Saturday, 30 April 2011

The cares of office?

The league season starts today and with it come so many questions. What will it be - promotion, mid table respectability, relegation?  Will the teas be up to standard?  How often will it rain?  Will Fantasy Bob's back stand the strain; what about his knee, what about his shoulder - what, in fact, about any part of the historic monument that is his formerly fantastic athletic frame?  Will there be a clutch of 50s and 5-fers, or a catalogue of ducks and wicketless efforts?

But a crucial question is whether the cares of captaincy will reduce his effectiveness as a player?  There are those reading these words who will know that any further reduction in FB's effectiveness would render him on the further side of totally useless.  But putting that issue, and FB, to the side for a moment, this is is one of the great philosphical questions - is captaincy a stimulus or a burden?  As Shakespeare's Henry IV puts it 'Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown'.  Or not?

captaincy a burden
To put the question another way - is FB a Botham or an Imran Khan?  Obviously he shares many characteristics with both these minor cricketers: 2 arms, 2 legs and cricket sweaters for a start. After that strong beginning comparisons become a little more strained.  But these 2 great all rounders are at the opposite ends of one very interesting graph of achievement.  The impact of captaincy on Botham was disastrous (30 years ago this year as it happens).  For Imran it had exactly the oppposite impact.

captaincy a stimulus
Figures do not lie.  Botham's batting average in the Tests in which he was not captain was 36.73, his bowling average 27.93.  As captain, his batting average collapsed to 13.14 , and his bowling deteriorated, although not so disastrously, to 33.09.  On the other hand,  Imran's batting average went from 25.44 as non-captain to 52.35 as skipper and his bowling from 25.33 to 20.22.    What an impact and how the Pakistani team responded.  Leadership obviously suited him.  FB has no information as to how effective they were on winning the toss but it would not surprise him to find that Imran also had a positive effect on the spinning coin, winning significantly more than he lost.   No doubt even the sandwiches he brought for tea improved dramatically.

MS Dhoni is getting big licks as the best skipper around these days.  It is interesting therefore to note his figures on this chart.  Captaincy improves his contribution -  his batting average as skipper is 50.10, a significant improvement on his prior 33.07.  But his precedecessors Ganguly and Dravid found the captaincy had an opposite impact.  It seems that some are born to lead.

Friday, 29 April 2011

A royal souvenir

Fantasy Bob wishes any young people anywhere in the world getting married today every happiness together.

FB has previously lamented the snub to cricket and cricket lovers represented by the event of the day - neither he nor any eminent cricketer is among the assembled company at Westminster Abbey.  Cricket lovers feel further left out in cold when they scrutinise the vast array of memorabilia that has been crated to mark the day. In among the mugs and tea-towels, paperweights and biscuit tins and all that other valueless rubbish, the cricketer's needs have been scandalously ignored.  But help is at hand, for FB has come up with this exclusive design.  A must for cricketers of all abilities.

The Wills and Kate batting pads.  What every loyal cricketer should be wearing this season.  Priceless.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Fragile flowers?

Malinga - an action that
puts a strain on parts
that other actions leave untouched
Lasith Malinga is 27.  He has announced that he is retiring from Test cricket to concentrate on limited overs matches.  His wrecked knee is at risk in the longer form of the game.  Shaun Tait is 28.  He has announced that he is retiring from 40 and 50 over cricket to concentrate on T20 which is all that his injury prone frame will allow.  He withdrew from First Class cricket in 2008.  There are serious issues here and these players cannot really be criticised for acting so as to maximise their earning power in the inevitably short life that any professional sportsman has.  But are they unduly fragile flowers?  It looks it.

Malinga has bowled 11867 balls in first class and test cricket, 10464 in ODI and List A and 1113 in T20.  A grand total of 23444.  Perhaps 2000 per year over his career. Tait has bowled 9263 balls in First Class and Test cricket, 6588 in ODI and List A and 1780 in T20.  A total of 17631.

Rhodes 185799 deliveries
and his cap never fell off once
The top deliverer of all time is Wilfrid Rhodes with 185799 and it is the slow men who dominate the top of this particular table.  But in his career Fred Trueman bowled 100687 balls,  perhaps 4500 per year.  Other seamers such as Brian Statham, Ken Higgs, Courtney Walsh and JK Lever also sent down well over 100000 balls.  It looks unlikely that any modern pace man will get anywhere near these figures.

Is it fair to compare the workload of these old uns with contemporary cricketers?  Contemporary cricketers at least have the benefit of sound medical and physiotherapy advice and modern equipment.  Unlike many of their predecessors - Frank Tyson missed half a test series because of a blister caused by an ill-fitting boot.  Harold Larwood's foot problem following the Bodyline tour was misdiagnosed repeatedly and subject to unnecessary surgery.  

Trueman at full stretch
But as Malinga and Tait show how fast bowling seems to eat human resources like few other sporting activities.  There are few Truemans, blessed the perfect frame and the perfect action which allow them to remain free of severe injury. The strains on growing bodies and grown bodies alike are severe -  for example the landing leg may have to absorb forces up to 10 times the weight of the body.  If that doesn't get your ankle or your knee, then the torque on the lower back will.    Andrew Flintoff's frame couldn't take the strain and he retired 2 years ago having bowled 42829 balls.  Dennis Lillee's career was interrupted by back problems which limited his output to 54071 thunderbolts.  Shoab Akthar retired during the World Cup, knees totally shattered having delivered only 28366 rockets.  Simon Jones, the unsung hero of the 2005 Ashes, has bowled only 15502 deliveries so injury prone has he been.  Quite rightly, therefore, young bowlers have to conform to strict ECB guidelines to stop them being overbowled while their bodies are still taking shape. 

Meanwhile Fantasy Bob may have delivered no more than 20000 deliveries in his whole career, including in the back garden and on the beach, at a pace that has rarely been described as blistering.  And he is a total physical wreck.  When Fred Trueman was asked how he felt having taken over 300 Test wickets he said, 'Bloody tired.'   FB is sure he spoke nothing but the truth.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Come back

Andrew Gale
What would Fantasy Bob have done at Headingley last week?

It has long been one of Fantasy Bob's ambitions as skipper to call a batsman back as having been incorrectly dismissed.  This season maybe it will happen.   Of course technically there has been nothing to stop him doing this at any time in the last 200 seasons he has played.  It is certain that there have been many decisions over his long career that might not have stood up to the rigours of the UDRS, had it been available at the time.  It just doesn't feel like that.  For whatever reason, FB has not chosen to occupy that elevated moral plane and has accepted the judgment of umpires as equally incompetent as he is himself sending their team mates off in possibly dubious circumstances.  He may use the reasoning that if every questionable appeal were treated in this way, there would barely be a wicket to fall in the whole course of the season and the game is weighted heavily enough in favour of the batsman (particularly when FB is bowling).  This is pragmatism overturning principle.

So what would he have done at Headingley last week?  During the Yorks Notts County match, Chris Read walked, mistakenly thinking a catch had been taken when it had been spilled.  A Yorks fielder removed the bail running him out.  The Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale then took the honourable course and withdrew the appeal allowing Read to stay at the crease.  He went on to score 20 more runs, a significant contribution to Notts eventually winning a close contest.  Exemplary behaviour - Gale should feature in the birthday honours list.

These incidents are few and far between at the top level.  The most celebrated example of the skipper calling back a batsman was by Indian skipper Guduppa Vishwanath in the Golden Jubilee Test in 1980.  The umpire gave England's keeper Bob Taylor out caught behind but Vishy knew there was no contact and overturned the decision.  Taylor went on to make a contribution which helped England win the match.  Vishy is venerated as the exemplar of fair play.

A more recent example shows the risk that the apparently honourable thing presents in the top flight.  In 2009 Andrew Strauss recalled Angelo Mathews during a Champion's Trophy match against Sri Lanka after he was run out after colliding with Graham Onions in his follow through.  Good chap everyone thought - unlike that rotter Collingwood who had got stick for taking the wicket in a similar incident against New Zealand a year earlier.  Good chap everyone thought - except Andy Flower who gave Strauss a proverbial and used the incident as a teaching point in his long march on toughening up the England side to a new level of ruthlessness.  He made it clear that he would not have recalled the batsman and that he would not expect to see such weakness again.

But just occasionally in the lower leagues calling the batsman back might be the smart tactical thing to do - getting the non-scoring blocker out, who, if he ever manages to hit the ball off the square, can barely manage to run a single in the time it takes FB's youthful colleagues to run 4.  Seeing this negative force replaced by a savage hitter often leads to a worsening of the team's position.  It may therefore be worth thinking harder about this. 

Penalty declined
for some obscure reason
to do with the rules
In American football, there is the concept of the penalty declined.  FB has no idea why this happens.  But lower league cricket could imitate it by introducing the wicket declined.   He even has a speech prepared, 'Thankyou umpire for that very kind, imaginative and well presented decision to end the sparkling innings of your teammate.  On behalf of my team, while we accept your decision was perfectly correct we courteously decline it and the generous gift of a bowling point that comes with it.  The batsman is entertaining us so much with his blocks and prods and general ineptitude that we all want to see him continue.  Be so good as to call him back.'  And the scorebook will be marked Wicket Declined.

This seems to be the kind of ruthlessness Flower wants.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Smoke gets in your eyes

Paint drying website
Fantasy Bob is assured by associates who live on the wilder side of life that there are several websites on which you can watch paint dry.  He has never sampled these delights - they may be seriously addictive.

But he is put in mind of these temptations by the arrival on the nation's TV screens of the Snooker World Championship. FB assumes that this is offered to assist the nation's insomniacs who always find this time of year, when daylight extends at both ends of the day, a trial.

At first sight, Fantasy Bob concedes the resemblances between snooker and cricket are slight.  Although  outfields at prestigious grounds are often compared to billiard tables and while the green playing surface, the red and nowadays white and pink balls have a superficial air of similarity, it is uncommon for a cricketer to run up to the wicket in a bow tie and shiny paisley pattern waistcoat.  It is also uncommon for a batsman to twist his bat into a lump of blue chalk before taking strike.  FB must therefore conclude that the games are different.

But at one time the sports (if snooker is a sport) were conjoined in an unholy alliance. They were both recipients of significant financial inputs from the tobacco industry.  The snooker World Championship was sponsored by Embassy from 1976 to 2005 - the year that tobacco sponsorship was finally banned.  Other major snooker events were similarly smoky, notably the Benson and Hedges Masters 1975-2003.  Of course during these competitions, the competitors would frequently be seen sampling the sponsor's product.  No wonder the relations endured so long.

Cricket's relationship with the evil weed is no less reprehensible.  Cricketers themselves were as tobacco dependent as any other group of the population, as any search through old photo albums will confirm.  But cigarette cards were a phenomenon. The first set of cricket cigarette cards was issued in 1886 by WD & HO Wills - a year before an equivalent football set.   These proved hugely popular and many other manufacturers followed suit.  Sets showed counties, players, touring teams, coaching tips, everything and anything. They stayed in vogue until the 1950s.  Nowadays serious prices are paid by collectors for early samples.  A rare card of WG Grace was auctioned with a reserve price of £3000 earlier this year.  Start searching your attic.

John Player League
poster 1985 season
But sponsorship of events themselves did not start until the mass TV audience was available.  The John Player Sunday League started in 1969 and ran until 1987.  The counties played each other on a league basis in 40 over games, one of which was televised each week.  As with T20 today new rules were invented - while there were no power plays or free hits,  FB remembers bowlers' run ups being restricted as a device to speed up the over rate.  He also remembers many Sunday afternoons slumped on the sofa as the quiet tones of Jim Laker described the action from far flung county grounds in exotic locations such as Taunton and Canterbury.   The overt sponsorship was of course a challenge for the BBC - while the commentators tried hard not to refer to John Player, the cameras could not hide the extensive banners and branding.  Lord Reith turned again in his grave.

The Benson and Hedges Cup ran from 1972 to 2002.   At first 55 overs then 50 overs; there was a group stage then knock out rounds leading to a Lords final.  It is therefore the progenitor of the CB40 tournament.  Scotland joined the competition in 1980, a fundamental and important step on the long slow climb to associate and ODI status.  Scotland pulled off notable scalps from time to time, their first victory being against Lancashire in 1986, but they also had to take some severe medicine.  The record for the highest total conceded falls to them - 388-7 against Essex in 1992 - Graham Gooch getting 127.  But it is 2 times winners Hampshire who have the lowest total - they were skittled for 50 by Yorkshire in 1991.  Lancashire won the trophy 4 times.

England celebrate
the latest deal with publicity-shy
 N Power
Little by little attitudes changed and tolerance of smoking and of tobacco advertising and sponsorship waned.  It was finally banned across the EU in 2005.  Other financial sources had to be approached, and cricket in England is now heavily reliant on the insurance industry - Cornhill sponsoring Test cricket from 1978 - 2000 and Brit Insurance now in a 4 year deal sponsoring the Test side while LV= support the County Championship.  Other parts of the financial sector have also dipped in their pockets, Nat West and C&G have come and gone but Clydesdale Bank now support the CB40 and Friends Life the T20 competition. NPower have sponsored England's home Test series and range of other cricket activities since 2001.

FB will mention in passing with a sigh the challenge here for Scottish sport - all the companies supporting English cricket - and English rugby and football for that matter - are significant companies also in Scotland.  But the thought of, say O2 or Vodaphone, sponsoring a Scottish national team or competition is never on the cards.  Some playing fields will never be levelled.

For snooker the vice of the weed has been replaced by the vice of gambling on-line betting in the form of who now support the World Championship.

The experience in Britain is replicated across the world as tobacco sponsorship has moved from a dominant position to be outlawed.  For example, the Indian Cricket team once wore the Wills logo a brand of the Indian Tobacco Company.  But Sachin Tendulkar, amongst others, has made very public his refusal to endorse any tobacco or alcohol product.  And, quite rightly, alcohol looks like it is also retreating.  It was not so long ago that Autralian-England-W Indies tri series would have been fuelled by XXXX, Tetleys and Red Stripe and taken place at the Fosters Oval.  No more.

Paint drying website
A range of other activities were also contaminated by tobacco in these smoke filled years.  Most notably that other so called sport F1 (whose excitement regularly competes with the paint drying website).  So tobacco-dependent was F1 that, to the great embarrassment of Tony Blair, it persuaded the new Labour administration in 1997 to allow it to beat the coming ban.  

FB is pleased to note reports that the BBC might relinquish its incomprehensible purchase of F1 shortly.  Perhaps that will leave some space (if not cash) available for the channel to recapture its proud heritage to bring us the present smoke free versions of the John Player League and the B&H.  If not then the paint drying website might well prove to have its attractions after all.

Monday, 25 April 2011

El Bulli bull

It was flattery really that persuaded Fantasy Bob to take the assignment.  When one of Carlton's power brokers approached him during nets and said 'A word FB', he trembled.  Had it been noticed that he had been bowling beamers at the juniors?  Had the cheque paying his subs bounced?  No, it was something significnatly more sensitive. 

'FB you're just the man for a delicate assignment.  The committee has noticed that the world's best restaurnat El Bulli is closing forever this summer.  We thought it would be a feather in the cap of our go-ahead club to get the chef across to do the teas for a bit.    Ferran Adria is the chap's name.  Bit of an artistic temperament.  Just the kind you're used to dealing with in the fourth eleven.  And you know about this gastronomy stuff - you've been to Pizza Express and chosen something other than pizza.  So can you get in touch with him and set it up.  Failure is not an option.  Thanks FB.  By the way, stop bowling beamers at the kids, the social work department was on the phone last week.'  

Ferran Adria
FB was overcome with the honour and the fact that his adventurous sampling of the Pizza Express menu had been noticed.  He phoned the number he'd been given directly.  After establishing contact, he put the basic proposition to Chef Adria.  He replied,

'................Senor Fantasy, you want that I cook crickets.  Crickets.  I no cook crickets.  Skin very too hard.  Locust is better.  I make nice locust ice cream with mustard marmalade.  What you think? ... You still want crickets... Oh you want tea for crickets.  I no think crickets drink tea....  What - you want tea for cricket players....  You say cricket is game with bats.  Ah I see - bats I cook good with raspberrry sauce, crisp up their wings very delicious....  What you say?  Not that kind of bats.  You want me cook tea for 22 mens to eat who are playing game of cricket on Saturday afternoon. 

'OK OK now I get you.  Now I on your wavelength Senor Fantasy....  I greatest cook in world.  I pioneer of molecular gastronomy.  I avant garde, I  radical, I post modern.  I shit bloody hot....  Heston Blumenthal ha! I spit in his pots.... So how many courses you want - 35 is usual at El Bulli but for you I  maybe do 48.  I give you something special - parmesan marshmallows, cod foam, melon caviar.  

'What is this?  You thought some egg sandwiches.  Egg sandwiches - I never hear of egg sandwiches - how you make them?'

Cricket Tea El Bulli style

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Easter messages

No ball
In a unique and unprecedented Easter special, Pope Benedict recently took part in a televised question and answer session.  Fantasy Bob's more loyal readers know that behind his golden robes and heavily German accented theological slang, Benedict is a passionate cricket lover and supporter of FB's own Carlton Cricket Club.  Indeed his visit to the UK last year was planned around a visit to the go ahead Edinburgh club's Grange Loan HQ.  Unfortunately for Ben, this went wrong when his aides at the Vatican failed to consult the fixture card which showed that the season ended the week prior to the visit.   Having got over his disappointment Ben has been working on a new Papal Bull on umpiring some of the illustrations from which FB is able to show in an exclusive pre-view.

So the question and answer session was a great opportunity.  However critics have said that the whole programme was sanitised, with the questions selected being gentle half trackers offering easy hits for the Pontiff back over the bowler's head.  The pressure of the clock also meant that many questions put to the Pope had to be edited out of the final transmission.  However, FB's media contacts in the Vatican have given him exclusive access to material edited out of the transmission but in which the Pope addresses some of those more challenging questions.   Here is the transcript.

What is the Biblical justification for the suffering caused by being triggered LBW when you get an inside edge onto your pad?

My child, close study of the holy word will tell you that there are many mysteries in the world and that each small event is part of a greater plan that our Lord has for us............but I tell you if it happened to me I'd be boiling,  absolutely bloody raging and you'd have to pull me off the bloody umpire, that half-witted, three quarters-blind, totally deaf moron.  I'd have him - he'd never put his bloody finger up again once I'd done with him.  In fact it's unlikely he'd have any fingers to put any bloody where.  Peace be with you.

Can a person watch the IPL all afternoon and still expect to enter heaven?

My son, to enter heaven you must exist in a state of grace.........but I tell you the IPL - it's the work of the Devil - a morally bankrupt slog fest in which only sinners could take any delight.  For this Chris Gayle sells himself and prostitutes his great talent.  If the bloody morons who invented it ever come near the Vatican, I'll have them, I'll bloody DLF maximum them, you bet, you just bloody watch and I'll make sure they'll never walk without a limp again.    Only then can they be forgiven their sinful ways.  May you go in peace.

When will Alistair Cook be canonised?

(and definitely not a DLF maximum)
My son, the way of the true martyr is long and arduous............Alistair cook ? Alistair Bloody Cook  - you're joking me right?.......couldn't get a bloody run last year, fills his boots against a second rate Aussie attack and you bloody well want him up there with St Paul, St John and all these dudes - pull the other one. Now these old guys they faced the real chin music and lived - actually they didn't live and that's why they're saints and that's the point. It's up to you and Cookie - you get him martyred, preferably in the most sadistic fashion possible, and then we can talk turkey.  Peace be with you.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

By George

So what is it with George? He may be England's national saint and chief dragon slayer but very few famous Georges seem to come from England.  George Best - George Gershwin - George Clooney - George Bush sen and jun - George Lucas.  A quality team of foreigners.  Who have England on the home team? The Hanoverian Georges count as foreigners for the purpose of this analysis. Which leaves little beyond George Michael and George Harrison.  Wake me up before you go-go, Hari Rama.

As for cricketers called George?  Few and far between - former Scottish skipper George Salmond, W Indian great George Headley and that is about as many as FB can bring to mind.

St Andrew -
founder of a great golf course
Compare with Scotland's national saint Andrew - every second famous Scot seems to be called Andrew or Andy - Murray, Fleming, Gray, Stewart, Marr, Grieg, Flower, Strauss - OK not Flower and not Strauss - but you get the point.

It's not really clear why George became the patron saint of England.  He never visited - he was a Roman soldier from Syria Palaestina and a priest in the Guard of Emperor Diocletian who executed him for his Christian faith in 303 AD.  One tale is that his body was cut into 365 pieces and each piece taken to a different location in Georgia where a shrine was erected.  There are exactly 365 Orthodox Churches of St George in Georgia.  None of these was in England.  It is thought that it was the crusaders who took a fancy to the flag and draped themselves in it to ensure safe passage and brought it back to England.  Just as many later travellers brought stuffed donkeys back from Majorca.  He was eventually nominated for the big job when the Synod of Oxford, 1222 declared St. George's Day a feast day in the kingdom of England.  He is a pretty busy saint though because alongside England he has to protect  Aragon, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, India, Iraq, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Serbia and Russia. Where does he get time for dragon slaying?
But there are 3 great English Georges - George Eliot, George Orwell, and George Butterworth.  Not cricketers but quintessential English none the less.  But of course George Orwell wasn't really George, his real name was Eric Blair who played some cricket at St Cyprian's prep school and at Eton which may explain his most celebrated line - All batsmen are equal but some are more equal than others.  And George Eliot wasn't George either, in fact he was a she - Mary Ann Evans and FB has been unable to find any record of her turning her arm over. 

George Butterworth
But Butterworth was properly George and so must be England's greatest George.  For those not familiar with him, he was a collector of folk songs and had the seeds of great music in him.  He was killed in the First World War at the age of 31 having been awarded the Military Cross twice.  So although there is no record of his cricketing experience, FB is sure he would have stood up to the short stuff.  What more could have come from him had the war spared him?  For FB Butterworth's Banks of Green Willow is the piece of music that best conjures up those classic images of English countryside - the countryside in which cricket was born.  Enjoy.
Action photo of dragon slaying
by Peter Paul Rubens

Friday, 22 April 2011

Prayer on the night before FB's first match of the season

Oh Lord, who created all things in earth and heaven including cricket (and I suppose even the IPL)
Let me not swing across the line
Let me get my front foot to the pitch of the ball
And let me keep my hands soft that I may do your will
And caress it through the covers
And Lord if it is your will that I should snick one let the ball fall just short of the fielder
Oh Lord shouldst the ball smack against my pad like a sounding brass
Let that umpire judge that my pad is outside the line even if it is not really and not out is the true and just verdict
And Lord
Let not the stiffness of my back and slowness of my chasing and totally pathetic arm be the source of ridicule and contempt in the field particularly from the juniors
But let my bowling action be high and straight with just that bit of late swing that the batsman doesn't expect
And Lord if any catch shouldst come to me let it stick, even though that be a miracle, and let not the ball drop onto the grass as if it were a burning ember.
For thou art good. 
But most of all Lord - in amongst all the other things you have to sort out tomorrow - can you make sure it doesn't rain.

Good Friday

There is only one piece of music for Easter weekend for Fantasy Bob.  Bach's St Matthew Passion.
Here is the great chorale - O Haupt Voll Blut Und Wunden.  (O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down)

If you're not a Bach person but the tune seems familiar, you may be thinking of how Paul Simon took it and made something special of it.  American Tune.

Many's the time I've been mistaken and many times confused.....................

Test Match Quality

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Return of Zorro

In the early days of Spanish California, there were many injustices dealt the people by evil Governors. Only one man opposed them, he was garbed in black and his name was ZORRO..................

1920 movie poster
So the introduction to many a film and TV series.  The Legend of Zorro began in 1919 when Johnston McCulley, a 36-year-old former police reporter, wrote The Curse Of Capistrano which appeared in the pulp magazine, All-Story Weekly. Set in early 19th century California it tells the story of Don Diego de la Vega, the son of a rich land owning Californian family. Diego acted soft and fluffy and would rather read poetry than participate in anything manly or which involved violence. Diego’s behavior however, was only an act. For when night fell he became Zorro (‘fox’ in Spanish), a fighter of evils, a righter of wrongs.  A regular Robin Hood.  There is a long and distinguished movie history stretching from Douglas Fairbanks in 1920 through Tyrone Power in 1940 to Antonio Banderas in 1998.  For FB the Tyrone Power version is definitive, including perhaps the best sword fight ever captured on screen with Basil Rathbone - both actors were Test Match Quality swordsmen so this wasn't trick photography.

Yes, yes, FB, you say, but what has this to do with anything?  You're surely not going to give us that tired old routine about finding an undiscovered manuscript of the original Zorro in which he features as a dashing top order batsman are you?

Would FB be so obvious as that?  Yes, but not on this occasion.  Zorro came to mind when FB recently perused this notice on the website of the South California Cricket Association :

The City Parks staff has reported that some cricketers have been playing or practicing on the Woodley wickets/squares during the weekdays.  There are visible signs and damage to the wickets due this unauthorized use of Woodley wickets during the off-season.
This is a warning to all those responsible for unauthorized use of grounds.
The City Parks staff has been directed to take pictures of the culprits and report to the SCCA immediately. The Parks staff also claims to know some of the offenders by face and will help SCCA identify those.
Those found guilty will pay severe penalties and suffer long suspensions for destroying SCCA cricket resources.
Please be aware, and refrain from playing on the squares during the off season.

Or Zorro will get you.

 PS - FB added the final bit.  But wouldn't it be great if respect for cricket squares in public places could be enforced by the swish of a sword blade?
Senor - keep off el square.

Meeting Imogen

Fantasy Bob is sorry to disappoint - he has not gone all tabloid and this posting does not contain a  report of an steamy assignation with a Big Brother participant.  No super injunction has been or will be necessary.  Instead FB rabbits on about the Scottish cricket team for a bit and then, as usual, digresses. But, dear reader, FB suggests that if all the cricket stuff looks too serious, and much too much like his world famous but totally useless CWC previews, you could simply jump to the final 4 paras and meet Imogen.

Come on Scotland!  The Scottish Saltires visit Lords today to play MCC.  Start of a busy few days on the road for the team since the CB40 programme opens on Sunday when they are at Durham before playing at Leicester on Monday.  So it's maybe just as well that they have a sponsorship deal with ScotRail.

Fantasy Bob has been unable to unearth any historical significance to the match today.  Unlike on Scotland's last visit to Lords, when they were the first team to play with a pink ball at the ground.  Seismologists report earth activity that day consistent with gin soaked bodies spinning vigorously six feet beneath the ground.

In Sheffield Shield action
What is in store for Scotland today, who have a youngish side out as they look to build for the chance not to qualify for the next World Cup?  Main interest for Scotland followers will be how new arrival from Tasmania Luke Butterworth does.  Tasmania won the Sheffield Shield this season so Scotland are looking for him to bring that winning habit - as well as a hefty bag of runs.

On the opposing side, as well as 2 of their own former captains in the shape of Gavin Hamilton and Ryan Watson, Scotland will face one of their recent nemeses Afghanistan paceman Hamid Hassan.  Hassan was the first Afghanistani to play at Lords in 2009.  In his most recent encounter with Scotland, the ICC Intercontinental Cup Final in December, he took the man of the match award with 5-45 and 3-39 in Afghanistan's victory.  So Scotland's batters know what's coming.

Hassan -
can Scotland keep him out?

What of Scotland's prospects in the CB40?  Recent seasons have not been greatly encouraging for the Saltires although they beat Leicester home and away last year.  Scotland can compete, but it is hard for non-full time players to put it over full timers.  Ireland's recent success has been based to a significant extent on succeeding in getting the majority of their players full time.  So the objective must be to develop players who will be attractive to the county sides and play full time.  It's a hard road but it can be done.

But don't let the scale of the challenge drag us down.  FB is confident Scotland will compete this year.  Come on Scotland!

Although it is many years since he has visited Lords, it remains one of FB favourite places on God's earth.  For a number of years he managed to organise things so he had important business in London the week of the Lords Test.  On one visit, relaxing in the Edrich stand following an exacting day's business the day before, the seat next to him was taken by a backpack-burdened young lady from Sydney who introduced herself as Imogen.  She declared that she was on a project to visit every county cricket ground in England.  She relished the spectacle in front of her as England's batting was given a going over by Waqar Younis (5-91) reserving special enthusiasm for the dismissal of Ian Botham - for this was the great man's final test appearance.   A quiet ending to a great career, he made 2 and 6, and bowled only 5 overs in the match.

As play closed for the day, in that spirit of friendship for which Scottish people, other than FB, are justly renowned, and knowing that his home city housed no county ground, FB casually invited her to visit if she ever came to Edinburgh and gave her his phone number.  

A week later Mrs FB was surprised to answer the phone and hear the news that  'This is Imogen from Sydney.  I'm at Waverley station and I'm really looking forward to staying over.'  On reflection, the word surprised in that sentence maybe an understatement.  Slightly.  However, Imogen duly arrived and set up camp while she dragged herself round the various tourist sights.  In fact she stayed for ten full days.  And then she was gone, back to the cricket grounds of England.........or somewhere.

However, Fantasy Bob has not been trusted to visit the home of cricket again.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

One hit wonders

What, Fantasy Bob found himself idly asking himself at the bus stop the other day, is the greatest one hit wonder?  A one hit wonder is generally thought of as an artist or group who have a record which rises to the top of the charts but fail to follow it up.  It is their one and only appearance in the hit parade - and, for the purposes of this discussion hits that number one spot.  Their moment of fame and celebrity.

Heavy breathing
FB came to the rather sad conclusion that his all time favourite one hit wonder could well be Je T'aime moi non plus (also known as the heavy breathing song) released by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin in 1969.  A formative hormone soaked year for FB - so it added to the mystery of this piece that it was banned by the BBC for being too explicit.  Other times, other manners - how tame a bit of heavy breathing is now.  Close runners up confirm FB is an even sadder case than you can believe - Love Grows (where my Rosemary Goes) by Edison Lighthouse and Uptown Top Ranking by Althea and Donna.  Oh yeh, FB's strictly roots.

Who gives a monkey's, you are thinking.  Quite rightly.  But, dear readers,  FB's long and tedious prelude, devoid of cricket reference, is leading to something.  For cricket has its one hit wonders too.  Cricketers who achieve the Test stage and then depart.  Since 1990 England have used 14 players in this way.  In all since Test cricket began England have given single caps to 91 players.  What stories of hope and expectation dashed are there in these ephemera?  What stories of overachievement and sheer bad luck?  Stories of selectorial dithering, skulduggery and poor management?  Personal tragedies or relief at not facing the stress of the biggest stage again?  Someone should write a book about these cases, but here's a few to be going on with.

- rain stopped pipe smoke
The most  recent example of now you see him now you don't, is that of Darren Pattinson - plucked out of obscurity in 2008 to play in the second Test against South Africa at Headingley.  Pattinson was a new arrival in English cricket, indeed the Test was only his 12th First Class appearance, and had started the season well with Notts - perhaps flattering to deceive on early season green tops.  He was called in as cover for Jimmy Anderson who failed a fitness test so Pattinson played.  But the selectors were roundly criticised for their decision, even by Michael Vaughan as skipper.   England lost and Pattinson returned to obscurity but with 2 Test wickets on his belt having put in a creditable performance, certainly no worse than anyone else in the England attack.  Pattinson is back with Notts this season.  How does he feel about all this?  Who knows?

At least Pattinson got a bowl and a bat.  In July 1924, Jack MacBryan was capped against South Africa.  A rain affected match meant that he never got to the crease.  He was not a bowler.  Unlucky or what? MacBryan topped the Somerset averages for 5 seasons between 1921-26 and also won an Olympic gold medal at Hockey. 

Up town top ranking
There have been some reasonable performances by one cap wonders.  Aubrey Smith played 1 Test in 1889 in S Africa, skippered a winning side and took 5-19.  FB has posted about him before.  Buddy Oldfield played in 1939 against W Indies at the Oval and had scores of 80 and 19, the best return of any English one cap wonder.   He was clearly a player who would have gone on to greater things, had Hitler not interrupted his career.  When the war finished he was 35 and in dispute with Lancashire.  So that was that.  More recently, in 1994, Joey Benjamin was a surprise choice for the third Test against South Africa at his home ground, The Oval. But his crucial 4-42 in the first innings was put in the shade by Devon Malcolm's 9-57 in the second, and the rest of his international career consisted of two one-day games in Australia that winter.

There are cruel stories in other nations too.  Stuart Law had one Test innings in 1995 for Australia in which he scored 54 not out - he is therefore without a Test average.  He was unlucky to be around at the time of the peak of top quality Australian batting.  His first class average is 50.52.   He has recently been appointed coach to Sri Lanka for their coming English tour. Andy Ganteaume played for W Indies against England in 1948 and in his one innings scored 112 and that was that.

One hit wonders will keep coming in the pop charts and on the cricket field.  They're strictly roots, and they deserve respect.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Dress down day

Dress down day
It is Polonius in Hamlet who advises his son Laertes as he about to depart on his gap year that 'apparel oft doth make the man'. 

This is a photo of Dr N L Stevenson, Carlton stalwart and historian.  It was taken in 1911 and the apparel certainly doth make him.  
This photo may well be one of the last recorded outings of the blazer at Carlton.  The go ahead Edinburgh club has just announced this season's addition to its branded kit - a track suit top.  And very smart it is too - but it simply does not compare with the elegance of Dr Stevenson's blazer.  As French poet Francois Villon put it in the 15th Century 'Where are the blazers of yesteryear?'
Very smart - that's a very nice blazer
The origin of the word blazer seems to be the subject of some dispute.  It was either coined in 1825 to describe the bright red jacket worn by  the rowing club of St. John's College, Cambridge.   Or it refers to the uniform of the crew of HMS Blazer who in the 1840s were dressed by their Captain in jackets of blue and white stripes  from which the particular idea of the striped jacket derived.  Both sources may be right, for there are striped blazers and non striped blazers.  Whatever its origin, outside the school world, the blazer has had a long slow decline and these days is barely treated with respect.  Its wearers are despised as the blazeratti, the gin swilling sports administrators whose first thought on any proposal is that it wasn't like that in their day.  Can nothing save the blazer?

A couple of tossers
Perhaps there is hope.  The recent Ashes series saw the continuation of the honourable tradition of the skippers wearing blazers for the toss.  And very smart they looked too.  But elsewhere the signs are not so encouraging - the players have abandoned them even when the Queen visits Lords.  Time was they would be put in the Tower for such a casual approach to dress.   But now even the Queen's visit is a dress down day.

And you say you
all lost your blazers
at the same party?
But there is a sect of blazer worshippers and wearers - although there are no members in cricket clubs in Scotland.  A temple has opened for this sect - ion Gieves and Hawkes Savile Row shop there is the iconic blazer room.  FB felt a surge of excitement in discovering this, an iconic blazer would be just the thing to set him apart from all those track suited trolls.  He would be something as he marched out to do the toss.  The coin could not do other than bend to his blazered will. Yes, yes the spirit of NL Stevenson would walk again.  Savile Row here we come - until that is FB noticed that an iconic blazer would set him back £650-£2250.  Doh! Maybe track suits aren't so bad after all.

Monday, 18 April 2011

A question of economics

Fantasy Bob understands that the forthcoming  Higher Economics exam paper about to be undertaken by anxious students the length and breadth of Scotland will contain the following questions which may also be of interest to his readers.  

  • Hotelling's law is an observation in economics that in many markets it is rational for producers to make their products as similar as possible. This is also referred to as the principle of minimum differentiation as well as Hotelling's linear city model.  Discuss with reference to the IPL.

  • Compare and contrast a Citi Moment of Success with a Royal Bank of Scotland Point of Abject Failure.  You may draw attention to the salaries of those involved.

  • The number of DLF maximums is approaching record level.  Taking account of the laws of supply and demand, what level should be reached before the central bank must consider devaluation?

  • Describe Adam Smith's bowling action. 

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Action for Happiness

Fantasy Bob is sure that his readers (in their handful) keep themselves fully up to date with the latest social and political trends.  They will therefore be aware that Action for Happiness launched last week and many will already have signed up.  The Action for Happiness website describes it is a movement for positive social change bringing together people from all walks of life who want to play a part in creating a happier society for everyone.  (This by definition must exclude leg spin bowlers, which is a bit unfortunate).

The website points out that despite being much wealthier, we're no happier than we were five decades ago.  (This is of course to be interpreted in the general sense - many individuals weren't alive 5 decades ago so cannot verify this statement).

'At the same time', the website goes on to say,  'we've seen an increase in wider social issues, including a worrying rise in anxiety and depression in young people. It's time for a positive change in what we mean by progress.' 

All stirring stuff from FB's point of view, and it is not for him to carp or criticise.  It all seems based on a kernel of undisputable truth.  Materialism has always been seen as pretty limited by philosophers down the ages and even Lennon and MacCartney observed that money can't buy you love.  FB is squarely behind them on this, although Mrs FB points out that a bit of jewellery in her direction now and again can help things along.  (FB also recalls that John Lennon also suggested that Happiness is a Warm Gun, but he will pass over that).

There is more than a little of Aristotle in all this.  For it was the ancient Greek all rounder who considered that happiness depends on ourselves and can only be achieved through the cultivation of virtue - the most significant of which are line and length.

What concerns FB however is that in amongst all the sound advice for pursuing happiness there is no mention of cricket.  No mention at all.  But surely no person who does not play or appreciate cricket can ever claim to be happy (a sentiment variously attributed to Aristotle).   In an effort to correct this disgraceful oversight Fantasy Bob has reviewed the website's 10 keys to happiness which conveniently spell out the word GREAT DREAM so that cricketers can properly understand their relevance to their own lives.

G IVING Do things for others - this includes fielding on the midwicket boundary when they are consistently pitching too short.

R ELATING Connect with people - how many phone calls do you need to find that 11th man for Saturday's

E XERCISING Take care of your body - it is always advisable to check that you have your box in your bag - and, on your way to the wicket, that it is not longer in your bag

A PPRECIATING Notice the world around - a good sledging tactic is to draw the batsman's attention to fit young Poonam Pandies sun bathing on the boundary

T RYING OUT Keep learning new things - like how to play leg spin bowling (mmm FB don’t be too ambitious, better set a more realsistic objective – how about keeping out the straight one)

D IRECTION Have goals to look forward to - goals is a bit too footballish a term - but it is always worth looking forward to tea

R ESILIENCE Find ways to bounce back - sometimes Scottish wickets don't encourage any kind of bounce back or forward - front foot play is advised

E MOTION Take a positive approach - a run up to the wicket leads to better bowling than a run in the opposite direction

A CCEPTANCE Be comfortable with who you are - yes FB fully accepts that despite that silkily flowing cover drive he is not and never will be Sachin Tendulkar but give the man space to dream

M EANING Be part of something bigger – CRICKET

Saturday, 16 April 2011


Digging the dirt on FB
Like many other celebrities, Fantasy Bob feels violated by the phone hacking scandal perpetrated by elements of the Murdoch press.  He is waiting for his apology and possibly a significant cheque in compensation for the trauma and anguish caused him by the affair.  However so his readers are not unduly disturbed by future sensationalist reporting he makes here a clean breast of his voicemail messages over recent weeks.
  • Hi Bob my dear - can you remember to get milk on your way home?
  • You have reached the voice mail of Poonam Pandey.  I am unable to take your call please leave a message after the tone.
  • Oh and some bread.
  • Mr Fantasy Bob this is Poonam Pandey returning your call.  Please stop phoning me. My offer to strip for the Indian Cricket Team if they won the World Cup was a one off, so I am unable to accept your kind offer to be motivator in chief to your Carlton 4th XI by, as you put it, getting my kit off.
  • Sorry forgot, we need some sugar too. 
  • Hi Bob – Mark Ramprakash here – disappointed you’re not going to make the charity 6s this year – our innings together in 2009 was the highlight of my season.
  • Mr Fantasy Bob.  I have asked you to stop phoning.  I do realise the seriousness of your offer but unless you have Tendulkar and Dhoni in your side, my kit stays on. 
  • Hi – is this Fantastic Bob? Sachin here – no I’m sorry I can’t play for Carlton 4s this weekend. 
  • Don’t forget the milk and while you’re in the shop could you see if I left my gloves there yesterday – you know the blue kid skin ones.
  • Sachin again – yes, next weekend could be possible.  But MS says he’s painting the kitchen so he can’t make it.
  • What do you mean you used my blue kid skin gloves as inners at nets last night!
  • Mr Fantasy Bob.  I must ask you yet again to stop phoning me every ten minutes.  Yes I realise that Carlton's teas are legendary and it makes no difference if you did let me keep my bikini on.  Please stop phoning.
  • Did I ask you to remember milk........oh and some apples would be useful too.
  • Hey Bob man - howya doin' - Chris Gayle here man - I ain't playin' in the T20 man - so you got a game for me sometime in your all star fours?  That would be real cool.
  • Mr Fantasy Bob.  Now it's got beyond a joke.  It was bad enough having you phoning every 10 minutes but now you have your doughty groundsman Magnus Moon phoning too.  I am not interested in a session with the scarifier.
  • Hey Bob man - this is Chris again man.  Your woman say she need milk.
  • Bob - Magnus here. Are you sure you gave me the right number, some daft female answered denying she knew anything about fixing the scarifier.
  • Hello.  This is Ms Poonam Pandey's legal advisor.  My client has asked me to let you know she has successfully taken out an injunction which prevents Mr Fantasy Bob and Mr Magnus Moon from attempting to have any contact with my client.  Penalties for failing to obey this injunction are severe.
  • Bob - Sachin here again - just heard that Poonam's not joining the team next weekend.  Sorry - I'm afraid I can't make it either.
  • You will remember the milk won't you.

Not coming to Carlton after all


Friday, 15 April 2011

Too close for comfort

Fantasy Bob is sorry to hark back to the Cricket World Cup - he realises that it is soooooooo yesterday. 

Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley,
1st Duke of Wellington,
just one of the lads
But during the eternity of its duration, England gained a reputation for close results.  There is of course a tradition in the British Isles of close results - it was the Duke of Wellington after all who described the Battle of Waterloo as a 'close run thing.'  The 50000 casualties of the engagement probably felt it was a bit too bloody close and that Wellington might well have used the power play at an earlier stage in proceedings. 

Wellington besides being soldier and statesman and stuff is a lad for the tidy quote.  He is credited with saying that 'the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton' - which is undoubtedly bollocks - Eton had no playing fields at that time.  To Wellington is also attributed the remark on inspecting his own fast bowlers, 'They may not frighten the enemy, but by God, sir, they frighten me!'  FB knows exactly how he feels as the beamers and long hops fly around his ears in the nets.

'For goodness sake, FB', you are saying with a slight frown of impatience, 'get to the point'.  Yes, close run things are a British thing.  The English World Cup run was a fine thing, but it is necessary to trump English glory yet again.  For when it comes to the number of very close ODIs played in succession, FB is delighted to discover, from a recent analysis in CricInfo, that it is FB's own dear Scotland which holds the record.

In January and February 2007, playing in Kenya in the Associates Tri-Series and the ICC World Cricket League Div 1, Scotland played a sequence of 6 matches, winning 5 and losing one all by a margin of 3 wickets or 10 runs or fewer.  Here is the sequence:

Won v Canada by 2wickets (1 ball remaining)
Lost v Kenya by 6 runs.
Won v Canada by 2 wickets (16 balls)
Won v Ireland by 3 wickets (0 balls)
Won v Canada by 7 runs
Won v Netherlands by 2 runs

They had more convincing wins and, regretably, defeats at either end of the sequence and eventually lost the final to Kenya by 8 wickets.  But this should not detract from the glory of this record.

England and Ireland trail Scotland in this list with sequences of 4 each - England's run was in 1991.  Remarkably Ireland's was in the same competition as Scotland's run.   Scotland were Div 1 runners up in 2007, sadly they slipped to 6th in 2009 so failing to qualify for this year's CWC.  This just shows how competitive the associates are with each other - and how the ICC has flunked the obligation to give them the opportunity to progress to the next level.

And this liking for a close call of course explains the other record that Scotland proudly holds - that of the population with the most severely bitten fingernails.

Ex PM's Gordon Brown manicure

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A thinking man's game?

According to the latest survey, whose results have just been published, men think about sex only once every two hours - not every seven seconds, as is commonly believed.  This is a weight off Fantasy Bob's mind, at times he found the seven second thing a bit onerous.  Just as the bowler's arm comes over - ding! next seven seconds starts now - images irrelevant to the ball being bowled would appear, there would be pressure for space in his box and the risk of an inappopriately excited lunge at the ball would rise exponentially. 

Now that he is required to think of sex only every 2 hours, whole innings could go by without the previous pressures.  Indeed FB's whole time at the crease in the coming season could be uninterrupted by thoughts of Ms Poonam Pandey's gifts to cricket.   This is a vast expanse of new thinking time which must be put to solving the world's problems.

Here therefore is FB's revised daily thinking schedule:

Thinking regime

Waking up
It can’t be time to get up already - barely got to sleep.  
Do grannies really knit Shreddies?  Of course they do……… and now we have John Arlott in commentary for the rest of the session's play…..
Bus to work

 ………And through the long room and down the pavilion steps comes Fantasy Bob to face the Australian bowling with their tails up just having got rid of Boycott, Gower and Hobbs in rapid succession.  What can FB do?……….. 
Mandatory sex thought period 1
Do buses always have this effect on you – is this something to worry about?
Work phase 1
The system could not you on.  ……...and Warne bowls to Fantasy Bob, that’s short and it’s his 50 – chanceless…Delivery Service Manager has encountered a problem and requires to close
Mandatory sex thought period 2
Triggered by photo of Poonam Pandey in newspaper on desk – 10 second duration.
Work phase 2
Internet explorer cannot display the web page………FB is now having to defend as McGrath’s accuracy pins him down – patience is necessary here if he’s not going to waste his good start……..Do you wish to send error report?
Mandatory sex thought period 3
Triggered – if that is the correct word - by 28th viagra and penis extension offer coming into in-box this morning
Your mail box has now exceeded its capacity and you will be unable to send any messages……….and Lee bowls to Fantasy Bob who is down the wicket – Lee looks over his head – six – that was a fantastic shot….and the players leave the field for lunch…Do you wish to send error report?
Optional sex thought period
Declined…(in the nineties for goodness sake no time for distractions)
Work phase 3
Finish 100 page document and press save  ….and that’s FB’s 100, chopped to the boundary as the crown rise to their feet………what an innings…..**** why the **** has the screen frozen completely - now its gone blank.
Mandatory sex thought period 4
Postponed in favour of cursing Microsoft roundly and hitting computer screen with shoe
Leaving work
and that’s stumps and FB will come back tomorrow…..
Bus journey home
Missed bus stop – late for dinner which is fed to dog.
Watching Newsnight
Asleep – dreaming of century scored at Lords on Test debut followed by five-fer until rudely awoken on hattrick ball by dogs barking outside – apparently this is mandatory sex thought period for dogs
Mandatory sex thought period 5
Too tired - drink Ovaltine instead
Awake – too much to think about