Friday, 30 September 2011

Such times as these

It looks like Greece CC will have to follow on.  There is talk in pavilions around the world of stagflation.  Skippers are thinking of quantitative easing.  Slip cordons are concerned about sovereign debt.  High St CC is losing players.

Silver linings on the business and economic pages of the newspapers are hard to find.

There are many fine songs about hard times.  For Fantasy Bob the finest might be that written in 1929 by Blind Alfred Reed - How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live. 

Reed was born blind in W Virginia and played fiddle and sang. All his recordings come from 2 sessions in the late 1920s and he gave up performing in 1937 when a local statute prohibited blind street musicians.  He died in 1956.  His songs present a pretty conservative and occasionally evangelic viewpoint.  A number of verses in How Can a Poor Man rail against the Government, but its key verses - those used by Ry Cooder in his version tell the truth about a cricketer finding things tough.

There are many versions of this fine song - here is a link to FB's favourite by Ry Cooder.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Top Job

Sir Ian Botham, Andrew Strauss, Michael Vaughan, Allan Lamb, Mark Nicholas, Steve Waugh and Shane Warne are all in Scotland this week.

Nicholas - keen on Carlton job
Fantasy Bob assumes it is just the first tentative response to the advertisement placed this week by go ahead Edinburgh cricket club, and Scottish champions, Carlton, who are seeking a new head coach. Or in other words, the top job in world cricket.

FB is quite impressed by this list, even though some other possible candidates have now ruled themselves out.  Geoff Marsh, for example, has opted for a less prestigious role having just taken over coaching duties with Sri Lanka.  FB thought that he would have enough on his plate trying to find replacements for Murali and Malinga.  But Geoff was apparently keen to try a dual role, until he realised that he might have difficulty getting to Edinburgh in time for the under 13 practices on Tuesdays. 

Waugh - is he ready for top job?
FB is not sure who would be the favourite from this early list of candidates.  All seem to have their merits. He suggests that the candidates need to be closely examined in one particular area.  The spec for the post suggests that the coach will need to develop special training programmes for players of potential in the 16-22 age group.  FB is disappointed at the overt agism of the appointment committee who have not taken into account the special needs of Carlton players considerably older than those tender years and with absolutely no potential.   He recommends that during the interviews the candidates should be specifically asked about tactics to hide immobile players in the field and in the use of the zimmer while bowling.

Pipe makers championship
While in Scotland, and presumably to relieve their nerves before being interviewed for the big job, the candidates are all, by some coincidence, playing in the Dunhill Links Golf Championship.  This is a prestigious end of season event which takes place over 3 Scottish courses including St Andrews and puts the pros and celebs together in a format that FB doesn't quite understand.  The top pro ends up winning vast amounts of moolah - presumably in compensation for having to walk round with an amateur for a few days.  But the tournament usually delivers a top drawer winner - Martin Kaymer won it last year and Harrington, Westwood, Montgomerie and Lawrie have all won previously.

Kaymer wins the big soup bowl
Alfed Dunhill is not a brand that FB has a great familiarity with - apparently they make pipes and cigarette lighters and dinner suits - none of which FB has much use for. 
FB suggests that the candidates for Carlton's coaching position will put in word with Dunhill's commercial wallahs, for it would do their chances of appointment a lot of good if they could advise the appointment committee that a sponsorship deal with a prestigious dinner suit manufacturer is in the bag.  FB can assure them that the players will willingly warm up in branded dinner suits as part of any deal.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

And God Created Cricket

Today Fantasy Bob wishes happy birthday to Brigitte Bardot, who is 77 today.

Bardot as locomotive
Fantasy Bob would like to apologise if what comes next appears to any of the strong feminist group within his world wide readership of 3 to be unreconstructed sexist thinking.  In his defence FB will cite no less an authority than Simone de Beauvoir who held Ms Bardot to be a "locomotive of women's history" and  the first and most liberated woman of post-war France.  Some locomotive.  FB present the illustrations strictly for scientific reasons. 

It is however a failing of Ms de Beauvoir's writings that, whatever their other merits, she fails to address issues that cricketers legitimately could look to her for guidance on.  For example, just as she contended that she was not born a woman but became one - it might be considered, from an existential point of view, whether Stuart Broad was born Stuart Broad or became Stuart Broad. 

But then Ms Bardot's work is also light in its cricketing reference.  It is a rumour not fully confirmed by documentary evidence that director Roger Vadim originally had a conception of a film script titled 'And God Created Short Fine Leg' but changed his ideas on meeting Ms Bardot.  He hastily adapted his script which became  'And God Created Woman'.  Whether that is the case or not, with the release of this film in 1956, the legend was born as the skimpily clad Ms Bardot pouted and flirted her way through the movie to international stardom and a secret place in every male adolescent's heart.

Fantasy Bob wonders how Ms Bardot's bowling average compares with a latter day rival.  Readers will be tired of his repeated and gratuitious references to Indian model Poonam Pandey.  Ms Pandey may well have many claims to fame but she is known to FB for incentivising the Indian cricket team prior to the World Cup Final in March this year with her offer to strip naked for them.  So powerful was that incentive that the Indians swept to victory.  So devastating has been the effect of her failure to honour her side of the bargain, that the Indian team was reduced to the walking shadows that we saw in England during the summer.  That is Pandey power which may entitle her to claim that she is a latterday locomotive of women's history.

Bardot of course never made such an offer - perhaps because there was no French cricket team to stimulate.  But in 1956 England won the Ashes 2-1 in a series that included Laker's Test at Old Trafford.   Laker took 46 wickets in the series at 9.60.  Would an offer from Ms Bardot to bare her all have improved his performance?  We can only speculate. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Catch 22

The original cover
This year sees the 50th anniversary of the publication of one of the greatest works of 20th Century literature - Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. 

A cricket enthusiast might wonder whether the 22 in the title was chosen  in recognition of the length of a cricket pitch.  Or might Catch 22 be about heroid acts of fielding.  There is some contemporary evidence which could lead an unsuspecting literary critic in that direction.  For at the time the novel was written, no player had taken 22 catches in a Test series.  However in the England tour of the West Indies in 1959-60 W Indian keeper Gerry Alexander took a then world record 22 dismissals.  But one of them was stumped.  So the novel might have been a consideration of the futility of waiting for teh next catch - that Catch 22.  That would have made for a great book.

But possibly not a greater one than the published Catch-22, even though Heller's book is not about cricket.  Instead it involves the US Air Force in 1943 and is a corruscating multi-dimensional satire on the madness of the bureaucratic war machine.  It is laugh out loud and deeply disturbing.

Catch 22 is part of the military rule book - it is explained in the novel with a brilliance that FB could never match see the extract below:

Catch-22 is invoked in several forms throughout the novel - demonstrating in various ways the circular logic of bureaucracies.  Look hard and it is still all around.   It's some catch that Catch-22.  Indeed it is so powerful that Catch-22 may not actually exist, but because the powers that be claim it does, and the world believes it does, it is compelling. Indeed, because it does not exist, there is no way it can be repealed, undone, overthrown, or denounced.  After all, it is Catch-22.

The novel has a teeming cast of wild characters of whom FB's favourite is Major Major.  He has the surname Major, and at birth his father gave him the first and middle names Major and Major.  The novel explains that the name was a joke, and not a particularly funny one, on his father's part. Joining the Army he is immediately promoted to Major by an IBM machine with a "sense of humor almost as keen as his father's".  (FB suspects this might be the first attribution of a sense of humour to a computer).  Major Major demonstrates how an indifferent bureaucratic system can award a position of authority to someone who, being unwilling or unable to handle the position, can only fulfill his responsibilities by hiding from them. His situation is another Catch-22, as are the orders he gives regarding visiting officers: the men can only see him when he's not in.  Test Match Quality.

Told by an interviewer that he had never produced anything else as good as Catch-22, Heller famously responded, "Who has?"  FB is inclined to agree.

Gerry Alexander
But what about Catch-22 in the cricket context?  Since the novel was published, 3 other players have equalled Gerry Alexander to take 22 dismissals in a series (D Murray, Knott and Rixon), but only one actually has exactly 22 catches - Adam Gilchrist did it twice in 2001 and 2006/7 both times against England.  And, before you ask, the highest number of catches in a series is 28 achieved by Rod Marsh in 1982/83, also against England.  Rod got to 22 and kept going.

Gerry Alexander, meanwhile, captained the W Indies following Frank Worrell's retirement.  He played 25 Tests, scoring 906 runs at 30.06 and took 90 dismissals.  He died earlier this year at the age of 82.

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
Joseph Heller
"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Cage Cricket - 4 for 33

John Cage 1912-92
4'33" may well be the most celebrated and most satirised piece of modern music. The piece was composed by American avant garde composer John Cage in 1952 and its three movements are performed without a single note being played.  It is silent. Readers may be forgiven for thinking that there must be some association with Fantasy Bob's batting in which whole innings can pass without a single shot being played.  The content of the composition is meant to be perceived as the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed.  So there is a higher aesthetic point being made by Cage - about sound, the chance or random impacts of it and how humans make order of it.  Fantasy Bob's batting, though, makes no such higher point - it is not even avant garde, it is just rubbish.

4'33'' has had many reference points -  Hitler was conjured up to vent an opinion and there was a campaign last year to attempt to make a recording of the piece the Christmas No 1.  It failed, more's the pity. 

Cage Cricket
But there can, FB suspects, be no connection between John Cage and Cage Cricket.  Even so this game has its avant garde aspects. It was developed by  former Hampshire player Lawrence Prittipaul and backed by Stuart Robertson, the man who invented Twenty20.  It is played in a cage such as are commonly found on urban playgrounds and has with coloured zones for scoring and positioning.   Players bat bowl and field.   It describes itself as dynamic, visual, high octane entertainment fused with the attitude of youth culture and extreme sports.  Just the thing for FB then.

There was a launch of Cage Cricket involving Ian Botham earlier this year at the Rose Bowl which shamefully rather passed FB by, but Botham was at it again yesterday suggesting that this game could sort out urban youth - along with a little corporal punishment (which never did him any harm of course) and probably a spell in the army.   FB is unsure what rattled Botham's cage, as it were, to set him off.

Cages of the non avant garde composer type do seem to be in the air.  For at the same time as Both is advocating putting kids in cages, others are outraged that kids took part in a cage fight at Preston Labour Club.  FB finds the whole concept of cage fighting rather difficult to deal with at the best of times and really does wonder who thought this was a good idea.

Cage cricket looks a good idea and if it brings kids to cricket then good on it.  But FB has used several towels to review the rules which have some complexity and require judgements and decisions to be made at various points - the risk of cage cricket descending into cage fighting must therefore exist.   But FB wishes it luck - anything to introduce kids to cricket of any sort must be good.  Is there tea in the cage?

PS - John Cage's music is not all off the wall  try this charming and delicate piano piece Dreams

Sunday, 25 September 2011


UAR Satellite
thinking about coming home
A NASA satellite has fallen to earth.  No one is quite sure where it fell, but FB is sure it is not in his back garden.  The satellite weighed 6 tonnes and while most of it is likely to have burnt up on re-entry, the boffins thought at 500kg might survive.  That seems quite a lot - although the same boffins provide the comfort that it will be in 25 pieces the largest of which might be 130kg.   But NASA warns that if you come across anything that looks like a bit of a satellite don't touch it - it remains the property of the US Government.

You might think that such a fall to earth is a rare event but FB understands that on average there is the uncontrolled return of at least one piece of space debris every day; and on average, one intact defunct spacecraft or old rocket body will come back into the atmosphere every week.  So perhaps that batting helmet put away for the winter might be kept handy after all. 
launching another
Pakistani space probe

There are over 2700 satellites in orbit up there, perhaps 10% of them still functioning.  But there is also a whole lot of other debris bits of rockets and space craft and other litter.  There are probably a whole lot of cigarette ends too from astronauts who had a quick fag while on their spacewalk.   A pretty depressing thought that we are managing successfully to clutter up outer space as well as our own planet.  FB is unsure how many of these objects are cricket balls sent into space by six hitting batters. Pakistan did manage to launch its first satellite in 1990, although FB has been unable to substantiate whether they used Shahid Afridi as the launch vehicle.

But FB thinks that the satellite maybe the object that has most impact on the development of cricket.  No satellite, no 24 hour TV beamed from every part of the globe, no Sky, no multi channel sports packages - no time to fill with sport sport and sport.  Global TV exposure of cricket would be limited - there would be far less Test cricket, there might even be no T20 and IPL - perish the thought.  Maybe all the satellites should return to earth and give us peace.  Just so long as they don't fall in FB's back garden.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

You need hands

Max Bygraves
 I wanna tell you a story
For a reason which escapes Fantasy Bob's rapidly declining powers of recall, the merits of Max Bygraves - Singalongamax - arose in conversation recently.  Most of FB's 3 readers will be too young or too cool to have any conception of Max Bygraves, but to one of Fantasy Bob's vintage, his name conjures up memories that might better be left where they lay.  But Max was - and at the age of 88still is - a highly popular entertainer.  An old style song and dance man, a story teller he is associated with a string of songs and a distinctive performing style. 

Why, you might think, is FB rabbiting on about this man?  Has he gone completely gaga?  Perhaps but mention of Max Bygraves brought immediately to FB's mind his long time hit number -  'You need hands to hold someone you care for, you need hands to show that you're sincere..........etc etc etc.... all very life-affirming and sentimental until it reaches the immortal line............. 'You need hands when you have to stop the bus....'  Eh!?! FB has no idea where the editor was at the point this line emerged, but that's another point.

Anyway, it started FB thinking about hands.  This song should have been about cricket.  'You need hands to hit a four through point, you need hands to turn it square...............'    But these are lines that do not feature in the song as the writers do not seem to have grasped the cricketing importance of the general truth they have uttered.  After all, hands are more important to most aspects of cricket than they are to stopping the bus.   FB has stopped many buses with his hands firmly in his pockets.

The softest of soft hands
 by Leonardo
But then FB's reverie advanced - it is not just hands that are necessary, any old hands won't do.  For a cricketer needs soft hands.  Soft hands are the boys, the bee's knees, the dog's bollocks.  Soft hands are fetishised by all commentators.  Soft handed batters and soft handed keepers and soft handed fielders are the thing.  But this is not about moisturiser; this is not about silky smooth skin.  Soft hands can be gnarled and calloused.  They can be wrinkled and blistered.  They can be rough as sandpaper. They just have to be soft.   It is almost spiritual.

Mark Waugh in 2001
 - Leonardo like
It is commonplace now in cricket commentary to hear about soft hands.  Sometimes you hear about nothing else.   But FB first became aware of the term in association with commentary on Mark Waugh - and it is Waugh who in FB's mind remains the epitome of soft hands. 

Waugh was the class batsman in the great Australian sides of the 1990s - he stood out on the shoulders of giants.  It is a surprise that his Test average is as low as 41.81, but he had a reputation for getting out in casual ways - unlike his brother.  20 Test centuries but a highest score only of 153* may say something.  But in FB's memory he seemed always to be scoring classy hundreds - none better than his debut against England at Adelaide in 1991 or against S Africa in 1997.  Waugh was timing, he was grace - his batting was everything batting should be and a bit more.   But above all this he had the softest of soft hands.  He could drop the ball at his feet, edges would fail to carry anywhere near slip, balls would be deflected past gully for four. The softest of soft hands.  Perhaps he didn't actually grip the bat, he barely touched it with his bottom hand.  His hands were also a factor in his catching - he may well have been the best slipper ever - for a time he held the record for the most catches - he took 182 in his 128 Tests.  This has now been overtaken by Raul Dravid.  And the soft hands helped.

So Singlalong with Mark Waugh - You need soft hands to play the spinners easily, you need soft hands to defend the bouncer safely, you need soft hands to take that catch at slip..........

Friday, 23 September 2011

Scotland in Namibia

Fantasy Bob wishes Gordon Drummond and the Scottish cricket team the best of luck as their match against Namibia gets underway about the time that this posting goes up.

Drummo and team Africa bound

This is the first in a series of matches over the next 2 weeks between Namibia in Scotland.  The match that gets under way today is the most important being a 4 day ICC Intercontinental Cup fixture.  Scotland were runners up in the last running of this competition and were first winners of the competition in 2004.  Namibia were runners up  to Ireland in 2007-08.  Ireland have won it 3 times so Scotland have some catching up to do.

The ICC Cup is a long haul tournament in all senses of the word.  It started in June this year and will not finish until the end of 2013.  Scotland have played one game so far, a rain interrupted draw against the Netherlands in June.  Ireland have played 2 winning both and so sit on top of the table. 

The Scots last crossed 4 day swords with the Namibians in April 2008 when they went down narrowly by one wicket in Windhoek.  However Namibia qualify for the tournament by virtue of being in the top 2 of Division 2 of the world league which should suggest that Scotland are that bit stronger.  But they are a long way from home and the desert landscape of most of Namibia and the heat will come as a shock after the sodden summer that they have enjoyed in Scotland.

After the 4 day match there are two 50 over games as part of the ICC One-Day League and 5 T20s as preparation for next year’s World T20 qualifying event in Dubai.  So all formats are well and truly catered for.  The intensity of the schedule would have players of the Test playing nations moaning and questioning the sanity of the administrators, as well as nurturing all manner of injuries.  But amateur players are made of sterner stuff.

Namibia is the second most sparsely populated country in the world (and before you dive for the reference books, Mongolia is number one) so there should be lots of space in the outfield.  Outside agriculture its main economic activitis include diamond mining so the Scottish party's loved ones at home are hoping for sparkling presents to match the sparkling performances on the field

So good luck Drummo and the boys - it's time to sparkle.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Private Eye

Private Eye has been celebrating its 50th anniversary.  As a subscriber to Lord Gnome's organ from time to time, Fantasy Bob joins in the congratulations.  The magazine is an essential part of British life bringing a mix of satire and exposure to an otherwise increasingly bland media world.  It is never better than when it is pricking pomposity or exposing self serving lies or bureaucratic untruths. Long may it reign over us.

September 1968

There have been over 1200 Private Eye covers.  By FB's reckoning there have been 7 which have featured cricket or made some reference to cricket.  The most famous  featured Basil D'Oliviera - commenting on the shameful events which led to D'Oliviera's exclusion from the MCC touring party to S Africa in 1968.  Even though the barb is directed at the racism shown throughout the event by the British establishment, the cover seems hugely racist to our modern sensitivities - so far have attitudes changed.  

Gower and Major
are both saying 'Well you won't be in for long.'
The other cricketers featuring have been David Gower twice, Imran Khan twice, Michael Atherton (with Graham Gooch)and Ian Botham (with Viv Richards).  This is not bad going, football despite its media saturation only manages 16 and no footballer has more than 2 covers. By contrast Margaret Thatcher had 95 and Tony Blair 92.

But there may be few better moments to think further about the Eye's relationship with cricket.  Cricket will have featured in most of its regular spots from Pseud's Corner to Dumb Britain (the latter is edited by Marcus Berkman author of the Rain Men that excellent account of obsessive cricket players).  But its greatest claim to fame might well be in its exposure of the dodginess of Allen Stanford at a time that the ECB was prostituting the game in front of him by agreeing to the Stanford series deal. 

The amnesiac
waving goodbye to cricket's integrity
The Eye called Stanford right.  Not long after the series, in which England were embarrassed on and off the field of play, Stanford was arrested on charges of fraud and running a $7 billion Ponzi scheme from offices in Houston and Antigua.  He has been held in a Texas jail without bail since his arrest in 2009. He was  beaten in prison by another inmate, then became addicted to pain killers as part of his recovery.  His trial has been delayed while he is weaned off the medication, but this year he presented a new defence - complete amnesia.  

The 2 T20 matches that are being played at the Oval between England and W Indies this week are the contractual residue of the ECB's deal with Stanford and reflect Sky's pound of flesh in the deal.  These matches are completely meaningless - other than for Graeme Swann who takes on the captaincy.  Should he thank Lord Gnome for the honour?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Art for art's sake

Like most cricketers in Edinburgh, Fantasy Bob finds the month September a bit on the tedious side.  The cricket season is a distant memory - more distant this year since the weather just about washed out the second half of the season.  Equally, the International Festival has packed its pianos, violins and props and all is quiet on the cultural front.

Some kind
of artists at work....
 Fantasy Bob therefore shares the general rejoicing throughout the City that the City Fathers have heard the citizens' cry for something to entertain and enlighten them.  They have imaginatively arranged for the return of the biggest and best conceptual art installation ever seen in the City. 

Trams - the installation will run the length of Princes Street for the next 9 months which will be closed to all forms of cricket. 

The artwork was a triumph the first time round and local art enthusiasts couldn't stop talking about it as they drove their taxis round the diversions.  There is no reason why it should not hit the same heights again. 

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Rogue trading

Unlikely Batsmen's Scores
Cricketing authorities in the City of London are in turmoil this week after the revelation of a rogue scorer in the highly prestigious UBS CC.  During the recent league season, the rogue scorer credited UBS CC batsmen with 1.5 billion runs that were not signalled by the umpire. 

Authorities first got wind of this when they checked the bowling analyses.  A source told Fantasy Bob 'There were just too many dot balls for all these runs to have been scored.  The runs simply did not exist.'  

Commentators were agreed that this is the worst instance of rogue scoring since Nick Leeson credited himself with successive hatricks in a scandal which led directly to the relegation of championship winning club Barings CC. 

The revelation comes at a difficult time for the City cricketing authorities as a report by retired umpire Yvonne Jickers has recently recommended significant changes in the wides and no ball rules to stop batters taking so many risks outside off stump.

The latest rogue scorer faces criminal charges.   However animal rights activists were relieved to hear that no bankers would lose their bonuses as a result of this rogue scorer's activities.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Aarrr Sachin Lad

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  Quite possibly the most important day of the year.  Or not.  Devised for mysterious, but probably facile, reasons by a couple of guys in Oregon US the celebration first saw the light of day in 1995 since when it has spread to many parts of the civilised world.

Of course the organisers take pains to point out that they do not mean to celebrate the brutal side of piracy such as walking the plank and other assorted and random acts of cruelty.   Far less talking like a modern Somali pirate - mercifully not many people know the Somalian for 'This is an AK 47 pointed at your head.  I suggest you do exactly what I say. Arrrr!'

Arrr Robert Newton lad....
Instead it is a festival of saying 'Arrr' at the start of any sentence in honour of everyone's idea of the pirate bold - Robert Newton in the role of Long John Silver in the Disney version of Treasure Island.  And a fine performance too.  Better by far though is the book which shows Long John for the villain he is.  Although the book doesn't actually put the words 'Arrrr Jim lad.' into Silver's mouth, Stevenson's text also drips with the  pirate lore and phrases - 'Fifteen men on a dead man's chest.' 'Tip him the black spot.' 'Pieces of eight' which are now part of the language.   The full range of human experience can be conveyed in a conversation by the simple rotation of these phrases. 

Enjoyable though Disney's Treasure Island was, it was a Disney production with all the soft edges that implies.  For FB the definitive pirate films are those starring Errol Flynn - Captain Blood (1935) and The Sea Hawk (1940).  By comparison the recent Pirates of the Caribbean series is toe-curlingly awful - cartoons of no merit.

A real film
The Sea Hawk is blessed with what may be the finest musical score any film ever had or ever will have - by Erich Korngold.  Sample it on this link and feel the ocean moving under your feel and your timbers shiver.  Arrr Erich Lad................

FB finds much to commend in Talk Like a Pirate Day.  But he thinks that the world is ready for an alternative.  He is therefore launching International Talk Like A Cricketer Day - celebrants may dress in whites if they wish though that is not essential.  All that is required is to utter the phrase 'Howzat' in response to any remark directed at the celebrant. 

This time next year everyone will be doing it.  'Arrr MS Dhoni lad, see if they aren't or you'll be walkin' the plank.'

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Tinker Tailor

Fantasy Bob is pleased to see that there is a new movie version of John Le Carre's celebrated thriller on release.

Nevertheless FB expects to be disappointed when he watches the film since it will no doubt follow the conventional interpretation of the text and be full of tradecraft jargon and dead letter drops.  Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that when Le Carre wrote Tinker Tailor Soldier Bowler he had in mind the cold war tension between Great Britain and Russia and the attempt by the KGB to undermine British intelligence effort through the recruiting of a mole.  Convention has it that the story involves the recall of partially retired officer George Smiley to root out this mole, which after some huffing and puffing he does successfully.

Mole Damage at Circus CC
 Alas, this is a fairly narrow view of the novel formed by the usual bunch of cricket hating literary critics that are a blight on this nation's cultural life. FB has always inclined to the view that while Le Carre certainly was concerned about moles, his focus was the mole that was undermining Circus CC's square.  The damage to a normally first rate playing surface was severe.  In desperation Circus CC turn to retired but still doughty groundsman Smiley to assist them.  Smiley is a groundsman of a doughtiness comparable only to Carlton's own doughty but unnamed curator.  Smiley has difficulty with a spin bowler from a rival club Moscow CC called Karla who may have introduced the mole into Circus CC's square to provide an uneven surface that his tweakers could exploit.  Smiley smokes the mole out (literally - his pipe is just too strong for it) and the playing surface is pristine for the end of season fixture between the rival teams from which Circus CC emerge triumphant. 

An excellent read - films and books about the adventures of doughty groundsmen are all too rare.  But all the reviews of the film are positive so it looks like a good bet even if its true cricketing theme is overlooked.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


Scarlett with clothes on
Scarlett O'Hara's nude photographs have been hacked and are now viewable on every street corner.   Fantasy Bob perplexed, he is an avid fan of the great movie Gone With the Wind but he cannot recall seeing mobile phones in use, far less any nudity particularly of its heroine.

The US Civil War is the background to the story of Gone With the Wind.  The Civil War was the cause of many tragedies, one relatively unacknowledged is the impact it had on the development of cricket in the US.  Before the war it was estimated that over 10,000 Americans played cricket; in 1859 the National Cricket Association had been founded and George Parr's All England XI has visited America and Canada as part of the first ever such international sporting tour.  In 1860 the Gentlemen of Ireland toured.  The racial politics that led ultimately to the Civil War also affected cricket - for in 1858 black professionals in California left for Victoria in Canada following state legislation on slavery.

So it was all bubbling nicely even though base ball was developing at the same time.  But the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 put a damper on the game's development.   The war uprooted men from their homes and leisure was scarce. Pitches fell into disrepair and it also became very difficult bring cricket gear and equipment from England.   By contrast, the simpler structures of baseball suited war-time. It was quick, easy to learn, and required little in the way of equipment or facilities.  The Civil War also ended the touring by English teams for the duration.   Instead, English tours focused on Australia (the first one in 1861 and later on in 1863) thereby popularizing the game down under.  
Not thinking of cricket

After the war, while there was a bit of a resurgence of cricket, the dam had been breached and it was baseball that became the national sport. Even then the Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first professional team consisted mainly of cricketers. In fact, when Red Stockings and Athletics toured England in 1864, they played both baseball and cricket.

Gone With the Wind is a truly great movie, with huge performances by great actors and a wholly wonderful score by Max Steiner.  But now FB understands it better.  The film opens with the following narration:
'There was a land of cavaliers and cotton fields called the old South.  Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave.  Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind...'
The conventional reading is that this a lament for a past way of life of deference and servitude where everyone knows their place.  How wrong can you be?  It is clearly a lament for the loss of cricket as the US's national game.  FB is grateful to Scarlett O'Hara for baring her all and drawing attention to this piece of history.

Frankly my dear, there'll be no Test cricket from now on.......

Friday, 16 September 2011


Swann waits to be told
 if he is to get the captaincy
Fantasy Bob shares the national rejoicing in the elevation of Graeme Swann to the position of captaincy of England T20 team for next week's matches against W Indies. No one is exactly sure why these matches are occurring but that should not detract from Swann's honour.  He is the fifth skipper to lead England this year and will bring his extensive leadership experience gained from the Northants 2nd XI and Midlands under 14s  to the fore. 

Swann's merits go beyond his top notch offspin and his committed batting, since he is the recognised jokester and tweetster supreme of English cricket.  Would he continue the clowning?  Swann told reporters that, 'I  think [the jokes] will stop to a certain extent who see me on the field realise I'm not that funny out there anyway - I'm as grumpy as anyone - so I'll probably have to lighten up if anything.'  This could be Fantasy Bob speaking - not the funny bit obviously, but the grumpy bit definitely.  Few would have thought it possible for FB to be outgrumped - they may be about to be proved wrong.  Whether Swan will tweet his fielding changes to his players rather than use more conventional means of communication remains to be seen.

A song about off spin
So good luck to Swanny next week.  In 1919 George Gershwin presaged this great event by writing his song Swanee.  This was Gershwin's first big hit and is most strongly associated with Al Jolson.  Legend has it that Gershwin and lyricist Irving Caesar wrote the song on the bus home through Manhattan.  No one knows how they came to fix on an English sportsman who had not been born yet and who would play in a game with which they were hugely unfamiliar as the subject of a song.   That is one of the great mysteries of art.  This is also Gerswin's only cricket song.

Gershwin went on to true greatness - as will Swanny, if he is not there already.  He was 21 when he wrote Swanee.  He died tragically young 18 years later from a brain tumour.  In those years his work fused classical and jazz traditions and delivered a string of highly distinctive hit songs that are still as fresh and inventive as the day they tripped off the piano in Gershwin's apartment.  He is the David Gower of song writers with grace, flair and easy talent to burn.    His influence on Amercian music and popular music remains profound.  The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song was inaugurated in 2007 and is given to a composer or performer for their lifetime contribution to popular music.  Paul McCartney was the most recent recipient.  Previous winners were Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.  Brian Wilson has just released an album of his interpretations of Gershwin standards.  Form is temporary but class is eternal.

George Gershwin gets to grips with scoring

Here is FB's Gershwin First XI

The Man I Love
Embraceable You
They Can't Take That Away From Me
Lady Be Good
I Got Rhythm
Love Walked In
Let's Call The Whole Thing Off
Bess You Is My Woman Now
Someone To Watch Over Me
But Not For Me
Test Match Quality.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Tales of the Unexpected

Fantasy Bob supposes there are huts, and there are huts.  He does not have, nor has ever had, a hut. But he recognises that huts must be special places, for their huttiness if nothing else. 

Roald Dahl's hut - a snip at £500,000
Roald Dahl was not principally known as a cricketer, although as a schoolboy he excelled at several sports.  But he excelled even more at writing a long series of children's books and darkly quiry short stories.  Dahl had a hut and it is in the news.  There is a campaign to purchase it and rebuild it piece by piece as part of a Roald Dahl museum.  Apparently an appeal for £500,000 is being made to secure the services of this hut.  Despite FB's ignorance of the going rate for units of huttiness, this seems to him a bit steep - for a hut.

Nevertheless FB accepts that Roald Dahl is worthy of everyone's esteem and he wishes this appeal well.  Like most parents he has been eternally grateful for Dahl's works which have spellbound kids for many years.  It is a pity that Dahl did not give the world any tales about cricket which seems a fitting subject for his dry and unsentimental humour, perhaps his hut did not provide him enough space to practice his bowling action. 

FB's own favourite of Dahl's was the BFG - The Big Friendly Giant - which contains excellent jokes about farts. 'A whizzpopper!" cried the BFG, beaming at her. "Us giants is making whizzpoppers all the time! Whizzpopping is a sign of happiness. It is music in our ears! You surely is not telling me that a little whizzpopping if forbidden among human beans?”  An audio book of this tale relieved many car journeys in Master FB's younger days that would otherwise have been filled with serial and repeated inquiries as to 'Are we there yet?'.  So the hut where this delightful tale and its companions started must be a special place - and its magic must be worth capturing.

FB has no hut in which he composes the masterpieces which appear on this blog.  But many other inspirational huts can be viewed in the hope that some of the creator's magic will rub off.  Gustav Mahler actually had 3 composing huts, so committed to huts was he. George Bernard Shaw was another huttophile and he famously named his hut London so visitors would be told on turning up in the hope of a net with the great man that he had gone to London.  But huts weren't for everyone, for example Richard Wagner was definitely not a hutty person - he couldn't compose his music unless surrounded by red velvet.

Mahler's composing hut at Steinbach
Perhaps the greatest hut based artist living these days is  Carlton's doughty but nameless groundsman.  Week by week the wickets he produces compare with any Renaissance or Romantic masterpiece. 

At the go-ahead Edinburgh club's Grange Loan HQ, there is a hut and there is a garage where this artist's masterpieces are devised.  Unassuming places though they are, they are no less worthy of recognition than the Dahl or the Mahler hut. They are still places of artistic endeavour but next century they will be places of pilgrimage. A blue plaque of some sort would seem to be the minimum recognition.  FB invites his readers to send him donations to make this a reality.  No donation is too large.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Que sera, sera

Doris Day's new album
Fantasy Bob pays tribute to Doris Day who at the youthful age of 87, has become the oldest artist to have an album in the top 10 featuring original material.   Good on you Doris knocking all the Gangsta Rap performers off their pedestals.  Not for nothing are you the biggest female box office star ever.

Sadly Doris Day's career had no contact with cricket.  This is remarkable since she was responsible for the song that sums up the batsman's feelings as the ball thumps against his front pad and full throated appeals are sounded all around.  'Que Sera Sera.  Whatever will be, will be.'  For some reason fatalistic batsmen did not take up the song, but the song did become the anthem of the poor misguided souls who form the band of supporters of the Scottish football team.  The song first featured in Alfred Hitchcock's film 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' - but given the Tartan Army's embrace of it, the film could be retitled The Men Who Knew Nothing At All.'
The Doris Day Appreciation Society

Whip crackaway
In FB's view, which counts for nothing at any time, Doris Day's other immortal hit is the 'Deadwood Stage' from Calamity Jane with its chorus of whip crackaway whip crackaway.  This song in praise of the dominatrix belied her innocent girl next door image. 

Among her long long list of movies, FB greatly enjoyed her co starring with Frank Sinatra in the greatly soppy and sentimental Young at Heart.  They just don't make movies like that anymore.  Tragic.

Doris Day has also been a long time and committed campaigner against cruelty to animals.  it is due to her that many movies feature in their title the legend 'No Doris Days suffered in the making of this motion picture.'  Regrettably her campaigning has not managed to stamp out the manifest cruelties imposed on incompetent batsmen such as FB.  Are they not properly to be considered members of the animal kingdom?  Come on Doris - there is still work for you to do. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Once again Fantasy Bob has to come to terms with being overlooked for a position he seemed destined to fill.  No sooner has he got over his extreme disappointment of not featuring alongside Lulu and Edwina Currie in Strictly Come Dancing - or to put it another way, the mild disappointment of not featuring alongside Lulu and the extreme relief of not appearing alongside Edwina Currie - than he has to deal with the frustration of being ignored by the ICC Panel whose selection for the world ODI XI based on performances between August 2010 and 2011 has just been announced.

Lloyd says no to FB
FB accepts that the fact that he did not play any ODIs during the period in question, or indeed at any time in his ever lengthening career, may have swayed the panel unduly.  Nevertheless he hoped that they might adopt an imaginative approach to selection particularly since this XI will not have to play anyone so there is no risk of FB not being able to deliver.  FB suggests that his selection would have been a boost to senior cricketers everywhere who week in week out have to put up with the energy, athleticism and complete inability to score displayed by assorted junior members in their clubs' lower sides.  The ICC awards seem to ignore such important considerations.

Instead, the panel, headed by Sir Clive Lloyd and including Paul Adams, Mike Gatting, Danny Morrison and  Zaheer Abbas, played it safe and went for a majority of Indian and Sri Lankan names.   The chosen XI is:
Amla - average of 60.61 not good enough
Tillakaratne Dilshan, Virender Sehwag, Kumar Sangakkara, AB de Villiers, Shane Watson, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (capt & wk),Graeme Swann, Umar Gul, Dale Steyn, Zaheer Khan, and 12th Man - Lasith Malinga
Not a bad side, and FB would be pleased to welcome most of them into his All Star 4th XI should they have a free weekend next season.  But even in this selection there are some surprises - particularly the omission of Hashim Amla who has carried all before him this year.   Strangely, he was also nominated as ODI player of the year, as was Gautam Gambhir who also failed to make the final XI.

No place for Sachin
There is of course the usual outburst from all Tendulkar supporters who are outraged at his omission from any award.  They have also complained that their hero failed to secure a nomination for the Mann-Booker prize last week.  Outrageous.

Tendulkar did make the ICC Test XI which was announced 2 weeks ago.  It is predictably and justifiably dominated by English players - 5 in all. 
Pre hair weave
Alastair Cook, Hashim Amla, Jonathan Trott, Sachin Tendulkar, Kumar Sangakkara (capt/wk), AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Dale Steyn, James Anderson, Zaheer Khan (12th man)
The only issue FB has with this selection - accepting that his own Text performances did not justify serious consideration - is with Sangakkara as wicket-keeper since he gave up keeping in Test matches several years ago.  On present form Matt Prior should be behind the stumps.  Batting Kallis at 7 seems a mild insult to such a great player - could it be a punishment for his hair transplant?

Who would be a selector - even of teams that aren't going to play.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Ties That Bind

much coveted
Primary Club tie
 Fantasy Bob used to be a man for a tie.   For as Oscar Wilde remarked,  'A well tied tie is the first serious step in life.' A bit of colour and a Windsor or Albert knot was just the thing.  FB's wardrobe groaned under their weight, he had a tie for every day of the year and more.  Others might call this a collection.  But ties no longer seem so important, and these days, except in the most formal setting when a tone has to be set, he has all but forsaken the desire to don the neckwear.  FB is forced to agree with American journalist Linda Ellerbee who put it sharply 'If men can run the world, why can't they stop wearing neckties?  How intelligent is it to start the day by tying a little noose around your neck?'   So FB's once outstanding collection has been dispersed, mainly to local charity shops, except for a few essential remainders including that denoting membership of the Primary Club.

Nowadays FB's ties are as rare as a tied result in a cricket match.  It looks like everything is going to conspire to prevent India from winning any match this summer as the rain brought a confused end to the match at Lords in a tie.

A wet end to the 4th ODI
That tie was the 25th tied result in ODIs.  By some coincidence the most recent one was also an England v India match - their epic encounter in the World Cup in February.  2 ties in a year is becoming a habit.  Indeed England seem to be the tie specialists since out of the 6 ties in ODIs that there have been since 2003, they have been involved in 5 of them.

While this strike rate is still quite low, there have been nearly 3000 ODIs, it is still a more frequent occurrence than in Test cricket where there have been only 2 ties, both involving Australia and overall 60 in First Class cricket.  In addition, a Zimbabwe v England Test in 1996 was a draw with both sides having exactly the same number of runs.

Just as FB has never played cricket wearing a tie, he has never played in a tied match.  But some of FB's colleagues at Carlton were involved in tie this season when the 2nd XI ended up even with local rivals Watsonians.  Scores were even on the last ball with Watsonians having one wicket in hand - there was a run out of the last ball to tie the match.  Thrilling or what?  FB understands from the go ahead club's management team that they are thinking of designing a tie to commemorate it. 

Sunday, 11 September 2011


Fantasy Bob recognises that some among his 3 readers will find it hard to differentiate the Rugby World Cup and Strictly Come Scrumming, for both have just got underway.  He has every sympathy for their understandable confusion.

 Fantasy Bob suggests that perplexed readers should use the amount of sequins, false eyelashes and orange skin as a general guide to which competition they are watching at any one time.  These generally suggest the English Rugby XV is not on display.

A rare bird -
Scottish try scorer
Scottish cricketers will of course have their usual roller coaster experience in supporting Scotland's rugby team in their efforts.  From disaster to triumph to disaster is their usual trajectory.  This was evident in their first match against Roumania which they eventually won through the unusual tactic for Scotland of scoring tries.

England also looked unimpressive regularly tripping over themselves in the military two step with Argentina who tangoed with purpose.

Nevertheless English commentators have already decided that their besequined XV has won the tournament before it starts simply by playing Jonny Wilkinson.

Fantasy Bob has never watched Strictly Come Scrumming so he understands nothing about its format.  FB did  hold out hopes that he might be invited to appear on it this season - his Dashing White Sergeant at the Carlton ceilidh in May must have got him in the eye of the selectors, but it was not to be.  He was pipped by a number of people of whom he has never heard masquerading as celebrities.  FB has no idea which club these celebrities play for.

I'm a Tiger
But for once FB notes that there is some Scottish interest in Strictly Come Scrumming for the ever young Lulu is among those in the cast.  FB has heard of Lulu who is now old enough to be her granny, but is still going strong.  She shot up the charts in the 1960s with her celebrated version of Shout.  Big hits followed soon after including To Sir With Love and The Boat That I Row.  She won the Eurovision Test Match with Boom Bang a Bang - a classic of German leider Schubert's setting of a Goethe text.  But her biggest hit was 'Where did my Scottish accent go.'

Lulu also promotes a best selling range of anti-aging products.  FB is in discussion with her agents about the possibility of a sponsorship deal with his all star fourth XI several of whom could certainly use some anti-aging to make them more lively in the field.

Lulu also won the coveted Rear of the Year title in 1983.  No winner of that title has gone on to play a meaningful role in the Rugby World Cup.

So come on Lulu. Come on Scotland.