Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Do you feel lucky?

Clint Eastwood is 81 today, 31 May.  Despite opening the batting in The Good The Bad and the Googly, Clint's cricket career has been kept under wraps.  More well known is that he is one of the most significant actor/producer/directors in the cinema.  He also writes the music for his movies so FB guesses that must make him a true all rounder.

Gun as icon - Eastwood as Dirty Harry
The trajectory of Eastwood's career is well known - from Rowdy Yates in the TV show Rawhide, through the seminal spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone and the tough cop action pictures of Don Siegel to his own varied canon as a director.  Fantasy Bob's favourite among his own work is Unforgiven - a revisionist Western made in 1992 for which he deservedly received 2 Oscars - Best Director and Best Actor.  Test Match Quality.

Clint Eastwood is not to be confused with Ken Eastwood.  If you are ever faced with the pub quiz question,"Which fellow Victorian replaced the sacked Bill Lawry in the Australian side for the 7th Test in 1971?", Eastwood is your answer.

The Snow incident - Sydney 1971
This was Ken Eastwood's one and only Test, he managed scores of only 5 & 0, but he did get a wicket with his part time gentle spin.  This match was one of great controversy.  It had been arranged to replace a washed out Test earlier in the series.  England went into it leading 1-0 and the Test was allocated 6 days to secure a result.  England under the captaincy of Ray Illingworth could only muster 184 in the first innings.  In the course of the Australian reply Terry Jenner was felled by a John Snow bouncer, there was an argument between Snow, Illingworth and the umpire Rowan about intimidating bowling.  After an inebriated fan had grabbed Snow over the boundary fence, and a wide range of bottles and other missiles had been thrown onto the field Illingworth led the English team from the field, only returning after more arguments between Illingworth and the management, when the umpires threatened to award the match to Australia.   England restricted the first innings deficit to 80 and their second innings 302 was enough to win the game and the series.  Hero/villain Snow broke a finger in a collision with a boundary fence and was unable to bowl in the second innings - but Illingworth and Underwood gave nothing away and the Ashes were England's.
JA Snow
49 Tests
202 wkts @ 26.66
While there might have been an Eastwood on the opposition in that Test, in John Snow England were showing a bit of the other Eastwood.   Snow took 31 wickets at 22.83 in that series, a performance second only to Larwood's during the bodyline series.  But the Jenner incident was only one of a series of controversial incidents that happened in Snow's career.

Snow may have been a son of the vicarage and a part time poet, but put the ball in his hand and an Aussie batter 22 yards away and he turned mean.  Proper Dirty Harry.  It is a little known piece of movie trivia that it was Snow who originated Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry's greatest line.  It came as he stood over Jenner at the end of his follow through:

"I know what you're thinking — 'Did he bowl six balls or only five?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself. But, being as this is John Snow, the most powerful fast bowler in the world and could blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Good Samaritans

Carlton's star studded first XI has got off to a dream start in this season's SNCL campaign.  After 5 matches they are undefeated, comprehensively beating their likely rivals for honours in their 2 most recent fixtures.

In last weekend's home match against Watsonians, they were helped by the visitors' rash running between the wickets which conceded 3 run-outs.   Even though these tragic events were to the go-ahead Edinburgh club's direct advantage, the humanitarian ethos of the club has come to the fore.  It is an issue of concern.

The senior management at Carlton met late into the night.  They have now confirmed to Fantasy Bob that they remain greatly concerned about player safety.  They wish to address head-on the continuing risk of suicidal singles at Grange Loan and will be installing phone lines for batters to speak to the Samaritans before leaving the crease.

A spokesman said, 'We are determined to make the suicidal call for a single a thing of the past.  Batters will not have to dial a number, they just lift the phone to get the advice they need.'

Quick single?  Seek help.
FB is sure all 3 of his readers will congratulate the club on its far-sighted policy.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Looking after number one

Gayle force
In this football obsessed world as Manchester United lovers and haters celebrate or lament, as Sepp Blatter's lawyers consider the size of the fees they are about to gain for protecting the sullied reputation of their man and FIFA, and as Scotland's remaining supporters feign any kind of interest in a meaningless competition of the mediocre in Dublin, Fantasy Bob reminds the world that there is life elsewhere.  There is a Test Match grinding its way to a draw in Cardiff.  But there was also another Champion's League Final yesterday.  The final of the IPL took place  between Chennai SuperKings and Bangalore Royal Challengers.  Those who do not wish to know the result should look away now - the Challengers got well and truly stuffed.

FB has occasionally been dismissive of the IPL's commercial slogfest that has been taking place over the last 2 months.  Too many games seem indistinguishable from the previous one and one soon tires of the big hitting, longing for some guile, some graft and some extended tension when all 3 results are possible and the outcome depends on individual battles of skill and character. It may be that the paying public are sensing this too, for crowds are down and the TV audience is significantly lower than in previous years.  No doubt this will lead the organisers to dream up new tricks to titillate the audience next year. 

But there is one player who this year has set the tournament alight and has stood head and shoulders above the event.  This player also epitomises all that is good and bad about the IPL.  FB has mixed feelings about him.

When Chris Gayle hits it, it stays hit - and Gayle has been hitting it.  He only joined the tournament late after some injury and contractual issues with the W Indies.  But what an impact.  In 11 starts he has taken 6 Man of the Match awards.  With his dynamism as the top of the order the Challengers recovered from a shaky start to lead the points table on NRR and make yesterday's final. 

His hitting has been prodigious.  Prior to yesterday's final, he had scored 608 runs at 76.00.  His strike rate was 184.80.  He had 2 centuries, 3 fifties and 44 sixes.  In one over from Pamaswaran of Kochi Tuskers he took 36 off the bat - with a no ball included, the over gave up 37.  His bowling is also an asset - with an economy rate of 6.56.  Yesterday he egged it - 0 - but took 2 wickets.

But there is a big problem with Gayle.  He bats number one and, increasingly, that seems to be the extent of what he bothers about.  Gayle was originally overlooked in the player auction for IPL 2011.  Controversially he was then left out of the W Indies squad for the home games against Pakistan.  There was a story about injury and rehabilitation.  But then he became available to Bangalore (as a replacement for fast bowler Dirk Nannes).  While his Caribbean team mates have been working hard to gain back some credibility for W Indian cricket, Gayle has lined his pockets, blasting soft bowling on featherbed pitches to the adulation of all, while surrounded by pouting cheerleaders.  Nice work if you can get it.  He made his disdain for Test cricket clear may years ago.  No doubt it has been hard for Gayle to be a true star in a struggling W Indies - what would he have achieved opening with Greenidge at the other end and partnering Richards?  But would he even have made that team?  Any player has to make the most of an inevitably short career.

Gayle is not the first and will not be the last to harbour illusions that they are bigger than the game. As the rewards become more extreme it is likely that Gayle's attitude will become more prevalent.  And the IPL has been one of the factors to intensify this change.

So the final yesterday was set up for the big man.  But perhaps there is blind justice somewhere for all Gayle's bravura came to nought as his contribution was just that - nought.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

The drinks break

One of many modern obsessions that have snuck up on the human race during Fantasy Bob's lifetime is hydration - so much so that even in lower league cricket there are mandatory drinks breaks.   When FB was growing up these did not feature, even in Test cricket, unless the thermometer had surged to some unimaginable height.   What was the exception is  now the rule. Even in conditions which see players wreathed in layers of sweater and which call for hot soup, cold drinks are taken.  There is in the records but one instance of common sense applying.  In the first Test between England and New Zealand at Edgbaston in 1965 it was so cold that hot coffee was twice served to the batsmen.

In the hot countries (ie all countries other than Scotland) shaded carts, Gatorade trucks and all kinds of branded paraphenalia are driven into the middle.   The IPL renames drinks as the strategic time out and collects a sponsorship fee.  One might think there was a commercial motive associated with this.  But one impact of all this fluid intake that FB has noticed is that fielders leave the field more regularly to visit the toilet.

Fantasy Bob found himself musing on this issue during a recent strategic time out.  Whereas at one time he thought the high point of human culture had passed with the death of Beethoven in 1827, he is now more confident that humankind is still capable of progress.  For available on the market now is sparkling Ribena - or as the advertising hoardings put it Sparklicious Ribena.  Surely this is the acme of civilisation.

For an upstanding citizen of FB's generation, Ribena is one of these brand names that is mistily wrapped in nostalgia.  It was the commercial face of one of the first public health drives following the establishment of the NHS - vitamins.  Hydration was not an issue but vitamins were.  In the cause of vitamin C and vitamin D all children were doused in cod liver oil and orange juice - which, among other things, gave rise to one of the more scurrilous folk songs of the period. 

But Ribena (from the botanical name for the blackcurrant, Ribes nigrum) had first been launched in 1936. During the Second World War, other fruits rich in vitamin C became almost impossible to obtain in the United Kingdom. Blackcurrant cultivation was encouraged by the Government, and the yield of the nation's crop increased significantly. From 1942, almost the entire British blackcurrant crop was made into blackcurrant syrup and distributed to the nation's children for free but without the Ribena brand name.  After the war the commercial brand took off marketed heavily on the Vitamin C content.  FB consumed copious amounts of it.

Another syrup drink is similarly doused in nostalgic mist.  Rosehip syrup was also an important source of vitamin C during the war.  Indeed children were paid for rosehips harvested in the autumn to be made into rosehip syrup by the company Delrosa in Wallsend.  For many years after the war, Delrosa brand Rose Hip Syrup was supplied through baby clinics throughout the UK and susequently heavily advertised commercially.  FB remembers it hot or cold as a special delight. Unlike Ribena, Delrosa rosehip syrup is no longer available in the UK and has not become sparklicious, although it appears to be stll going strong in a specialist niche the US and Australia.

The third drink that looms through this nostalgic mist had absolutely none of the redeeming health giving properties of Ribena or Delrosa - although it was their equal adn more in sugar content.  Creamola Foam was a drink and a chemistry set in one, it came in a small tin of colourful crystals which were dissolved in cold water to form a sweet, effervescent drink.  Non Scottish people can only imagine the wonders of this product.

Creamola Foam was manufactured in Glasgow and sold mainly in Scotland from the 1950s until NestlĂ© ended production in October 1998.  Boo to them - there have been various attempts at reviving it which have not met with success, despite the support of the Scottish Parliament which passed this motion in 2010:
"That the Parliament welcomes news of the launch of Creamola Fizz, the reincarnation of an old favourite fizzy soluble drink, known as Creamola Foam Crystals, that used to be a big treat for young and old alike; recalls that it was withdrawn by NestlĂ© in 1998; welcomes its imminent return under local Scottish ownership, and wishes the new producer, Alan McCandlish of Cardross, every success with the expected relaunch early this year to delight a whole new generation of Creamola Fizz lovers." 
Sadly, the real impact of these drinks on Scottish children was to destroy their tooth enamel; colds and flu were no less common than previously and with the radical improvement of diet from the 1960s on there were more and better sources of vitamins.  But Scotland's dental records are second to none in awfulness.

In the glory days of Delrosa and Ribena, drinks breaks did not happen, even in Test matches.  Nowadays our hydration obsessed world finds all manner of mystifying drinks available with bemusing claims as to their impacts. Lucozade was once a medical product prescribed to aid invalid recovery - now it promises all things to all athletes.  (Interestingly like Ribena it is a product of GlaxoSmithKline and made in the same site which originated teh blackcurrant product).  Isotonic, energy giving, tissue restoring, fatigue fighting, mental sharpening, countering lactic acid - all have replaced Vitamin C in importance.

But enough of spurious marketing claims.  FB thinks the Scottish Parliament was right - we need Creamola Foam back - it was sugar rich ie energy giving and had several salts to give it fizz ie isotonic.  It would be a splendid tipple for the drinks break in any class of cricket.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Baby you can drive my car

'For goodness sake, Fantasy Bob', comes the cry, 'that's the third ancient pop song you've used as a title of a post this week.  What's happened to the essays on Mahler and Mozart that used to send us asleep?  How have you dumbed down so? You'll be saying that the IPL is better than Test cricket at this rate.'

But FB is unrepentent, Mahler's Das Knaben Wunderhorn would not quite capture the essence of this post.  FB is led back to the Beatles by the allegations at present surrounding the UK Secretary of State for Energy Chris Huhne.  Mr Huhne's estranged wife has revealed that some years ago, her husband persuaded her to admit to driving his car when it was recorded speeding so that she, rather than he, would get the speeding offence points on her licence.  Police investigations are continuing.

Fantasy Bob wishes to minimise the risk of being embroiled in such controversy in future.  He therefore wishes to make a clean breast of an incident in his past career which bears some resemblance to the allegations surrounding Mr Huhne.   

25 years ago or so, while playing for one of his previous clubs in his capacity as opening bowler and skipper, FB asked one of his team mates, a younger person, playing his first matches in senior cricket and so considerably in awe of FB, to accept against his bowling figures a number of wides that the scorer had ascribed to FB.  In his defense FB says that he had no knowledge or recollection of bowling those wides (or indeed any other wides at any time), and his own diary makes no record of what would have been an exceptionally rare event.  However the scorer had made his attribution. FB accepts that it was dishonourable to seek another person to accept the punishment of those wides and that he took advantage of this young person's innocence.  Moreover it didn't do him any damn good for the young person ended the season with a considerably better bowling average than FB anyway. 

FB has made it clear that he is willing to talk to the police to clarify the circumstances surrounding this event.  The Prime Minister has said that there is no need for Fantasy Bob to resign.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

England vs Sri Lanka

So, real cricket is back as England and Sri Lanka prepare to dust down the whites and get into Test action in Cardiff.

'Wait a minute', you're thinking, 'surely Fantasy Bob got over all that forecast and preview nonsense during the Ashes and the CWC.  We, his loyal handful of readers, have a right to expect a return to the safer ground of biscuits and lower league trivia.'  But FB invites his followers to recall that his CWC previews were widely acclaimed by the 3 people who read them as 'totally useless' , 'about as interesting as old underpants' and 'really helped me come to terms with the futility of my own existence'.  FB is too modest to have his head swollen by such adulation but he is sure that someone somewhere is calling out for his expert biscuit fuelled views of the coming contest.    So you're getting it whether you want it or not.

Cardiff seems an unlikely venue. Fantasy Bob still struggles to consider the Cardiff Arms Park a proper place for Test cricket, it is forever associated in his mind with Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennet.  Nor does he remember who Mr Swalec is that he should have a ground named after him.  Was he a Glamorgan opener just after the war? It doesn't seem like a traditional Welsh name.  Perhaps he is one of these Eastern European oligarchs?

Dilshan scooped the captaincy
But this match and series promise much.  Some interesting questions are posed.  Can England recover their Test mettle following the let down of the World Cup?  KP - is his selection justified?  What about Morgan - is he a suitable case for treatment?  How will Sri Lanka fare without the experience and wicket taking of Murali and Malinga?  Has Dilshan the patience to skipper?  What about the SL middle order - can it Tweet to Test match standard?  Has Imogen Thomas been near anyone in either team?  If England's batting fails will it be Nick Clegg's fault?  And so on.

FB wonders about pre-series psychology - do teams still pay any attention to this - or is Twittering more important?  It was long held that the Aussies were masters of this, trying to give the opposition a distorted view of their strengths and weaknesses so they get their battle plans wrong.  The Aussies would look weak and ill and ease in warm up games - batsmen would seem unsure which end of the bat to hold and bowlers would seem incapable of bowling anywhere near the stumps.  Then - first morning of first test and KERPOW! suddenly they spring to life.  The most celebrated example of this is Warnie; on his first visit to England and a couple of weeks before his ball of the century to Gatting,  Warne was blasted all round Worcester, 0 wickets for several zillion runs, giving the England camp a belief that he was an overrated chubby and posed no threat.  Well, tell that to the marines.  There were always suggestions that in early games the Aussies would let certain county batsmen score big against them to aid their chances of selection, knowing that they had them worked out.  Was this ever strategy or just enthusiastic reporting?  Nowadays players know each other so well and there are few matches preceding the Tests that there is less opportunity for this to happen.  Of course these days when the Aussies look weak and ill at ease it is because they are just that.  But you get the point

So whose psychology worked in the Lions game, which looks a good confidence booster for the visitors?  Have the naive Sri Lankan bowlers been conned into thinking they can bowl out English batsmen - they'll bound in all full of themselves, pitch it up and England's batters will blast it all over?  Are Dilshan and Paranavitana  now over confident having scored heavily - so much so that they'll just follow Anderson's outswinger and find what's what?  Or is it the reverse, Sri Lanka have played Morgan into the side because they know he lacks match practice and will seek the T20 route out?  FB has no idea of the answers to these questions.

Murali at the Oval 1998
The records all favour England - out of 10 tests between the countries in England, Sri Lanka have won only 2, in 1998 at the Oval in a one off Test and in 2006 at Trent Bridge to tie the 3 match series.  In the first match Murali took 16 for 220; in the second he took 11 for 132.  But the brilliance of their batting was evident too as they scored 591 at the Oval batting second with Jayasuriya 213 and de Silva 152.  At Trent Bridge it was a lower scoring game with no centuries on either side, but familiar names - Sangakkara,  Tharanga, Jayawardene and Dilshan made contributions.

Sri Lanka's bowling has been further weakened by the injury sustained by Nuwan Pradeep.  Pradeep put in a match winning performance against the Lions but injured himself treading on the ball - there are many ways to emulate McGrath but this isn't the best of them.  Veteran Fernando also went well against the Lions taking 6 wickets but finished the game limping like Long John Silver.  So they have to aim to bat for ever - something they are well capable of doing.

The new Collingwood
As for England, Morgan for Collingwood hardly seems a straight swap but it gives the England line up considerable fire power. It will be up to Trott or Bell to do the Collingwood back to the wall stuff if needed.  But it reduces the bowling options with no one able to fill in the few dead overs to give the main bowlers a rest - this puts pressure on the 4 man attack.  Cardiff is meant to be a featherbed so this might be a factor given the attrition rate on pace bowlers. But FB supposes the selectors know what they are doing. 

FB has to go with England for this match (weather permitting a finish) and for the series.  But he hopes for a keenly contested series which is decided by brilliant performances on one side or the other.  Let battle commence.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Get Up Stand Up

Won't you help me sing these songs of freedom?
(Bob Marley - Redemption Song)

Rubbish -
doesn't do justice to
cricket in the W Indies at all
Films about cricket are few and far between.  They have to be treasured.  But even though this newly released film is ostensibly about cricket in the West Indies, it is unlikely that Fantasy Bob will rush to see Pirates of the Caribbean.  This so-called film stars Johnny Depp as Viv Richards and, in what appears to Fantasy Bob as a peculiar piece of casting, Penelope Cruz as Clive Lloyd, and tells the story of how cricket in the West Indies came to dominate the world game with profound impact on racial politics of the late 20th Century. Parallels are drawn with the music of Bob Marley.   For some reason that FB doesn't quite understand, much of the action takes place at sea on a big sailing boat and very few of the players wear whites.  Geoffrey Boycott, or is it Geoffrey Rush, it is hard to tell under the make up, makes a cameo appearance tutoring Malcolm Marshall on how not to stutter during his run up.  In the words of the critics, this film is rubbish.

Piracy on the high seas
There is another film on the rounds. Fire in Babylon is about a crew of piratical cricketers seeking the Fountain of Youth to make sure their fast bowlers do not fade.   Unlikely special effects dominate this film particularly Michael Holding's so called greatest over in Test history,  bowled in 1981 to Geoffrey Boycott, or was it Geoffrey Rush? The first five balls increased in pace, causing Boycott/Rush to jump around the crease before the final ball clean bowled him. Otehr special effects include Curtley Ambrose's 7 for 1 against Australia and Gordon Greenidge's 214* at Lords in 1984 as the tale unfolds of how these pirates read the treasure map, found how X marked the spot just short of a length to secure world domination.   This is all completely unbelievable and FB wishes movie moguls would get a grip and make movies about real life, real people and real achievements.  What about the West Indian cricket team and what they did in the 1970-80s?  That would be a good subject. But this film is must see for lovers of pirate tales, fast bowling, cavalier batting and the underdog.

FB is happy for the music of Bob Marley to get a bit more exposure.  Marley is one of the greats as his averages clearly show.  FB visited Jamaica to speak at a conference a long time ago.  He recalls visiting the Bob Marley museum in uptown Kingston.  In the final room there was a wax work of the man himself - this could only be put on view to the public for an hour a day such was the risk of it melting in the heat.  Even in effigy Bob Marley is the epitome of cool. 

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds...............

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Hey Mr Tambourine Man

Happy Birthday Bob Dylan.

Fantasy Bob isn't sure that you really got cricket.  He doesn't think you ever played the game.  But a poet like you must have a sense of its drama and its grandeur.  It was no surprise to FB therefore to discover some great cricket songs among your back catalogue - it's about time these numbers were brought together onto a single album.
Bowlin' in the Wind
A Hard Rain's Gonna Stop Play
Tangled Up on the Crease
Bob Dylan's 115th Innings
Don't Think Twice, Get on the Front Foot
Gates of Eden Gardens
I Threw it All Away (but my action was subsequently pronounced legitimate)
Lillee, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
Wide is Just a Four Letter Word
The Lonesome Run of Chris Tavare
Stuck Inside of Melbourne with the Ashes Blues Again
Positively Fourth Eleven
It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Batting. 
Like a Rolling Stone was a definitive track for FB as he was growing up - never bettered, even though there seems to be no reference to cricket in it - or is this a precise analysis of facing your first ball? How does it feel to be on your own, with no direction home, like a complete unknown.........

But if you asked Fantasy Bob to think really hard and choose his favourite Dylan lyric ever, it might well be this - Love Minus Zero/No Limit - hear the man himself in an archive recording on the link.  This really does say it all about batting:
She knows there's no success like failure, and failure's no success at all
Test Match Quality

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Meadows

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green.................................

Carlton 4 at the Meadows - May 2010
So William Shakespeare in his 33rd Sonnet, makes reference to one of cricket's most celebrated venues.  Lords, MCG, Eden Gardens, all have their admirers, but none compares to Edinburgh's Meadows.  On a sunny Saturday, or on many weekday evenings, it is possible to find 3 tightly competed matches in progress on adjoining tree-lined squares - watched, or not watched, by all manner of loafers, picnicers, canoodlers, drinkers and spliff smokers; accompanied by an intoxicating medley of drummers, musicians, jugglers, fire-eaters, stilt-walkers, and Zumba dancers; perfumed by the smell of burning meat from various barbecue sets; animated with frenetic frisbee, football - soccer, Australian and gridiron - lacrosse, touch-rugby and shinty practice in progress around the boundaries.  And the miracle of this cosmopolitan mix is that there is only one toilet, one single cubicle, to meet the needs of this huge variety.  And to get to it you have to tramp through a small cafe.

During the year many competing attractions also come to the Meadows - the Lady Boys of Bangkok pitch their tents for the duration of the Festival, the annual Food Festival is returning to this venue this year, fairground rides set up once or twice a year.  And still only one toilet.  Bladder power in Edinburgh is truly prodigious.

Crciket in the Meadows is characterful and Edinburgh's cricketers have a love hate relationship with the venue.   Most cricketers know they have to turn up early at conventional grounds to do basic preparation chores - put the boundary markers out, open the scoreboard, mark the wicket.  At the Meadows there is an extra chore, the outfield has to be cleared of human detritus - and on a Saturday some of this may well have been there since the night before.  Players will encounter varying degrees of enthusiasm and vigour in response to their polite requests to move beyond the boundary. 

Even once these modern clearances have been successfully accomplished and play has begun, there can be the occasional interruption.  A recent evening over by FB was interrupted in such a way by a young man choosing to lie down at square leg.  The suggestion that he might move (or at least get in front of square since there were already 2 fielders behind square) was met first with complete unconsciousness and then with an outburst of oratory of freedom that indicated the young man was a true descendent of William Wallace.  Having asserted his human rights to be anywhere he rhetorically-well chose to be in this land of the free, eventually he moved, not exactly in a straight line, incanting oaths against the pastimes of invading forces.  Is this similar to the American experience in Iraq when they get the baseball bats out?

A few years ago, FB's quiet ruminations at fine leg were rudely interrupted by some hood-wearing-Buckfast-fueled youths, perhaps students of the nearby Edinburgh University Philosophy Department, who thought it would be an interesting metaphysical enquiry in the spirit of the Scottish Enlightnement to dare one of their number to bicycle across the field of play.  Duly fortified, the heroic figure donned his hoodie and prepared to deliver as the shouts of abuse and encouragement from his companions reached a four lettered crescendo.  He started pedalling with a fury that defied biomechanics and had made it uncertainly about half way to the square when something overcame his basic powers of coordination, one foot got stuck in the front wheel, the other in the chain, his chin hit the handlebars and a crash of a spectacular Peckinpah quality ensued.  Of course this was even more amusing to his colleagues in the philosophical seminar than the proposed disturbance of the white flannelled fools.  The cricketers of course had to restrain themselves from even a smile such was their focus on the game. 

The Meadows was originally a loch and, until Edinburgh's first piped water supply from Comiston arrived in 1621,  provided much of the town's drinking water.  Even now it is never completely dry.  It was partially drained in the mid-17th century and  from 1722, Sir Thomas Hope (c. 1681–1771), an agricultural improver and politician, ordered more drainage work, making the marshy land into a park with a path round the edge, hedges, avenues of lime trees, drainage canals and a summer house. The central tree-lined path known as Middle Meadow Walk followed.  It was probably at about this period that the wickets were rolled for the last time.

Jawbone Walk
In 1827 a far sighted Act of Parliament protected the Meadows from being built on.  How did the Victorians get so much right?  Though animals were grazed and notable Edinburgh citizens are known to have walked there, there was no full right of public access until the middle of the 19th century when new paths were gradually added criss-crossing the park. The celebrated whale jawbones which form an arch over Jawbone Walk had originally decorated one of the displays at the 1886 International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art.   In the 1870s the Meadows became an important venue in the early development of football in Edinburgh. The first match between  Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian was staged there on 25 December 1875.  There are no reports of sectarian chanting, pitch invasions or numerous arrests.  Happy days.

The Second World War saw more than 500 allotments dug at the east end of the Meadows as part of the effort to make the nation more self-sufficient in food and it was 1966 before the last signs of vegetable cultivation were removed.  In the late 1960s, plans to build a flyover over the Meadows for a trunk road were defeated - we can be thankful for small mercies.

The Royal Company of Archers
The Meadows is the traditional practice ground of the Royal Company of Archers, the ceremonial body guard of the Monarch in Scotland.   The Archers are selected from the venerable and worthy and are largely septuagenarian lawyers and bankers.  Nevertheless, they are obviously an effective body guard since there has been no attempt on the Monarch's life in Scotland.  FB does not know whether there is substance in the rumour that the Archers are offering their protective expertise to the manager of Celtic FC.

So there you, are a potted tribute to the Meadows, a place that FB regards with great affection and some frustration.  A little care and maintenance including rolling the wickets and the Meadows would be so much better.  It puts cricket on full view to the community, and that cannot be a bad thing.

The Meadows, like any green space, is under continuing pressure from the lazy, the venal, the shortsighted and the incompetent.  The Friends of the Meadows do valiant work to maintain its quality and remind us all of its importance and value.  A description of their good work is on this link.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

A rant

Fantasy Bob needs to apologise now - he is in Victor Meldrew mode.  Worse that that, he is going to introduce 2  subjects that will be offensive to many of his loyal readers.  The Olympics and football.

He has just read that £460,000 has been awarded to a project which involves building a football pitch in the middle of a dense forest in the Scottish Borders.  Two matches will be played by amateur footballers on this pitch after which it will be replanted as woodland.  In 2011, and corrupted by the synchronised money wasting of the Olympics, this is classed as art. 

FB is the last to deny the subjectivity of concepts of art and accepts absolutely that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but how making a football pitch can be described as art escapes him.  Can it be that he is turning into a philistine in his maturity?  Tree chopping, ground levelling and grass planting are not classes found at most art colleges - although FB is confident that many of the greats of the past, Leonardo amongst them, were pretty nifty at all 3 skills.  But while Leonardo has left us a number of exquisite paintings, where are his football pitches?

FB won't even lament that this project continues the Scottish obsession with football to the point of absurdity.  It is a relief that the season is finally over.  Regrettably it will return at all too soon a date.  This season the game has shown to Scotland and the world its small minded, tribal, violent and spiteful core.   To call it the beautiful game requires a high sense of irony.

FB's lament will not even touch on the fact that the construction of a cricket field and wicket would have had higher aesthetic merit.  The creation of a good cricket wicket may even be justifiably described as an art - as Carlton's doughty groundsman with no name may attest.  But so what? 

FB's simple point is - if the purpose of having the Olympics is to inspire people to take up sport, how many sports clubs could this money have funded to provide opportunities for kids to learn some basic skills and enjoyment which will last them for life?

FB is now going to lie down in a darkened room.



the point

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Warne out

Look out Liz, here I come.......
Fantasy Bob pays tribute to Shane Warne who played his last match for the Rajasthan Royals yesterday before retiring into the arms of Liz Hurley.

In FB's view no praise is too great for Warne as a player and the best captain Australia never had.  Despite all the stories, the bad behaviour, the bad press he is a great of the game.  He mastered the technical skills of spin bowling as well as anyone, but then added the showmanship and the psychology that contributed greatly to his haul of wickets.  'Yes, he had been working on a new mystery ball for the new series.'  Had he?  Or did he just have the same range but varied the mix with greater disguise and flair.  Who knows?  FB is disappointed that he never had the opportunity to see him live but he is also thankful for one thing - that he never had to face him.  Carlton's ever lengthening cast of junior leg spinners queue up to bowl at FB in the nets, knowing that comedy capers are on their way.   That is traumatic enough and FB has to lie down afterwards in a dark room - what, therefore, would the ball of the century that ripped past Mike Gatting in 1993 have done to him?

Warne is not the only cricketing Shane, although he was the first; and Shane Watson, also a Rajasthan Royal, takes over the mantle.  FB wonders whether a law may have secretly been passed in the Australian Parliament to ensure that the Australian team must have a player called Shane, or the koalas will fall out of the trees or some equally dire fate. 

But Shane is not that common a name.  It is a derivative of Sean but was popularised by the great 1953 Western Shane, which tells of a roaming gunslinger, Shane played by Alan Ladd, who comes to the rescue of a farm steading family on the High Plains of Wyoming.  Shane is rated the 3rd best Western of all time, and its story is one of the definitive Western myths describing how law and order being brought to the wilderness through individual fortitude and the power of the gun.  Its story is still definitive of many enduring American values and marks out the chasm of cultural differences from Europeans.  No Western has ever made any reference to cricket and no gunslinger ever walked when he nicked one. 'A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do' never referred to scoring 50 at a run a ball.

Shane is a significant movie in several other ways; it was the first to be projected in a flat widescreen, a format that Paramount invented to counter the growing lure of TV.  This format could show panoramic vistas - wide screen entertainment - that the previous Academy aspect could not. Although there was a slight change in the screen dimensions shortly after, this aspect became and remains the dominant aspect in movie production.  TV now is also in a wide screen format, but it took many years to catch up. Shane was one of the first films to attempt to re-create the overwhelming sound of gunfire, rather than the pop-gun sound effects of earlier efforts.  Shane was also one of the first films in which actors were attached to hidden wires that yanked them backwards when they were shot from the front.  Reports say that this reflects the direct experience and observation of director George Stevens during his service in World War II who saw close up what a single bullet can do.

I reckon the flipper is next......

...........or the mystery ball.........
So, all in all, Shane whether as cricketer or movie is a pretty innovative and important name.  They are both assured their place in posterity.

Friday, 20 May 2011

The torch

Come on baby, light my fire
FB has noted previously his disappointment that cricket does not feature as part of the 2012 Olympic Games.  He has therefore paid little attention to all the Olympic style synchronised reporting that has been going on. 

But yesterday he was stirred out of his apathy by the announcement of the tour of the Olympic torch through Britain.  During a 70 day journey the torch will pass within 1 mile of 95% of the population of the UK, however hard they try to escape that fate, in an itinerary that includes visits to a number of Scottish cities and islands.  

The organisers are looking for 8000 inspirational people to carry the torch and invite nominations.   FB is sure that many of his 3 readers will rush to nominate him as a potential carrier.  However FB is concerned that his considerable claim to this honour will be overlooked by the selection committee,  ignorant as it evidently is of cricket.  FB is also concerned that the intention to ensure that at least half these carriers have to be between 12 and 24 is a further circumstance not wholly in his favour.

In order to maximise his chances of getting his just reward, FB therefore invites those nominating him to use the following text

Dear Sebastian Coe

We the undersigned wish to nominate the inspirational Fantasy Bob to be a torch carrier. 

Fantsy Bob's inspirational torch carrying skills are second to none.  There is an excessively long list of females, starting with Aileen Wright at Ashley Road Primary School whose torch he has carried.  Unfortunately a series of superinjunctions means that other names on this long list cannot identified by us.  It is therefore for you to judge whether Valerie Singleton, Diana Rigg, Felicity Kendall, Jane Fonda, Clodagh Rodgers, Julie Driscoll, Julie Christie, Jane Birkin, Catherine Deneuve, Sophia Loren,  Fanny Ardant,  Renee Fleming,  Nathalie Baye,  and many others will be able to endorse our nomination.  In addition, we are unable to comment on the current speculation that Ms Poonam Pandey, in her capacity as principal motivator of Indian cricket, is the most recent additional to this long series.   But when you get FB you get a torch carrier of long experience.

You should also note that when FB was in the Boys Brigade he always had an extra Duracell in his pocket just in case his torch went out.

Finally we note your intention that half of your carriers are to be juniors.  Fantasy Bob has long experience of marshalling juniors in the Carlton 4th XI and as yet none of them has caught on fire.
According to legend, the Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (412-322 B.C.) spent considerable time wandering around the countryside in broad daylight bearing a torch looking for an honest man.  What a loony.  Compared to him FB is completely sensible and uses his torch only after dark.
We think he is an outstanding candidate for this honour.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


Test cricket begins again next week as England take on Sri Lanka.  It is appropriate therefore Fantasy Bob invites your attention to Picasso's Guernica,  one of the undisputed masterpieces of 20th Century art.  It can be found in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.  FB hasn't viewed it there, but was fortunate to see it many years ago in New York.  Test Match Quality.

The painting is conventionally thought to have been inspired by the bombing of the Basque town Guernica in April 1937 during the Spanish Civil War .  The Germans, in their capacity as fast bowling advisers to the Fascists, saw this as a trial match for the blitzkrieg with which a few years later they would devastate much of Western Europe.  Bombing of civilian targets entered the ghastly catalogue of modern war, leading to the Blitz and through successive horrors until the firestorms of Dresden and Hamburg.  And there has been no let up since in man's inhumanity to man.

But while all this history stuff is good and proper, it is wholly misleading as far as Picasso was concerned.   Picasso was a covert cricket fan.  Even the most casual inspection of his work will tell the viewer this.  But Guernica is very particular.  The true inspiration for the painting was the unfolding of England's 1936-37 Ashes tour when, despite Hammond's finest innings, having won the first 2 tests they lost the next 3 to crawl home without the urn.  The final test at Melbourne was a comprehensive stuffing - beaten by an innings and 200 runs.  Relentless as a Stuka, Bradman got 169 and no English batsman could get half of that.  Bill O'Reilly took 5 for 51 in the first innings.

Picasso shows it all.  At the right of the painting there is a bowler makes a despairing appeal, undoubtedly against Bradman. Moving left, there are 2 simply drawn faces which symbolise England's 2 victories.  Then reality strikes and under the all seeing eye of the hard Australian sun, we see a donkey in extremis - a sarcastic comment by the artist on the quality of the England team.  Finally at the left the grieving for the loss of the Ashes.  The bull, a device widely and frequently used by Picasso, can be seen in several ways.  Is it the bull of the early victories receding into the background?  Perhaps and more probably Picasso depicts a minotaur a comment on the labyrinthine challenge of recovering the Ashes.

This art interpretation stuff is pretty easy - once you know what to look for.

FB has yet to establish whether there is any truth in the rumour that Damien Hirst is working on a piece inspired by the IPL.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Cupar CC RIP

Duffus Park Cupar
Fantasy Bob is more than sorry to read in the newspapers of the demise of one of Scotland's most historic cricket clubs.  Cupar Cricket Club has failed to field a team for the first time in its 175-year history and has reluctantly decided to withdraw from its fixtures this season. A Cupar Cricket Club has played at Duffus Park since 1836, although the present club formed officially in 1884 when local rival clubs came together.  The club's website records that Carlton played there first in 1865.
A dwindling of the player pool and problems with the maintenance of the pavilion have proved too much for the remaining membership to carry.  What a tragedy - and the risk of another historic playing area being lost to the game in Scotland with no local facility or club to inspire the next generation of Cupar kids to take up the game.
In days gone by, FB had many happy visits to Duffus Park when Cupar were a force in the old East of Scotland League.  Some visits were happier than others of course for victories were balanced by defeats.  FB remembers that there was always a fine tea, taken in a separate building from the changing room, if memory serves.  Home baking featured prominently.  In those days the ground was well maintained and picturesque with a formal garden adjacent to it a mass of colour and perfume.
Although FB played there many times, his only clear memory of playing there was when his side scored the lowest total he has ever known.  In those days FB played for Royal High - now also sadly no more, having amalgamated with Stewarts-Melville in teh mid 90's.  Teh playing resources of teh club at that time were slight - the player pool had dwindled to a puddle of shallow stagnant water.  Getting his second XI out every Saturday was an abiding challenge to FB.  But on this particular Saturday having comfortably gone to bed on Friday with 10 players in the bag and someone phoning a mate (these were days before texts and mobiles - goodness knows how people managed), FB found himself travelling with only 7 others.  The First XI, in the manner of First XIs the world over (other than Carlton) had 3 call offs overnight for reasons that would fail to convince any detailed scrutiny.  8 was the sum total of personnel that FB could muster.
The Cupar skipper at first sportingly offered to wait until the third car turned up with the remaining players.  He took some convincing that this was as many as FB thought necessary to meet their challenge.  This was not a good start - but it got worse when the toss was lost and RH were inserted on a juicily green wicket.  There being no natural opening batters, or indeed batters accustomed to the upper reaches of the order to call on, an improvised batting order was devised through the drawing of lots.   10 overs later it was all over.  15 all out.  FB bowled for 1, second top score.
Tea was deferred to allow Cupar to knock off the total - which they did losing 1 wicket in the process.  The whole game lasted less than 1 hour.  A triumph for Royal High coming away with 1 batting point.  But the tea was worth the trip. 
FB hopes that Cupar CC can flourish again in some way.  Good luck and thanks for the memories.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Taking Guard

FB apologises - because of technical problems, he has had to prepare this posting on a back-up system which has restricted his use of illustrations.

Taking guard is an important ritual.  It is a manifesto. It is a fashion statement. It is a declaration of intent.  It is performance art.

This is the one part of batting that, with a modicum of intensive coaching, can be mastered by just about every player.  But some still have difficulty.  M ore times than he cares to recall FB has been faced during his umpiring stints by a player who is incapable of holding his bat in vertical alignment.  A batter whose purposeful stride to the crease has put FB in mind of Ponting will puncture that illusion beyond repair by asking for middle with his bat angled at 45%

 Get your bat straight.  It is straight Not straight in the sense of unbent, straight in the sense of vertical  The bat becomes more horizontal.  No…………..straight………..vertical means up and down  The fielding side realise that it is not Ponting after all as the bat goes through an arc of about 90 degrees so it is vertical the other way.  No, STRAIGHT!.  Intensive coaching is required to get over this basic fault.

You givin' me middle and leg?
You givin' me middle and leg?
Then who the hell else
are you givin' middle and leg to?
Taking guard is the only part of batting that is dialogue rich.  Keen observers of the game will claim that this is not strictly true FB acknowledges that running between the wickets can be accompanied, or preceded, or followed by an explosion of verbiage, but strictly speaking only 3 words are required yes, no, and wait.  And preferably not in that order.  But taking guard is the only dialogue that a player will rehearse his utterance like Travis Bickle in the movieTaxi Driver - in front of the mirror.  

What to say and how to say it There is the polite   'Afternoon umpire. Can you give me middle please sir?'  The curt, which is little more than a grunt, 'Middle'.  The jolly, exploiting familiarity with the umpire Hi Jim, what about 2 legs today you old mucker, hows the family eh?  The inquisitive Is that 2 legs? or uncertain Is that about 2 legs.  The mystified who puts the request the other way Whats that?  Finally, there is the wordless who just hold 2 fingers up to the umpire. 

in progress
Having established the geographical coordinates of the wickets, the batsman must make his mark.  Never mind that there may be an infinity of marks already on the crease, dog-like he must mark his territory.  There is a wide range of techniques the side of the boot, the spikes, the bat, a thin line, a thick line, a line at an angle to the line of the guard, 2 lines to the line making an arrow, the line all the way back to the stumps, the line a foot or two in front of the crease.  Too much choice.  And then there is the approach approved by the Institute of Civil Engineering that involves taking a bail and tapping it to drill a hole, or 2 or three.  And then joining them up with one of the previously mentioned techniques.    This is only done to annoy the hell out of the fielding side who see the light fading as the drilling operation goes on.  They are only too aware that if this batsman should survive and make his way to the other end, the whole ritual will begin again. 

FB has also seen batsmen who are serial guard takers.  There are 2 sorts.  They start off on leg, having established that they then ask for middle, and having done that they then complete the set by asking for off.  FB is sure that somewhere in world cricket there is a batter who having done this then seeks to refine the data base further by asking for middle and leg………....there is a high chance that this batter is bowled first ball hopelessly bemused by all the marking he has no idea where his off stump is. 

The other serial guard taker is the man who checks it every second over, as if the world might have moved on its axis in that time and disturbed the fragile geometry of alignment that he previously established.
The master of guard taking is of course Jonathan Trott who uses all the approaches above and undertakes an engineering operation similar to that which delivered the trenches in the Western Front during WW1.  Umpires have been concerned about the implications of this engineering work and whether were a golf ball to alight in Trotts fortifications, the golfer could claim relief from the scrapings of a burrowing animal.  A burrowing animal is defined by the USGA as is an animal that makes a hole for habitation or shelter, such as a rabbit, mole, groundhog, gopher or salamander.  Trotts scrapings are certainly made for habitation or shelter at the crease so FB assumes this law would apply.  It is as well that this ruling stands little chance of having to be tested.
Having scraped to his satisfaction, the coaching manuals suggest that the batsman then survey the field and note where the fielders are placed.  Some go even to the length of counting them, as if an extra man might have slipped on at the fall of wicket.  In lower league cricket this ritual is essential it is vital the batter knows exactly where to direct his shots which are invariably straight at the fielders.
These rituals having been accomplished, the batter can then bend to the inconsequential matter of facing his first ball.
One question disturbs FB's dreamless sleep on this subject.  The top players invariably take leg stump guard.  Why then do they all need to go through this ritual?  It must be clear from looking at the crease where leg stump is.
Taking guard en garde.  Really it's the same.