Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Everybody Out

The UK is grinding to a halt today as players of the Public Sector CC have made themselves unavailable for selection in today’s matches. Players are protesting about the selection committee’s insistence that they bowl additional overs before they are allowed to rest at fine leg.

There are many concerns about the impacts of this inaction – and the risk of non-cricketers entering the country at unmanned border posts has been highlighted in the media.

Baseball Strike 1994
But cricket generally does not carry an air of industrial militancy. Whereas sport in the USA is subject to regular strikes and lock outs, things in Europe are altogether more docile. There was an extended dispute in the NFL this year lasting from March 11 to July 25 over the collective bargaining agreement. This lock out actually covered the off season and only one game was affected before it was resolved – strong management action stopped players playing when they weren’t meant to be playing anyway. Unlike the baseball strike in 1994 which was triggered by a proposed salary cap. The dispute lasted 3 months of the season and led to the cancellation of the World Series and the loss of over a billion dollars to the game. Baseball took several years to recover.

So by comparison cricket is a tranquil scene. Nevertheless there have been incidents. The most celebrated was the rebellion in 1896 before the final Ashes test of the summer. The English team was led by WG Grace and included 5 professionals Tom Richardson, George Lohmann, Bobby Abel, Tom Hayward and Billy Gunn, The pros felt under paid and unloved. The Test series had been a rousing commercial success yet their winter wage offer had been reduced. Meanwhile in another part of the class system WG Grace, had had his amateur status confirmed with a testimonial worth £9703 – equivalent to £1m in today’s money – that is a lot of amateurness. It was also rumoured that Grace’s expenses were higher than the pros’ fees for the matches. The pros asked for more and were soundly dismissed by the management reflecting all the most attractive features of the English class system. Only Lohman was unable to withdraw his non-cooperation in time and he did not play in this match – or ever again for England. The committee's decision meant that Lohmann's bowling average was frozen at 10.75, the best in the history of cricket. Even without his contribution, England won the match by 66 runs, bowling out Australia in their second innings for 44.
George Lohman

There have been a number of other labour disputes in the history of cricket.  W Indies players struck in 2009 over a range of grievances in pay and treatment.  Senior players including Gayle, Sarwan and Chanderpaul boycotted the series with Bangladesh which led to a second string team giving Bangladesh their first overseas series victory.  A mediator brought a resolution although the situation is still combustible, as this year’s dispute with Chris Gayle suggests.

But the threat of strike action came closer to home in the summer of 2011 as Alistair Cook suggested players might consider striking if the amount of international cricket they play is not reduced.  He subsequently clarified his comment by saying that when he used the word strike he didn’t mean strike as in the strike sense of the word but in the non-strike sense of the word.  Having clarified that little misunderstanding Cook went on to take over the shop-steward position of the England ODI team. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Caber

Fantasy Bob is concerned to read that the traditional Highland Games are encountering tough times.   Whereas in the 1940s there were 200 or so such events spread across Scotland during the summer, recent years have seen the total decline to below 100.  There are actually more Highland Games furth of Scotland  with the lion's share in the USA and Canada - some in very un-Scottish places such as Phoenix Arizona where the absence of any possibility of a downpour during the Highland Dancing must be a big disappointment to the crowd.   But they will still have to deal with local wild life - midges or rattlesnakes - which do you fancy less? Strangely enough there is also a well established event in Switzerland - kilts, cabers and Toblerone.

Not a sound bowling action
In the same way that cricket in Britain is not the major draw that it is in India, Highland Games abroad are bigger and busier.  While the Cowal Games in Dunoon is Scotland's largest, attracting a crown of up to 20,000, the Games at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina draw 50,000.

There is generally little of cricketing interest at a Highland Games.  The standard.ill of fare  will feature bagpiping and highland dancing, and a range of track events.  But it is therefore the heavy events which define the real Highland Games.  All shapes and weights of stones are thrown every which way and there is a serious competitive circuit the only qualification for which seems to be that the contestant must wear the kilt.

Ruining another outfield
And in the field events there is no event more definitive of the Highland Games than tossing the caber.  Caber may sound a mysterious word but is nothing more than the Gaelic for pole. The athlete attempts to throw a 20ft larch tree trunk weighing around 75kg over on its end so it rests in a straight line away from him, or as nearly as he can manage it.  This not a pastime that cricketers should enter into lightly.  FB has tried albeit with short handled cabers.  It is not easy and is definitely hernia inducing.  Large intakes of porridge are certainly advised for 75kg is a lot of weight to lift and run with, never mind throw.  Landing tree trunks end-on also tends to make a mess of the outfield incurring the wrath of doughty groundsmen, which is perhaps why cricket and Highland Athletics have never taken place together.

More's the pity - they would be great entertainment between innings - and even better entertainment during some meandering innings that FB has slumbered through.  If the IPL can find a place for dancing girls to freshen things up, then FB challenges them to find a place for caber tossing.  Perhaps they could combine the 2 - pole dancers, caber tossers, caber dancers, pole tossers. This could be the start of something great.

Monday, 28 November 2011

To infinitive and beyond

Vital reading for cricketers
There have been calls this week from Scottish business leaders - if that phrase is not oxymoronic - for an improvement in standards of spelling and grammar in Scottish schools.

Fantasy Bob fears that cricket is also threatened by this general lack of appreciation of the importance of good grammar. Batsmen used to learn about playing straight as they had Latin word order drummed into them; parsing sentences was a sure way for a bowler to appreciate line and length. But just as Latin has declined as a subject taught in schools, so has cricket. The 2 go hand in hand.

Accordingly, few batsmen nowadays quietly conjugate Latin verbs as they wait to go to the wicket; and few bowlers take the time to be clear in their minds about the appropriate use of the apostrophe. (For those struggling with this, the correct form is How's that? not Hows' that? - it is important to be correct, and umpires should consider disallowing the appeal if they feel the fielding side may not have the proper form in their minds at the time of the appeal. If in doubt they should test the spelling.)

Instead batsmen are more likely to retreat to i-Pod land where the idiosyncratic word order of rap further undermines traditional standards. No wonder there is so much swinging across the line.

In an effort to save the situation and raise the standards of grammar in cricket, Fantasy Bob has prepared the following guide to grammatical terms for cricketers:
  • Future tense - feeling when leg spin bowler comes on to bowl 
  • Tense - feeling while facing leg spin bowling 
  • Past tense - feeling when leg spin bowler gets you with the flipper 
  • Indefinite article - what is found at the bottom of your cricket bag at the end of the season 
  • Instransitive - batsman who does not walk 
  • Infinitive - innings by Chris Tavare 
  • Irregular plurals - bladder problems before batting 
  • Ablative absolute - feeling after downing one to many vodka based cocktails after the match 
  • Inanimate nouns - cricketers who do not see it is their job to chase the ball to the boundary 
  • Proper nouns - cricketers from the better schools 
  • Syntax - fines imposed for dropping catches 
  • Genitive - area of body to be protected by box 
  • Adverbials - ditto 
  • Gerund - small hamster-like rodent of no use to cricketers 
  • Preposition - early foot movement by batsman 
  • Dipthong - extremely small underwear favoured by more extrovert cricketers 
  • Future Perfect - every batsman's next innings 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Hall of Fame

It was with some disappointment that Fantasy Bob scanned the newspapers yesterday to discover that he had been overlooked as an inaugural inductee to CricketScotland's new venture - the Scottish Cricket Hall of Fame - not that there is a hall as such, not even a cupboard in these virtual days. 

Fame is also a relative, sometimes transitory, concept, and while FB cannot dispute that those who are cited have achieved much and contributed greatly to the fortunes of cricket in Scotland, he had hoped that his commitment to eating tea might have commended itself to the judges.  But it was not to be.  Hard decisions had to be made. 

The first 10 inductees include several who have been mentioned in FB's posts, although he is uncertain the extent to which that definition of fame may have influenced the judges.  But FB himself is not among them -  he is confident that his turn will come.  There are other interesting omissions.  It is not often that FB and Douglas Jardine, the bodyline skipper, can be considered in the same breath, but they both must wait their turn for induction.  Jardine had Scottish roots and undoubtedly achieved at the highest level but the fact that he did not play in or for Scotland will disqualify him for induction.  (See FB's previous post on Scottish players playing outside Scotland

There is also a Scottish Sports Hall of Fame curated by sportscotland and the National Museum of Scotland.  FB recalls meeting fellow Aberdonian Denis Law at the opening of the installation on St Andrew's Day 2002.   He is uncertain whether the Lawman remembers meeting FB.

Law - may not remember FB
There are 3 cricketers in the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame.  Mike Denness (who was one of the original inductees along with Denis Law), Leslie Balfour Melville (also inducted in 2002) who captained Scotland to victory over Australia in 1882 and Kenneth Grant MacLeod who was inducted in 2010.

Denness is rightly in CricketScotland's Hall of Fame, as is Melville, but MacLeod does not feature - disregarded like FB and Jardine.  Perhaps like Jardine this is because his senior cricket was played outside Scotland.

K G Macleod
But MacLeod (1888-1967) was some sportsperson - perhaps the most complete sportsman that Scotland has ever produced.  A Scottish CB Fry (without the offer of King of Albania).  He was capped for Scotland at rugby at the age of 17, and having won 10 caps retired from the game at the age of 21.  He then captained Lancashire County Cricket Club between 1908 and 1913, in his first class career he scored 3458 runs at 23.84 with 6 centuries.  He was also a pacey bowler and took 103 first class wickets at 26.67.

As if that wasn't enough, MacLeod played soccer for Manchester City.  As a student he was Scottish long-jump champion and he represented Cambridge University at the long jump and in sprint events.  He emigrated to South Africa and played golf to the highest level winning the Amateur Golf Championship of Natal.

There will be 2 inductees to the CricketScotland Hall of Fame each year from 2012, MacLeod, Jardine and FB may well be fighting it out next year.  Get your votes in early (and often).

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Life on Mars

Cricketers will have their eyes on other worlds as the latest scientific mission to Mars lifts off today.  The delivery of Nasa's Mars Science Laboratory rover, known as Curiosity, to the surface of the Red Planet is hugely exciting. The $2.5bn vehicle is by far the most sophisticated machine ever to touch another world. Curiosity will provide a wide range of critically important scientific information.  It should help doughty groundsmen answer that age old question, 'Is there cricket on Mars?'

Curiosity - the cricket exploration vehicle
Curiosity has a range of equipment on board which will allow it to analyse samples taken from the surface of the planet in numerous ways.  An environmental monitor will also examine weather conditions.  But most importantly for cricketers, the vehicle also packs a light roller and if there is evidence that cricket may have been played it will investigate how Martian wickets might have been prepared.  It will then deploy its bowling machine and explore the potential for reverse swing in the alien atmosphere.

The addition of the light roller to Curiosity has been a matter of some controversy within the doughty groundsman community.   Some doughty groundsmen have questioned whether it would have been preferable to send a heavy roller.  Others have pointed out that at this time in the season some scarifying might have been appropriate.  Others have said that this is a complete waste of time because only artificial strips have ever been observed on Mars.

A NASA spokes-doughty-groundsman said that the mission did not expect to find cricketers as such on Mars but was investigating whether conditions existed that could make cricket possible.  He said that telescopes had observed marks on the surface that could be bowling footprints and also scraped marks such as batsmen use to mark their guard, these were particularly prominent in the recently sighted Trott Crater.  There are also a number of red spheres which may be of interest to the cricketer.  However it was important not to read too much into these signs, for previous missions found no evidence of tea taking activities on the planet.

'But,' he added, 'we're pretty optimistic that Mars is a cricketing planet so we've loaded the light roller to ensure that play could commence at the earliest opportunity.'  

Friday, 25 November 2011


Facing leg spin bowling? 

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Turns any dot ball into a four ball. 


Thursday, 24 November 2011

Damning reports published

The executive authorities at  Carlton, the go-ahead Edinburgh cricket club, moved quickly to counter leaked reports which highlighted weaknesses in the performance squad of the club's so called All Star Fourth XI.

A series of damning reports were printed in a national newspaper yesterday which reviewed the Fourth XI's mediocre performance during the 2011 season.  They noted that the team wholly failed to make the World Cup final and attributed this to a series of disciplinary problems.  Some players including, indeed specifically, the so-called skipper appeared motivated by biscuits and the thought of tea rather than pride in performance.  The reports describe how there was uncertainty throughout the team whenever chocolate cake was on the table, with players unable to identify the tactics that the skipper wished them to use.  Consequently some used a plate others just pawed the cake into their mouths.  The report notes that the club's management and supporters expected greater consistency in approach.  While allegations of dwarf throwing were not confirmed, there were other concerns over off field discipline.  In particular, the approach to washing the tea things often left a lot to be desired.

'You can't pin this on us.......'
The club's spokesperson said that the reports were not meant for publication. The club was disappointed and frustrated that confidential reports had been put into the public domain.  He defended the skipper from the criticism saying that the club was fully aware of his predilection for biscuits before he was appointed.  Nevertheless it was disappointing that he led a deputation of senior players demanding more almond slices at the start of the season.

Fantasy Bob was unavailable for comment, his personal staff said he had just popped out to get a couple of empire biscuits to have with his tea.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Five Mervyns

Fantasy Bob has had Mervyns on the brain.  There is no known cure. Perhaps he should have left that last bit of cheese on the plate.  But all night long he had Mervyns on the brain.  It is not as if Mervyn is that common a name.   FB doesn't think he has ever actually met a Mervyn.  But he has had Mervyns on the brain.  It was as if he had been specially commissioned to do a remake of the celebrated West End musical and call it Five Guys Named Merv.  He had Mervyns on the brain.

Hughes at his best
It all started quite calmly with FB's discovery that Merv Hughes is 50 today.  FB always enjoyed Hughes as a player.  The great mustachiod one exemplified raw commitment and aggression. Cricket followers will remember the moustache - insured for £200,000 at the peak of his career.  And the sledging - one of the few printable examples occurred during the 1991 Adelaide Test against Pakistan. Miandad dared to call big Merv a 'fat bus conductor'.  Hughes was not amused and he piled on the pace. A few balls later he got his man and as Miandad walked past, he sped him on his way with the call 'Tickets, please!' 

Many will also remember him for the unique feat of taking a hat trick spread across three separate overs and two different days at Perth in 1988–89.  He had Curtly Ambrose caught behind with the last ball of his 36th over, then ended West Indies' first innings in his 37th, by removing Patrick Patterson.  Then more than a day later completed his hat-trick by trapping Gordon Greenidge lbw with the first ball of West Indies' second innings.  Yes, people will remember all this - but they may not remember that in his 53 match Test career between 1985 and 1994 he took 212 wickets at 28.38 and a mean low order hitter with a top score of 72.  Not a bad player.

So that's what started the Mervyns on the brain.  Amazingly enough the next Mervyn was also a cricketer. who FB remembers from watching all those Sunday League matches so many years ago.  Mervyn Kitchen batted for Somerset - frequently in harness with Roy Virgin.  In 354 first-class games between 1960 and 1979 he made 15,230 runs at 26.25.  He then went on to umpire in 20 Test matches and 28 One-Day Internationals before retiring in 2005.

Merv the Swerve
So that's 2 Mervyns.  But FB's brain wasn't finished yet for looming up behind Kitchen is another Mervyn.  Merve the Swerve, considered by many to be the finest No 8 forward that British Rugby has ever seen.  Certainly better than FB who dallied in that position for a period.  Mervyn Davies was capped 38 times for Wales and 8 times for the British Lions between 1969 and 1976.  His career was ended by an intra-cranial haemorrhage suffered during a match in 1976. 

Walrus and the Carpenter
by Mervyn Peake
3 Mervyns and still FB's brain was in overdrive.  Still Mervyns on the brain but the end of sporting Mervyns  for the fourth Mervyn wrote Titus Groan and Gormenghast amongst other books.  He was also a noted illustrator - particularly of Dickens and Lewis Carroll.  2011 is Mervyn Peake's centenary year - he died at a tragically early age in 1969.  Cricket doesn't really feature in his work.

But there are still Mervyns on the brain.  Here's another - the Bank of England and Chairman of the Monetary Policy Committee Mervyn King.  He may look all  quantitative easing and reduced growth forecasts but Mervyn is a cricket fan.  He is Patron of Worcestershire County CC.    King is also the President of the cricket foundation Chance to Shine programme, which fosters competitive cricket in state schools (but sadly not in Scotland).  As he says on the programme's website 'I believe that cricket can play a unique role in the education of children. It is the ultimate team game that reaches across boundaries of gender, race and class, offering opportunity to all.'  Well said Merv.

King enjoying the cricket at Lords last July
 At last FB's mind returns to its habitual empty state - it is all Mervyned out.  Five Guys named Merv - it could be a great show.  The original - Five Guys Named Moe used the music of the great Louis Jordan - just to get you in the mood here is a link to one of Louis Jordan's most energetic pieces.

Oh and happy birthday Merv.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Young Blood

Fantasy Bob has recently concluded that his own youth was wasted on one so young.  He achieved nothing.  He could well have waited to be young when he was a bit older.  Of course, he may well be a late developer. A very late developer.  There might still be some potential locked away in those creaking limbs.  He can only dream

For tales of youthful achievement are all around.  The world has now gone Cummins crazy.  Patrick Cummins made his Test debut for Australia against S Africa and collected the man of the match award following his 6-79 in the second innings and sterling 13 not out including Australia's winning runs.  In that innings he more than doubled the number of runs he had scored in First Class cricket.  He was 18 years 192 days old on the first day of the Test.  No doubt his autobiography can be expected for the Christmas booklists.

Fantasy Bob wishes Patrick Cummins' well for his future career.  He will also had his voice to all those who are expressing great disappointment that there is no more action in this series.  Even without young Cummins, this match has been the real thing.

Ian Craig
Cummins is Australia's second youngest Test player, the youngest was Ian Craig who debuted at the age of 17 years and 239 days in 1953.  Craig was also the youngest ever captain of Australia when, against expectations, he led them to victory in the 1957-58 tour of S Africa.  However he played no more than 11 Tests and averaged only 19.88 before poor form, illness and other commitments forced him to retire from the game at the early age of 26.  When he was first capped he inevitably was seen as the heir to Bradman - too big a challenge for any youngster even though he was the youngest ever double centurion. 

His rise has some parallels with England's youngest ever Test player - the one and only Brian Close.  Close made his Test debut against New Zealand at Old Trafford in 1949 when he was 18 years and 149 days old.  However unlike Ian Craig Close's his career went on and and on - he finally retired from First Class cricket in 1977, with a fearsome reputation as a hard bitten competitive leader. He seemed to relish getting hit - whether by bouncers or at short leg where he fielded kamikaze short in the days before helmets, pads, life insurance and all the other protection today's pros expect.   Close also batted hard off the field against bouncers of all sorts and controversy of all sorts followed his career. That's for another day.

 Brian Close
ducking bouncers in 1976
Close's Test career was limited.  His first Test innings was a bit of an anti climax - out third ball.  His last Test match was almost 30 years later in 1976 against the W Indies also at Manchester.  Only one player has played Test cricket at a greater age than Close in this match. This was one of the most brutal Tests ever.  There was no respect for age by Holding Roberts and Daniel.  Close opened England's innings and was subjected to a relentless barrage of short pitched fast bowling.  He made 20 off 108 balls in 162 minutes.  Close played only 22 Tests in all and averaged 25.34.  He celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year.

Close and Craig confirm that early promotion to the top level can be its own challenge.  there were many voices which counselled against the early selection of Close who had demonstrated his outstanding potential by doing the double in his first season in First Class cricket.

Blooding very young players seems to be a greater success for India and Pakistan with the likes of Mushtaq Mohammed (15 years 124 days) and Sachin Tendulkar (16 years 205 days)  going on to true greatness..  However even with them there are some who have not fulfilled absolutely that early promise -   Hasan Raza is the youngest ever playing his first test for Pakistan in 1996 when he was not yet 15 but has managed only 7 Test appearances.  Like Fantasy Bob, he still has time.

Monday, 21 November 2011


The residents of Edinburgh are customarily a tolerant and douce group.  However there is seething outrage in the streets of the Old Town and the New Town alike.  The phrase 'How dare they?' has never crossed so many lips at the same time in all the annals of recorded history.
Has there been ball tampering in the City Council?  Have senior figures in the financial sector been found to have nicked it and failed to walk?  Has the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland been called as a chucker?  What has enraged the citizenry so?  For once it is not the tram project. This is something worse.

The planning authorities have received a proposal which, if accepted, would mean that one of Scotland's, indeed the world's, most iconic buildings would be disfigured.   Lord Seb Coe has asked that the global HQ of go-ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton should be embellished with the Olympic rings during 2012.

Artist's impression of the iconic location
with target practice in progress
Fantasy Bob understands that the authorities are considering the proposal.  A spokesman for the club told Fantasy Bob that the first the club heard of it was when they saw it on TV.  He went on to add that despite teh uncertainties caused by the recent restructuring of the cricket competitions in Scotland, he did not think that Carlton had entered the Olympics.

Cricketers need no reminding that not only is cricket not a feature of the 2012 spendfest, but that of the estimated cost of over £9bn for the event, the legacy amount being contributed to sport in Scotland is 0.

Sunday, 20 November 2011


Among the enduring movies which reach their 50th anniversary this year is Alan Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad.

Last Year in Marienbad -
field placing the modernist way
It is celebrated for many factors - its enigmatic narrative structure, in which the actual and the imagined are hard to distinguish, and the exact temporal and spatial relationship of the events is open to question; its visual style with its angular geometric shots; its unnamed characters who have repeated conversations about meeting before and promises given or imagined are locked in the film's world - which may not be a real place; its repeated card game. It is disorientating and disconcerting but familiar and domestic. It is as modern as modern could be in 1961 and still presents a challenge to the audience.  Fantasy Bob has always found the film difficult - almost as difficult as facing leg spin bowling.  The one thing he is sure about is that the film is not about cricket.  He can be confident about this, if nothing else.  After all, the film in is French and Marienbad is in the Czech Republic. 

Great fast bowler - poor film critic
But FB's mystification is shared by many others.  Not may people know that the great Fred Trueman moonlighted as a film critic in the early 1960s.  In fact only FB knows this through his diligent researches.  Fiery Fred was sent by his editor to review Last Year at Marienbad on its release in the UK.  It was in fact his only review in what proved to a be a very short career - his contract was swiftly ended and he returned to his pursuit of 300 Test wickets. 

His review was found wanting in analysis - it said simply, 'I just do not understand what is going on out there.'  He made repeated and effective use of this review in his subsequent career on Test Match Special

Saturday, 19 November 2011

A Man's Gotta Do

Six and out
High Noon
There is bright sunlight.  There is a strip of ground.  There is a tense hushed silence.  One man waits.  He watches.  He is ready.  Hes gonna do what a mans gotta do.  His eyes squint in the sun.  There is another man.  He is eager.  He is not afraid……………

What is this?  It could be a gunfight in the old west or it could be the first ball of a Test match.  It is hard to tell the difference. Both are life or death, one on one encounters.  Undoubtedly a single wicket competition might have been a preferable way to resolving all the issues that gave rise to gunfights in the west and it is a pity that no one with imagination made this suggestion. Cheat at cards?  See if you like my bouncer.  Rustle my cattle?  Watch my doosra.

While Test matches are documented events, for the most part the gunfight is the creative confection of the movies which fetishised and mythologised it far beyond the occasional and ugly events that may or may not have taken place in the frontier times of not so long ago.  The 'quick on the draw go for your guns' duel is show business - stylised violence.  Far better if there had been stumps set outside the saloon and 6 balls bowled and faced. 

Nevertheless Westerns were a favourite genre of Fantasy Bob in his long lost days as a film buff It is a sad day when FB has to resort to a list, but here is his First XI of Westerns.  None of them has a single wicket competition, or, indeed, any other representation of cricket in them.  However several have shoot outs where the bowling is pretty quick.  (Not in batting order.)
  • The Searchers
  • She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
  • My Darling Clementine
  • The Man from Laramie
  • The Far Country
  • High Noon
  • Red River
  • Heaven Can Wait
  • Once Upon  Time in  the West
  • Shane
  • Unforgiven  
Test Match quality each and every one.

A characteristic of the Western outside the shoot out is the soaring theme tune against the vistas of endless prairie and sky with not a cricket pitch to be seen.  Here is FBs all time favourite western theme tune - from Once Upon a Time in the West composed by Ennio Morricone.  Magnificent.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Higgs Boson

Higgs - lost his Boson
Fantasy Bob reads the heart warming news that physicists are near the end of their search for Higg's Boson.  To be honest, to FB all physicist type talk is a challenge.  Apparently they consider the boson is a fundamental particle that gives all other matter its mass.

Well FB takes their word for it, whatever they mean by it.  But what he doesn't fully understand is what it has to do with Ken Higgs, the English seam bowler of the 1960s.  In the 1966 series with West Indies he was England's leading wicket taker with 24 wickets in which top order batters dominate.  In his 15 Tests he took 71 wickets at 20.74.  So he wasn't bad.   Higgs was a Wisden cricketer of the year in 1968, but FB was surprised on checking the records to see that he played only 15 Tests.   FB remembers him being an England fixture in the days of black and white cricket embellished by Peter West's terse commentaries.  So FB's memory is obviously unreliable and no doubt he has just forgotten Peter West's explanations of Ken Higgs' boson. 

But over the years FB thinks he has worked it out.  FB's memory of Higgs is of a powerfully built fair haired man with a curving run.  But he particularly remembers his low slung and powerful gluteus maximus straining hard against his trousers in his run up - or to use the technical term, his big arse.  (FB has been unable to unearth any action shot of Higgs so you will just have to take his word for this).  This was certainly have been something that gave quite a lot of matter its mass - so FB has no doubt that it was the boson.  Though how Higgs lost it is a mystery.  But lost it he must have, and his Test career was over after only 15 matches.

West -
commentating on the Big Bang
Anyway, they are closing in on the boson, for deep under the ground in Switzerland, in the Brad Haddin Collider they accelerate a stream of protons to almost the speed of light, then colliding it with another proton stream travelling just as fast in the opposite direction, to create the conditions like those which existed just one-billionth of a second after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years go, ie around the time Peter West started commentating.  With any luck the boson will be there in that banging and crashing and Ken Higgs will be whole again.

This might seem a big effort to reunite the fine Lancashire bowler with his arse muscle.  But FB is sure he deserves it.  Higgs will be 75 in January.  He has a special place in FB's cricket memory.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Mr Inverarity's Hairdrier

The scoreboard tells the story
It has to be accepted that looked at from any angle, and under any light 47 all out is a pretty poor effort.  It would be a poor effort for Fantasy Bob's All Star Carlton 4th XI - lowest total last season 86 in the rain on a muddy strip at Fauldhouse to lose by 3 runs just in case you might be interested.  But for a fully fledged Test team packed with players who do all that practice and training stuff, it is pathetic.  Not very good at all.  And it was on a covered wicket.  It would have been worse at Fauldhouse.

When England were skittled for 51 in the West Indies in 2009, they bounced back. Their next innings was 566-9, and even though they failed to win any of the remaining Tests in the series, they had the upper hand in them all.  Legend has it they achieved this bounceback through the simple tactic of dropping Ian Bell.  And that was a good wheeze too, for when he came back after some practice his performances were at another level.

So the question is, can Australia bounce back in the second Test against S Africa?  It is only a 2 Test series - if 2 matches can be described as a series, and that adds a bit of pressure.  In a 5 match series a team might lose the first match, then shore things up in the second and move on from there. They could still win the series even though they did not square it immediately.  A side could plan a bit, try different players.  Such possibilities are not open to Australia in this one.

Unlike England 3 years ago, Australia have no Ian Bell to offer as a sacrifice to the god of high first innings totals.   Marsh is out with a bad back and Khawaja plays.  Cummins is likely to come in for Harris who is unfit again, and the hope would be that he adds a bit of zip and aggression.  But according to the press several players are playing for their future.  Ponting - without a Test century for 2 years;  Johnson - his best is very good but it is too inconsistent - but he was a matchwinner in his last appearance at this ground; Hughes - yet to convince as a Test opener; Haddin - brains seem to be scrambled.  Questions seem even to be being asked about Hussey who has pretty much held the side together for a couple of years.  And it will all take place under the eyes of John Inverarity, the new Chairman of Selectors who will next week name the squad for the coming matches against New Zealand.

There are many ways for coaches and captains to raise the performance of a team.  There are many deep psychological studies into how techniques of man management can help each individual identify and realise his special contribution.  There are insight sessions, and relaxation therapies.  There are bonding events and there are psychometrics.  On the other hand there is the deeper psychology perfected by Sir Alex Ferguson - the hairdrier treatment.  A right good bollocking.  Exactly why professional sportsmen should need such a verbal stimulus to deliver escapes FB, but there it is it is effective in more instances than you imagine.

Then there is a level beyond the hairdrier.  The tale is told that in 1796 Dr John Keate was a master at Eton College and he flogged the entire cricket team, including its scorer, on its return from a match against Winchester.  It has to be acknowledged that Dr Keate, Flogger Keate to his friends, was not one of those softies who held back on the corporal punishment out of concern over the welfare of the inner child or whatever.  Over his lengthy career he is reckoned to have flogged 10 boys a day - his record was 100 at one session.  So flogging was in the air anyway and may not have been that unusual to the cricketers.  But one version of the story is that the punishment was administered because the team lost.  Another version, and FB thinks a more reliable one is that the thrashing was because the team disobeyed Keate's order not to play the match because of the rowdiness that followed the previous playing.  And 18th century rowdiness of the sons of the landed aristocracy would put the fear of death into the hearts of Easterhouse's gang members.  But giving a thrashing because of losing is a much better story - and when you think that John Inverarity spent many years as headmaster of Hale School in Perth, the parallel becomes interesting.  Flogger Inverarity has a ring to it.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A trivia question

Fantasy Bob's recent reference to the excellent Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain got him thinking about what the link is between cricket and the ukelele?  An interesting trivia question.

Ukelele Ike
The answer is that America singer Cliff Edwards nicknamed Ukelele Ike was the voice for Jiminy Cricket in Pinnochio.  His is the voice on When you Wish Upon a Star.  He also voiced the head crow and sang When I See an Elephant Fly in Dumbo.

Edwards popularised the ukelele in the 1920s and had a string of hits including I Can't Give You Anything But Love, and Singin' in the Rain (which Gene Kelly revived many years later).  He worked with Buster Keaton on the film Doughboys and  a number of other movies.  He had his own radio and TV shows but drink and drugs problems meant that he faded from public view and he died in obscurity in 1971 at the age of 76.  It is unlikely that he ever played cricket.

Nor did Jiminy Cricket, although he did give sound advice to batsmen who have just nicked it and look up at the umpire.  'Always let your conscience be your guide..........'

Readers might feel cheated at this question and say - 'Well we'd have got the answer if you said cricket as in Pinnochio's conscience but we thought you meant cricket as in cricket.'  Fantasy Bob doesn't think that there is any other link between cricket and the ukelele so he thinks you could have got to the answer pretty quickly.  But he confesses that this was just a ruse to refer to his own adventures on the ukelele - his version of Sloop John B and other classics have made strong men weep.  Having referred to it, he passes on to other things.

Always let your conscience be your guide......

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

ICC plan deferred

Fantasy Bob reads with disappointment that the Test championship being considered for 2013 will not take place until 2017.  The competition had been designed to replace the ICC Champions Trophy in order to stimulate greater interest in Test cricket among supporters, apart from the 10 people in Kolkata who have turned up for the India-W Indies match this week.

ICC plans being reconsidered
The proposal was to involve the top four Test nations and culminate in a final at Lords.  The statement from the ICC suggested that a failure to reach agreement with its media partner has caused the deferment.  However freak atmospheric conditions caused FB's electronic monitoring station (aka his mobile) to pick a critical part of the recent discussion in the ICC marketing department which suggested other factors might also have come into play.   Here is a short transcript:
Now gentlemen we've got a problem in 2013

Yes yes 2013 - looks like we'll have to arrange mass celebrations of Tendulkar's 100th century.  Have we ordered the open top buses?

Yes, he's bound to make it by then and that should take up most of the summer.

No, look we have to do something about Test cricket......

[There is giggling]  Why?

......and I suggest we replace the Champions' Trophy with a.......

.......A T20 tournament?

[Applause and cries of 'Can we go for lunch now?']

No, with....

........A T10 tournament?

[Yet more applause]

No - a 5 day match tournament ending at Lords.

So, England and Australia play 5 one day matches and the winner loses to India?

No - you're not getting this - each game would last 5 days.

Ridiculous, whoever thought that would work?  What's wrong with 20 overs?

[There is mumbled agreement]

Anyway it's mad.


England might win it.
[There is an uncomfortable silence]
England and Lords - you muppets - bloody rain and bloody green tops and bloody swing bowling and no Dravid.
You're right - we can't have India playing at Lords.   

Yes, yes you're right - we can't risk it - we can't have England winning.
We must wait until KP is knackered and Cook is past it. 
........and Jimmy Anderson.

Yes and Jimmy Anderson.........and Swann.
So we need
Brilliant - they're rubbish at that...........
The atmospherics made the rest of the discussion indistinct but FB understands that the decision was made to carry on with the Champions' Trophy in its 50 over format.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Some Scorpios

Cricketers will of course know that November 14 is a special day.  They will be aware that it should have been declared a holiday many years ago.  In honour of a true great of the game - and one whom the establishment of the game treated shabbily after the bodyline series.  It would have been a small recompense, a small recognition.  Cricketers will know that Harold Larwood day would add immeasurably to the stock of national holidays.  

In Fantasy Bob's opinion, there is no better cricket book that has been written for many years than Duncan Hamilton's biography of the great fast bowler, published in 2009.  FB defies anyone to read it without a lump coming to their throat as it describes how after many years of obdurate shunning the limelight, recognition and applause comes to him late in life in his adopted Australia.  He was eventually awarded the MBE in 1993, 2 years before he died.  This medal may well have been treasured, but not so much as the famous ashtray with the engraved message from his skipper of the bodyline series 'To Harold for the Ashes - 1932-33 From a grateful Skipper.'  Whether Jardine could have done more to help Larwood in the aftermath of the bodyline tour, beyond giving him an engraved ashtray, is one of the unresolved issues of the story.

Cricketers will also know that the great fast bowler shares his birthday with Adam Gilchrist, born in 1971, and in amongst all his other achievements the only player to hit 100 6s in Test cricket.  He probably has lots of ashtrays from Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting.

What cricketers may not know is that this day is also the birthday of the father of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Leopold born in 1719), and the father of Ludwig van Beethoven (Johann born in 1740).  A fascinating coincidence.  Neither father thought to teach their sons anything about cricket which is eternally to their shame, focussing instead in making their sons into profitable child musical prodigies.  However despite this oversight both boys went on to something like success.  Leopold Mozart died in 1787, the same year as Beethoven's mother.

Like Harold Larwood, Ludwig and Wolfgang both fell out in various ways with the aristocratic establishments of their day who were just as nervous about artistic flair and individualism from those conventionally deemed as servants, as the authorities at the MCC were at the extreme stubbornness of a Nottinghamshire pace bowler.  Posterity has reached the appropriate judgement, but biographies are short on information about their ashtrays.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Prime Time

The numbers game
 is too much for Clarke
Fantasy Bob is by no means a mathematician, but from time time he finds himself anorak-garbed and numbers assume great interest.

When Nathan Lyon joined Peter Siddle at Newlands, Cape Town on Thursday, the score board read 21 for 9 (or to their Australian eyes 9 for 21).  This might appear to many a pretty hopeless position but Fantasy Bob notes that they had a chance for glory.  If they added 2 runs and got out with the total on 23, not only would they have scored the lowest total in the history of Test cricket, beating New Zealand's 26 all out at Auckland in 1955, but they would have ensured that the lowest total is a prime number.  This was surely a prize worth clutching.

Instead Lyon and Siddle buckled down and, in the highest partnership of the innings by some way, got the score to 47 before the final wicket fell.  47 is a prime number, so Lyon and Siddle did something right.  But it is not the lowest prime number that has been scored in an innings.  That is 43 which was the total South Africa managed against England in 1889, also at Capetown.  (Capetown is the most regularly occurring ground in the low total tables).

47 is not Australia's lowest total but it is their lowest total that is a prime number.  It is also the lowest prime number total of S Africa, W Indies and New Zealand (all made against England).  England's lowest prime number total is 53 which they scored against Australia at Lords in 1888.  For completeness, readers will wish to know that Pakistan's lowest prime is 59 (v Australia in 2002) and India's 67 (also v Australia in 1948).  By contrast, the highest prime total is W Indies' 751, scored against England in Antigua in 2004.

The S Africa-Australia match abounded in other prime numbers:
  • Michael Clarke scored a superb 151 in the first innings.  151 is a prime number.
  • Graeme Smith scored 101 in the second innings, a prime number.  This is his 23rd Test century.
  • Hashim Amla's 112 in the second innings was not a prime number, but it was his 13th Test century.
  • In their first innings of 96 S Africa scored 89 off the bat and 7 extras - both prime numbers.
  • A number of bowlers, Watson, Harris, Johnson, Lyon, Steyn and Kallis all conceded a prime number of runs from their overs.
As prime numbers go 47 is not a bad one.  Like all prime numbers it has lots of properties.  For example, it is found in a sequence of numbers in which each number is the sum of its predecessors.  The sequence begins 1-3-4-7 and so on.  Both the integers of 47 appear in this sequence.  This makes it a bit more interesting than 43, although 23 is at least as interesting, as well as being the lowest number you cannot get with a single dart.  But less mathematical minds have suggested that 47 is a magic number  - 47 plus 2 equals 49; 47 times 2 equals 94; 49 and 94. That's numbers for you, patterns everywhere you look.  Presumably all these patterns were among the factors that scrambled the brains of the Australian batsmen on Thursday.

Records do not show whether this is the most prime number producing match ever.  FB doubts it, more's the pity.  But the next Test between South Africa and Australia, which begins on 17-11-2011 (3 primes), is Test number 2017.  2017 is a prime number.  2011 and 2017 are sexy primes - ie they are sequential primes which differ by six.  So the stage could be set for some more interesting numbers - and some good cricket.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Afternoon Tea

'Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.'

This is the first sentence of Henry James' great novel The Portrait of a Lady.  James rather misses the opportunity of his opening, for there is little else subsequently in the novel to interest the cricketer and even the centrality of tea rather fades after the first few pages.  But this first sentence alone should ensure this great work's proper place high in the Test averages.  It is a sentiment with which Fantasy Bob wholly agrees.  In fact he thinks old Jamesy underplays it a bit - the truth is that in all circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to afternoon tea.

Anna dressed for tea
Tea is of course essential to cricket.  It is therefore with some approval that FB reads that the taking of afternoon tea is back in vogue.  According to historians, afternoon tea was invented by Anna, Duchess of Bedford some time around 1840.  She was one of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting and got a bit peckish waiting for dinner which in her elite circles was not served until 8pm, ie after the Duke and the boys got back from the football.  So she got in the habit of taking tea and petite-sized cakes in her boudoir during the late afternoon hours and eventually began asking her chumettes to join her.  And what jolly times they had.  Many followed Anna's lead, and bit by bit the occasion formalised,  fine hotels began to offer tea rooms, while tea shops opened for the general public.

No nutritional value
This history came as an interesting revelation to FB who had thought that cricket had been invented to give a purpose to afternoon tea.  His childhood experience of being taken to Aberdeenshire CC and made to watch the cricket for a couple of hours until it was time for tea in the splendid tea room then operating at Mannofield rather confirmed this thought - that there was tea and then something had to be created to lead up to it.  But no, the chicken of cricket has come before the egg of tea.  History does not reveal what happened in the middle of a cricket match before afternoon tea was invented.  Presumably players stood aimlessly round wondering when someone was going to invent something.  Rustic idyll or not, it must have been hell.

As FB was growing up the ceremony of afternoon tea was more frequently observed than it has recently been.  It was an occasion to go out for afternoon tea to a hotel. This was where FB had his first encounter with the doily. After several attempts he came to the conclusion that doilies were not for eating.  He would stick to the scones and empire biscuits - a choice that has done him well to this day.

Afternoon tea at the Savoy
Afternoon tea is now marketed as a bit of a pamper, a taste of luxury.   It is designed to appeal to the feminine side of a cricketer's nature.  It is a chance to enter the great hotels of the land and leave with something approximating the bus fare home still in your pocket.  It is no longer the ceremony that Henry James would recognise but a bit of a performance.  FB has not indulged in the latest resurgence of the ritual, but many years ago he and Mrs FB happened to be in the idyllic English village of London for the weekend and partook of tea at the Savoy (or the World Famous Savoy as it has become). And very fine it was too.  It was the end of June, and the temperature was high.  So much so that FB took his jacket off.  RED ALARM!!  A squadron of waiters, stewards, concierges, under-managers, day-managers, over-managers, under-over-day-managers descended on his table at usainbolt speed and requested, instructed, demanded, pleaded that 'sir' put the jacket back on.  And so the integrity of the British state was saved.   That was over 25 years ago, FB is unsure whether the same standards now apply - he suspects they have lapsed and unjacketed tea has led to spot fixing, short selling and T20.  A world that Henry James would struggle to recognise.

Here is a song by the ever wonderful Kinks which celebrates afternoon tea.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Lest we forget

Though cricket imagery rarely features in the work of the great war poets,  an ideal of cricket was an important part of what they, and their many comrades who fell and who survived, were fighting for.  Both Seigfried Sassoon and Edmund Blunden two of the most important poets of World War 1 were devoted cricket fans.

Sassoon's best known eulogy to the cricket he loved comes in the description of the Flower Show Match in his Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man published in 1928.  In this piece he describes how the central character, modelled on the young Sassoon himself, comes home from boarding school on an idyllic sumer weekend and is invited to play in the match - an annual tussle between neighbouring villages.  He fantasises about scoring like his heroes of county cricket as reported in the morning newspaper.  All the ingredients of what was to become the characteristic literary description of village cricket are there: the collection of highly skilled village worthies across the class spectrum who have their own unique contribution to make.  It so happens that the Sassoon character bats at the end of the day and, almost accidentally, scores the winning runs.

Edmund Blunden
Edmund Blunden's Cricket Country (1944) maybe a lesser known work - indeed FB has to confess he has not managed to find a copy or to read it.  He understands it rhapsodises about Blunden's memories of village cricket.  Blunden's obituary described him as obsessed with cricket and recalls him playing the game ardently and badly.  He was wont to open the batting for the Publisher's XI and made no use of batting gloves.  In his own words,  "The game which made me write at all, is not terminated at the boundary, but is reflected beyond, is echoed and varied out there among the gardens and the barns, the dells and the thickets, and belongs to some wider field."  As with Sassoon cricket is a community idyll.

Seigfried Sassoon
Sassoon continued his interest in cricket until his ripe old age, and maintained his own cricket ground at his home at Heytesbury House in Wiltshire.  His last recorded outing was in 1962 in a match for the Ravens, a side convened by an acquaintance at nearby Downside College, against a side named the Mells.  He was 77.  There was a conspiracy among players of both sides to help teh venerable gentleman get to double figures and a series of gentle full tosses was offered to him.  Having missed four, he connected with the fifth only to offer simplest of dolly catches to mid off, thus undermining the well intentioned conspiracy.  As he walked off he was heard to mutter to himself,  'The bowling was not worthy of me.'   He died 5 years later.

Sassoon had over the years gained a reputation for his unique fielding style.  He would stand to attention as the ball approached him, no matter its velocity, and take the pace of it with his shins before bending to pick it up and return it.  This was not through any stiffness in his back, for his friends recall him being perfectly able to bend to tie his laces without bending his knees.

Here is one poem of Sassoon's which directly makes reference to cricket:

Soldiers are citizens of death's grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds, and wives.

I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.

Many cricketers have fallen in the various wars of the 20th and 21st Century to protect, amongst other things, our freedom to play. We shall remember.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Tidying Up?

Fantasy Bob is indebted to the Guardian newspaper for drawing to his attention the work of the Swiss cabaret artist Ursus Wehrli.  An example of his work is shown below.  Where there was clutter and mess he has brought order and neatness.  Test Match Quality.

FB is in contact with Mr Wehrli, and with the executive authorities at go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton, to see if Mr Wehrli could be commissioned next summer on a weekly art work relating the club's First XI dressing room.  Initial indications are not encouraging, as Mr Wehrli has expressed concern that there are some challenges that may be beyond his technique.  FB is continuing to liaise.

(For those interested in more examples of Mr Wehrli's unique approach they can be found on the website on this link.)