparently it all just clutters the house up and a person is always tripping over it all.  For himself, FB thinks that a person should tred with greater care and attention in the vicinity of a Gray Nicolls Nitro, but in the interests of domestic bliss he bites his lip and turns the other cheek. 

 Martin Wishart - it takes many
hours in the nets
to get so good
This year's birthday present was special - a master class at the Martin Wishart Cook School.  At this point, FB should humbly confess to being a cook of some modest ability.  He can boil an egg with the best of them.  He has spent many happy hours contemplating Nigella Lawson's accomplishments - occasionally he has even shifted his gaze to consider her recipes.  FB is looking forward to her next book which he is led to believe will nail the cricket tea once and or all.

Restaurant Martin Wishart is one of the special things that make Edinburgh an excellent place to live.  Its Michelin Star is endorsement of its Test Match Quality.  FB cannot recommend it too highly.

So, FB passed a happy Saturday, cutting and slicing far more effectively than ever he does at the crease.  Under Martin's benign and enthusiastic guidance he prepared:
  • Mushroom Cappuccino
  • Languostine Ravioli with Braised Orange Endive and Langoustine Jus - start with 6 live langoustine
  • Sea Bream Baked in a Salt Crust with Fennel and Lemon
  • Passion Fruit Souffle 
And here is the bream as it come out of the oven in its crust - and then with the crust opened:

Delicious.  Food of the Gods.  Martin Wishart - Ashes hero.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Venus Fly Trap

Straining everything - including credibility
Fantasy Bob is sorry that it has come to this.  You might have thought that it would be appropriate to post further with some considered analysis of the second ODI between Australia and England.  You might have thought that there is something important happening in the world of biscuits (a subject which FB has ignored for too long).  You might have thought FB would have more taste and good sense.  But FB cannot resist turning his attention to one of his least favourite sports - tennis.

He hears with complete indifference masquerading as disappointment that Venus Williams has withdrawn from the Australian Open.  She has strained her groin. Eh?  FB was sure that the world supply of strainable groins was exclusively allocated to footballers - he was not even aware that the groin was part of the female anatomy.  But he accepts that Venus is something special - she has muscles in places most people don't even have places.

Such is the circus that is women's tennis that the main source of commentary during the continuing Australian Open is Venus Williams' dress sense - or nonsense.  Her groin is not the only thing Venus has strained this week - decorum and decency have also been under threat.

This week she has drawn astonished gasps, according to the breathless reports from FB's fashion correspondent, first for a very short blue dress - called the illusion dress - and then for a lattice based number she claims to have been inspired by Alice in Wonderland.  She combines these outfits with flesh coloured pants which don't seem to cover her but cover the unsuspecting viewer in embarrasment.  If Venus had any opponents worth their salt she might have to wear proper clothes.  Particularly elasticated stockings to support that nagging groin strain.  But that's women's tennis for you.

Venus is clearly the Lady Gaga of the court - a meat based tennis dress is only a step away.  It's a topsy turvy world - FB understands that celebrated porn star Jemma Jameson will shortly present her new range of sporting wear - a modest white aertex shirt and white mid-thigh cullottes.

That is tennis - so far cricket has escaped the fashionistas.  But in this rough and tumble commercial world that is professional sport can similar developments be far behind?  If the golf world can provide the launch pad for Ian Poulter's range of completely ridiculous trousers, cricket has to follow. 

Watch in the better stores soon for
Ego - KP's range of fashion cricket wear - designed for the man who thinks he has everything.
Le Hooquer -  the Alistair Cook lingerie collection - specially luxurious for that long sweat free innnings.
The Collys - a range of designer socks by Paul Collingwood that will help your feet make the most of their limited talent as feet.
FB suspects this might not be as nonsensical as it appears to be. Somewhere, some marketing guru is working hard on the concept - but you heard it first from Fantasy Bob. FB claims copyright and looks forward to the royalties rolling in when the ranges hit the shops.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

I'm forever blowing bubbles

England's ODI
selection policy
Fantasy Bob is given to understand that a boffin called Bird and his co-workers spent  three years developing the perfect theory of bubble bursting. They have concluded that a bubble bursting will form a ring of daughter bubbles, which in turn burst and form a ring of daughter bubbles which in turn burst and form a ring.............and so on to infinity like an episode of EastEnders.   All fine and good.  This discovery apparently has several implications for manufacturing processes and the transmission of disease, not that the 2 are connected.

Fantasy Bob can find no equivalent scientific research on the sound of bubbles bursting.  His own experience tells him that bubble gum bubbles burst with a recognisable click as they collapse.  It also tells him that the gum then sticks all over the blower's face.  FB found this bad enough at the best of times, but particularly so when he sported a beard.  He suggests that bubble gum should carry a health warning for people, of either sex, with beards. But, to return to the subject at hand, 'What is the sound of a bubble bursting?' seems a question for the Zen master, alongside 'What is the sound of one hand clapping?'.

Fantasy Bob mentions all this because it may be relevant to the England tour of Australia.  From the high summit of the Ashes triumph they are now on a losing run - has a bubble burst and are daughter bubbles all around?  Are the daughters about to burst?

The second ODI performance was pretty unimpressive.  Australia were on the rails twice but escaped through the batting of Shaun Marsh - er where was he during the Test series - aided by Cameron White and more surprisingly Doug Bollinger.  England then batted like a bunch of bubbles with Bollinger (no pun intended) doing the business including getting KP first ball.  Flower's choice of Prior as the World Cup keeper-opener looked a little less inspired as he was also out for 0.  Oops.

Neither Paul Collingwood nor his sock was available for comment.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Lady Agnew

Agnew - by Singer Sergeant
This is possibly Fantasy Bob's favourite picture in the National Galleries of Scotland - John Singer Sergeant's portrait of Lady Agnew of Loch Achnaw.  It speaks for itself - Test Match quality.

Sergeant was the son of American parents but grew up mostly in France.  In the years surrounding the turn of the 20th Century he had great success as a society portrait painter.  In his later years he rather fell out of fashion as 20th Century artists developed new approaches. 

Regretably, his work does not feature any cricketing themes.  So it is unlikely that Lady Agnew is posing just having set the tea out in the pavilion of Achnaw CC - for no other reason that Achnaw (which is in deepest Galloway) has never been blessed with a cricket club.

Lady Agnew - Getrude to her pals - was married to Andrew the 9th Baron Achnaw who was a soldier and later MP for Edinburgh South (a constituency that probably included Carlton's HQ).  So this gives Carlton a link with the picture.  Gertrude may well have graced the ground on a sunny afternoon and enjoyed a Magners or two while lounging on the hill in her shorts and halter top.

Agnew - not by Singer Sergeant
But is there another possible cricket link?  Study the face carefully.  That long nose, those fabulous eyebrows.  The knowing superiority.  Is it only Fantasy Bob's runaway imagination, but do they carry definite resemblances to the Agnew de nos jours?

Put your imagination away FB - for history says that Sir Andrew and Lady Aggers had no issue.  Bad luck Jonathan Agnew - you are not the mysterious long lost heir to a castle in Galloway after all.

But FB encourages you to visit the Galleries in Edinburgh's Princes Street and see Lady Aggers - she's in an upper gallery.  Test match quality - as is the complete NSG collection.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

A Drop in the Ocean

So far the main talking point in the post Ashes encounters between England and Australia is the clinical decision by the management to drop Paul Collingwood for the first ODI.  Will he stay dropped?  While he has been included in the 15 man World Cup squad, this is still a difficult question. 

FB has a soft spot for Colly, so he hopes we haven't seen the last of him.  He is England's most capped ODI player (189) and the leading aggregate run-scorer with 4978.  FB thinks he is pretty important to the functioning of the team in several respects - although he accepts that if he can't deliver with the bat there is only one end to this story.

Strauss' comment was that Colly needs to get his head clear.  Well maybe, but just as important is that he gets back in the habit of scoring vital runs.  Can he do it and get back in the side?  Will he make the World cup squad.?  How do you expect Fantasy Bob to know?

But let's think.  Colly has previous in the dropping game and has bounced back before.  Four years ago he suffered a significant slump following his 206 at Adelaide. He went 14 innings without a fifty before illness kept him out of a match against Australia in Sydney. He returned for the following game against NZ and hit 106 which was followed by an unbeaten 120 and 70 in the two deciders against Australia in the 3 way ODI series.   Then, he was dropped for the second Test against South Africa in 2008, following another lean run. He was recalled for the next match and after a first-innings failure he hit 135.  So Collingwood is a man who knows how to fight back.  Has he used up all his lives?  History suggests that he can respond effectively to the big drop. 

But how do other players respond to the axe?  FB has little direct experience since he has made sure that he always plays in a side where there is a challenge actually to get eleven - so his chances of being dropped are correspondingly low.  At an earlier stage in his career he used to work hard on the quality of his sandwiches, a strong reason for continued selection.  Then being captain was also a bit of an insurance policy, the non-playing captain being more for the Ryder cup than the Ryden league.  More recently, owning a car with considerable boot space is persuasive to the selectors and adds extra insurance.  These are factors less open to the first class player.  Strauss and Flower may hesitate to give appropriate priority to the ability of Colly’s Volvo estate to ferry an assorted range of juniors from venue to venue.

How have other players around the Ashes series coped?  Ian Bell was dropped after England's ignominious 54 all out in Jamaica 2 years ago.  He says,   'England did me a favour dropping me. I knew I had to change. I don't think technically I was struggling, but other areas I had to improve on, if I hadn't addressed them I would not be here now.'  It is OK for him to say now since he has come back looking something like the complete batsman.    But did he feel this at the time? 

Mitchell Johnson was dropped after the First Ashes test, and very forlorn he looked too.  But the story was changed at some point - not dropped but rested and after some time (a couple of days) in the nets came back for the Perth test and got man of the match award. 

Nathan Hauritz was omitted from the Australian long list prior to the start of the series, and sold his kit in a garage sale so pleased with the decision was he. 

X Doherty is firmly Ex - dropped after the third test following the intervention of the RSPCCB (Royal Society for the Protection of Crap Bowlers). 

Kevin Pietersen was dropped last summer and showed his new found maturity by indulging in a four letter word strewn Twitter rant – which evidently restored his understanding of where off stump is - to judge from his return to some kind of form in the Ashes.

So there are many possible responses.
The drop also happens in other sports, Wayne Rooney was dropped earlier this season to protect him from the abuse of supporters following his adventures in sleaze land – and then out of indignation at his stated wish to leave Man Utd.  He still hasn’t quite recaptured the electric form of last season.  But, according to recent press reports, he used the time off creatively to refine his his tax avoidance plans,
And here is some advice on what to do if you are dropped. FB is particularly impressed by the point that you should learn some improved techniques but don't be too flash with them in training.  FB obeys that instruction to the letter - he is never flash with technique (or anything else) in training - or anywhere else for that matter.

But it's not just sports people who can be dropped.  Susan Boyle apparently wakes up in a cold sweat out of anxiety that she'll be dropped by Simon Cowell's machine.  FB imagines that there are many reasons to have nightmares relating to Simon Cowell, but this would not be too far up his list.

Like, so, like Kirsten
The last word on this compelling subject should go to actress Kirsten Dunst  (no, FB isn't too sure who she is either).  She could make claim to be the Ian Bell of the silver screen for recently saying that she is not angry about being dropped from the next Spider-Man movie. According to, she, Tobey Maguire, and director Sam Raimi were dropped by Sony for the fourth blockbuster.  She looks back positively, if with a rare inability to speak English, on her Spider Man legacy, saying "I felt like what we had during those films was so special, like me and Tobey and Sam.  It was such a unique experience and also because it was these independent minds and actors and you're making this huge film." 

These words cut no ice with Strauss and Flower and Dunst did not make the England World cup squad.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The big 6

Watching Shane Watson's mighty maximum to win the first ODI for Australia gave Fantasy Bob cause for thought.  FB is a great admirer of the work of the playwright Sir Tom Stoppard.  Stoppard has the great additional virtues of being a keen cricket fan and occasional player, wicketkeeping in various scratch literary XIs. 

Scene from The Real Thing
In his play The Real Thing there is the following speech.  It is spoken by a writer comparing a good script to a cricket bat.
This thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It’s for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly….......
This speech is celebrated by many critics for its use of a sporting metaphor to explain a creative act.   Fantasy Bob fully approves of this and he greatly enjoyed the play and many of Stoppard's other works, whether benefitting from cricket metaphors or not.

But Stoppard is talking about a big hit - a truly exceptional hit.   Is it possible?

Afridi puts another one into the stands
According to the record books, the furthest a cricket ball has been hit is 160 metres by Shahid Afridi off Andrew Symonds in 2005 at MCG.  (It didn't do Symonds much good since he took to drink shortly after.)  160 meters is 174 yards - a bit shy of Stoppard's example.  But the hang time of the ball is 4 seconds dead on.   FB reckons this makes the average ball speed through the air about 89 mph.  200 yards in 4 seconds is 102mph.  (FB is just waiting for someone to correct his arithmetic, although he used the highest quality back of envelop he had available).

But Stoppard's cricketing experience might be more in line with Fantasy Bob's rather than Afridi's.  So FB thought of his own 6 hitting.  And before you say 'Oh come on', it has been verified that FB hits the occasional six.  On a totally unscientific basis his biggest hit might be just over 80 yards and the hang time not much shorter than Afridi's - a speed of around 70mph.   Carlton players should think how big a hit it is to put the ball over the wall at the bottom end - just under 100 yards.  Afridi hit it over the wall, over the houses and then some.  And Stoppard's batter puts it further yet.

Is it possible - have we reached the limits of human achievement?  Or should we put it down to artistic licence?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Panda Bonanza - update

Fantasy Bob has learned how the senior figures at go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton are confronting some of the logistic implications of their successful bid to bring 2 Pandas to the club to play as overseas amateurs next season.  Fitness and food are the major concerns.

Gearing up for the Pandas
A source close to the management team told FB,  'Apparently Pandas spend 16 hours a day lying around just eating.  Now, some of the juniors can just about match that but it doesn't leave a lot of time for net practice.  And we must be concerned about their general levels of fitness, so we'll be working hard to get a fitness and a conditioning programme going. We'll have to get the Pandas on the cross trainer right away.  Then we'll focus on sprinting.We need our Pandas to be tigers in the field and attack the ball like Stevie Gilmour.'

500 cans a day required
Food is another issue.  FB's source set out the challenge, 'The planning assumption was that the Pandas would match the diets of previous overseas players which consisted of pizza 3 times a day - or sometimes 3 pizzas once a day.  But now we're told that Pandas are not keen on pizza.  They seem to have this thing about bamboo - and the 2 of them will need 100 kilos of the stuff a day.   Of course we are exploring the possibility of bamboo flavoured pizza with local suppliers.  But we probably need the real thing.  Our doughty groundsman tells us that this is more than can be grown in the bottom corner of Grange Loan so self supply is not an option.'

FB understands that while tinned supplies may keep things going for a while, all club members will shortly be asked to replant their potatoes and raspberries.  Those in the club who can remember the last war (ie the majority of the 4th XI) have designed this poster in support of the campaign.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Brit Awards

There was massive disappointment among Carlton's music loving elite when the shortlists for the prestigious Brit Awards were announced last week.  Carlton musicophiles were quietly confident that their revered President Dizzeee Khartah would feature prominently in the listings.

Some students of Fantasy Bobs nonsense may be less than fully familiar with the iconic figure of Dizzeee Khartah and are wondering what on earth FB is all about.  (Not an unusual experience for many who chance on this quaint corner of the blogosphere.)

Me hide me bling
When me umpiring
To recap, the revered President of the go ahead Edinburgh Cricket Club, DC Carter, is a well-respected educationalist and hockey player.  His fearsome reputation as a bowler of miserly spells and an umpire of stern rectitude, liable to give LBW decisions purely on aesthetic grounds, goes before him.

But in the course of last season, FB revealed that DC has a secret identity.  At the shake of a golden necklace he will transform himself into the bling encrusted Dizzeee Khartah, Portobello’s favourite rap star.  In his raps he seeks to emulate Mr Dizzee Rascal to address the challenges facing today's inner city youth, particularly in getting bargain prices at selective retail outlets. 

Disgracefully, the Brit judges have overlooked Dizzeees claims in favour of a clutch of artists that no one (well FB anyway) has heard of, and another set of artists to whom no one but the terminally tone deaf would listen.  FB suspects he is being pandered to by the inclusion in the lists of aging heavy hitting bat Robert Plant.  He is not so easily fooled.

Many cricket fans thought that the category of Breakthrough Artist would at least recognise the work of Steve Finn. Even more amazingly this is one set of awards that Sachin Tendulkar is not set to dominate.

But to demonstrate the artistic quality that has so capriciously been spurned by the judges, here is a sample of Dizzeees recent work:
Yeah, yeah, we bring the stars out
We bring the bats and the balls and the pads out
Let's have a four, a maiden over, get a run out
And we can do this until we pass out

Tinie Tempah he aint as cool as Dizzeee Khartah
That high fashion its ma passion Im a martyr
But at Lidl its a fiddle a disaster
Their bling aint gold leaf but painted plaster

Dizzy Rascal thinks hes cool but hes a hobo
Cos Im cruising Portobello in ma Volvo
But with the girls man it always seems no no
Cos my fashion sense is all been got in CostCo

Yeah, yeah, we bring the stars out
We bring the bats and the balls and the pads out
ve had a swing they say howzat, and man that
s you out
And we can do this until we pass out
Test Match Quality.  It's the Brits' loss.
If you want to compare Dizzeee's work with Mr Tinie Tempah's inferior original Pass Out here's a link.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Ground down

Oh dear Fantasy Bob is in joke free territory again.

In commenting on Fantasy Bob's posting on Lesley Riddoch's Scotsman article earlier this week, a reader referred to Richard Young's study of lost cricket grounds in the West of Scotland.  FB recommends a scan of this document.  It is a true tragedy to think of so many clubs and grounds lost, probably for ever.  And disappointing to see how local government seemed ineffective in developing any strategic approach on this issue.

This study led FB to think about the situation in the East of Scotland.  FB doesn't have comprehensive knowledge, and the tale doesn't seem quite as tragic as in the West, but there have been some notable changes in facilities. 

Where MSPs are now at the crease.
Jock's Lodge - possibly the greatest loss, home to Royal High, a once proud club (despite having had to endure FB in its ranks for a number of years) now amalgamated with Stew-Mel.  Jock's Lodge was a fine hard wicket with an imposing view of Arthur's Seat towering over it.  But it had a sink estate opposite it and its pavilion was a regular target for break-ins and vandalism.  The ground was sold for housing and a Safeways car park in the late 1980s as Royal High moved to characterless Barnton.  FB has searched the web in vain for a picture of cricket at Jock's Lodge.  But even earlier the Royal High School used a small playing field that is on the site of what is now the Scottish Parliament - as shown in the photo right.

Kirkcaldy/Bennochy - once home to a thriving East League Division 1 club.  A hilltop ground - you could see the haar rolling in up the Forth.  Home once to Ray Joseph the meanest most aggressive bowler in the league.  Also in the area Dunnikier Park - not so far from Kirkcaldy a scenic place to play cricket.  Is cricket still possible in either of these locations?

Changes have affected Raeburn Place, once home of Edin Accies, although cricket may return once the pavilion has sorted itself out; at Newfield where Accies are currently playing the second field along East Fettes Avenue was recently converted to 2 all-eather hocky pitches with the loss of a fine cricket square; Union Park Corstorphine - not everyone's favourite but a valuable public park none the less; Bangholm - a fine dry field if a bit tight.  Malleny Park at Currie used to have an adequate plastic track - now vandalised beyond redemption.

Cricket at Campbell Park
But there have been some additions.  A new plastic track at Inverlieth (albeit set at a quaint angle to the terrain) and similar at the Gyle (a pretty bleak place to play cricket but a pitch none the less).  Campbell Park in Colinton, has been brought into play in recent years - and who knows its wicket may even be rolled one of these years.

FB would be pleased if any of his readers with longer or better memories could add to this list or report on the situation elsewhere.

This is of course part of a much wider issue of concern as rapacious developers eye open space and all playing fields are vulnerable.  Cricket facilities need more tender loving care than many other facilities and the years of austerity that are heavily forecast may put pressure on local authorities and clubs that makes them vulnerable. 

FB commends the work of Fields in Trust to protect the balance.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Medical bulletin

The following bulletin has been issued by the Chief Medical Officer: 

Unsuccessful trouser therapy
Mr Fraggle Watts, ever popular captain of go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton, and star Scotland opening bat, is recovering well from cosmetic surgery.

Mr Watts first consulted surgeons a number of months ago when he grew concerned about the state of his hip.  He was seriously worried that he just wasnt hip enough.

'Mr Watts had tried the  full range of natural remedies a series of SuperDry polo shirts, extremely colourful trousers, expensive haircuts, super strength Lynx.  Nothing worked.  His I-Pod showed the aggressive nature of the condition - there was a range of tracks by Celine Dion, Sydney Devine and Susan Boyle.  We caught the malignant unhipness just in time.  We had no alternative but to operate immediately.  A highly skilled team of surgeons operated on his hip glands to remove a bit of bone and cartilage.'

Hip talk
Leading hip surgeon Sir Doctor Professor Hippocrates said Yoh, man, Is lettin y'all know dat Mr Fraggle gonna be the hippest dude in the whole universe from this mom on Hey hes even hipper than dat Fantasy Bob dude. And weve given him the coolest pair of crutches dat any cats ever had. Nice!  Now gimme some skin man.............

Mr Watts condition is described as prone.  He should be off the crutches for the start of the clubbing season.  Fantasy Bob wishes him the speediest of speedy recoveries.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation is dispatching a  team of crack epidemiologists to Carltons Grange Loan HQ to examine the outbreak of hip gland conditions at the club.  Doughty groundsman Magnus Moon was the first to succumb.  He   is now bionic, skipping behind the scarifier like a new born lamb following hip gland replacement therapy before Christmas.  Fraggle's condition may not be coincidental.  Club valetudinarian Fantasy Bob is now reporting that he feels a little stiff in the morning.   WHO Doctor (eh?) told Fantasy Bob 'This outbreak could be the start of a world wide epidemic.  It could be worse than bird flu.  We need to understand whether it is something to do with Carlton's legendary hill or is there something in the water?    But there is no need for people to panic - until they hear further from us.'

Friday, 14 January 2011

Farewell My Googly

Fantasy Bob suspects that most of his readers take the great detective writer Raymond Chandler as an American through and through.  However a significant part of his growing up was spent in the UK and he served in the Gordon Highlanders during World War 1.  He attended school at Dulwich where a class mate was PG Wodehouse.  That schooling gave him a familiarity with cricket which is sadly suppressed in his most celebrated work.  Here his early masterpiece Farewell my Googly shows his intuitive grasp of the dramatic possibilities of the cricket match.

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was asking the umpire for leg stump.

As I scraped my mark, I reviewed the scrambled chain of coincidence that brought me there. The dame had been a looker, a blonde that would make a bishop kick a stained glass window. Once seen, never forgotten.  Most days though I am just in the mood to remember. She gave me some dumb story about a follow on and reverse swing. Some dead guy’s ashes could be lost for ever. She must have called me as a sucker for that kind of talk. The two bottomless black pools that she had where other dames had eyes blinked at me and I fell right in. I told her my expenses and she gave me a smile that gave me that warm feeling in my hip pocket.

Now I looked around the field. I could see the problem. Four slips and two gullies were as conspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel cake. As a welcoming party, it had all the warmth of the morgue. The Gray Nichols Nitro in my hand suddenly felt small enough to pick my teeth with. I hoped it was loaded.

Twenty two yards away a big angry guy held a red ball in his paws like a lump of raw meat. He didn’t curl his lip because it has been curled for him at birth. We sneered at each other for a moment. He sneered better than I did. He paced slowly back. He turned and charged in, his arm came over hard like the piston on a 34 Studebaker.

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was pads, gloves and a bat. Then the dame’s whisky tones came back to me, ‘Remember his first ball will be the bouncer.’ I had to hand it to the dame. She called it dead right. I leaned back and flicked the ball over the mid-wicket boundary.

Batting is like love: the first stroke is magic, the second is intimate, the third routine. After that  things become less complicated. I didn't feel too much older when I saw the umpire lift the bails and call stumps. I guessed the old guy’s ashes were safe. I thought the dame might be pleased.  I looked forward to a long evening bathing in those two black pools.  I had no other plans.

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

I looked for the dame as I came off the field. There were nothing but old guys in striped ties. It looked like it would have to be that glass of beer instead.

Bogart as ace batsman Philip Marlowe
 in the lost film of Farewell My Googly

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Beaten for Pace

This week has brought the return to international cricket of Brett Lee and the retirement of Makhaya Ntini.  (See the excellent Guardian piece on Ntini on this link).  So it's right that Fantasy Bob should spill a little ink on pace bowling.

Makhaya Ntini
mobbed by fans at his farewell 20-20
Fantasy Bob’s readers will probably have worked out that it is extremely unlikely that FB has faced extreme pace in his long but undistinguished cricketing career.  FB may well retort that it all seemed bloody fast at the time, but there is fast and there is FAST.  FB once cranked the bowling machine at Carlton up to over 85mph which was an amusing experience - more for those watching than for FB himself. 
But FB will accept that this is a poor substitute for facing the speed kings on a bouncy wicket not having much of a clue as to what the length or line of the next bullet is going to be.  He has nothing but admiration for any batter who can withstand this onslaught, and appear to consider different possible shots as the ball screams towards him.  The fact that physicist assure FB that the ball is getting slower on its way down the wicket is no comfort.

FB has thrilled as a spectator to a few of the great fast men of our time.  Brett Lee against Scotland in 2009 was poetry in motion.  Akhtar, Younis, Akram and Holding have also had the privilege of being watched by FB.   From the boundary the athleticism,  the control and the use of the whole body’s energy in the delivery is remarkable and evident in a way that doesn't come across on TV.    The run is of course part of the intimidation of the batter and can be pure theatre.  Truly thrilling to watch.  Goodness knows what it is like from the business end.

So who is the greatest of the fast men?  Who is the one that FB would least like to have faced?  Here are some stats of the recent greats and some not so recent for comparison's sake.  In random order.


Curtly talk to no man

Typhoon Tyson
 Tyson is reckoned by many to be the fastest of all.  He made his first class debut against the Indian tourists in 1953, after his first ball the slips moved back an extra five yards.  In 1954 at Old Trafford, Tyson hit the sightscreen on the first bounce. He is one of only four bowlers to have achieved this feat in the history of the game.  Jeff Thomson is another.  Presumably these days that accomplishment would be scored as 7 wides.  (Oops wrong there FB - see valuable correction in comments below - 5 wides)

Tyson claimed that he could bowl at 119 mph. Who knows? 

Frankly, FB would not have relished facing any of them.  Although Marshall shaves it in terms of average and probably had more variation about his bowling, FB thinks he would have been least happy about having to face Curtly Ambrose.  His bowling had a meanness about it that marked him out from the others.  Not only has he the best economy rate of all the fast men, he didn't do verbals - the caption above is his response to an interview request.  Hush was his intimidation.

Mean?  Don't take FB's word for it - ask Michael Atherton.  Dismissed 17 times by Ambrose in his career.  Ask Shane Warne, who ranked him 3 in his list of the 50 greatest cricketers.  Curtly Ambrose - stuff of nightmares.