Thursday, 31 May 2012

Heath Robinson

Fantasy Bob does not need to tell his worldwide readership that there are not many individuals who have the distinction of having their name enter the language as a common term such as Mr Hoover or Mr Biro.

While the term FB will in due course enter the language, meaning an unfunny joke often making irrelevant reference to empire biscuits, FB can think of no cricketers whose name continues to have a wider meaning.  Boycott is of course in wide usage, but the origins of the word do not derive from Geoffrey Boycott and the word does not mean to bat single-mindedly with an eye on one's average.  Instead it derives from the name of a 19th Century Anglo-Irish estate manager, Charles Boycott, whose high rents and evictions caused rent strikes and other protest action which came to be referred to as boycotts. It therefore has nothing to do with cricket.

Bernard Bosanquet,
7 Tests
 25 wickets @ 24.16
Nor can FB find any reference to Mr Googly, who sounds like he might be a stern Victorian who, perhaps after taking tea with Charles Darwin, invented a fiendish spinning delivery while wearing a top hat and sporting mighty sideburns.   Mr Googly does not exist.  However, at one time this delivery was called a Bosey in honour of its creator Bernard Bosanquet who first presented it to the world in 1903. The word googly is of uncertain origin and it is not clear why it replaced Bosey in usage.  FB suspects Australians had something to do with this.  The Bosey or the googly was immensely controversial, was at frist regarded as illegal and unfair. Bosanquet's obituary in the Times stated, 'no man probably has in his time had so important and lasting an influence on the game of cricket.' It is therefore a pity that his name did not survive.

In modern times Dilshan may have got near having his name outlive him - for a time the outrageous shot of his invention was described as the Dilshan scoop, but it now seems unlikely to be shortened to the Dilshan and most commentators now simply refer to it as the scoop.  So is poetry lost in favour of the prosaic.

Heath Robinson - top the Out Bell or the umpire's friend;
bottom, the wicket twister to save the fieldsmen
moving at the end of the over; the blocking bat,
and the the bat for scoring off wides
But today marks the 140th birthday of someone whose name continues to be in everyday parlance.  The cartoonist and illustrator W Heath Robinson was born on 31 May 1872.    He is reknowned for his cartoons of highly elaborate inventions and machines for accomplishing simple feats.  These machines are usually assembled from complex systems of pulleys and levers and powered by steam engines heated by candles or small burners.  His cartoons were so popular that the term Heath Robinson came to be used widely to refer to any apparatus or arrangements which seemed either over complex or held together with string or otherwise hastily improvised.

Anything therefore could be described as a Heath Robinson device or affair.  One of the more celebrated examples is one of the automatic analysis machines built for Bletchley Park during the Second World War to assist in the decryption of German message traffic was named Heath Robinson in his honour. It was a direct predecessor to the Colossus, the world's first programmable digital electronic computer.  At the other end of the scale, when critics describe FB's approach to captaincy as a bit Heath Robinson, the meaning is self evident.

FB is unsure whether Heath Robinson played cricket himself, but he certainly seems to have regarded it with affection for there are several cartoons in which he presents various ways of improving the game.   Happy Birthday.

'Some ingenious suggestions
for giving the bowler a better chance' 

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


Until a few days ago, Fantasy Bob did not know that chillaxing was possible. It is a term apparently of some currency among Carlton's junior members.  FB is uncertain exactly what it means, if indeed it means anything.  But he gathers from various media reports that it is a hobby undertaken by the present Prime Minister of the UK.  These reports suggest that when it comes to chillaxing, the PM is Test Match Quality. His special chillaxing skill set involves playing a game on the Prime Ministerial I-Pad in which falling pieces of fruit are sliced.  The PM is said to spend hour upon hour engaged in this activity.  FB is glad to note that he does something useful with his time.

Now Mr Cameron's cabinet colleague Ken Clarke is also claiming to be a master of chillaxing as photographs appeared in the Press of him taking his ease at Trent Bridge as the second test came to a conclusion. But FB knows better.  This is not chillaxing as Carlton's junior members would understand it.   it is a far more serious condition.  FB has seen it before.  This is what happens when a new reader encounters Fantasy Bob's blog for the first time.

Clarke on reading Fantasy Bob

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A Royal Scarecrow

Fantasy Bob has never met the Queen.  Nor has the Queen ever met Fantasy Bob.  This is a pretty poor effort on both their parts since he has been alive for most of her reign.  She has been close to his presence a couple of times - one time in particular is keenly etched in his memory, if not hers.

Too many years ago to mention, FB was playing cricket in the grounds of Balmoral Castle, where the Aberdeenshire club Crathie play.  As he dropped what to any other fielder was probably a sitter, he saw a tartan skirted, head-scarfed figure walking round the boundary pursued by a number of corgis.  Had he taken the catch might he have been favoured with royal congratulation?  Who knows?  As it was his hopes of preferment dropped to the grass with the ball.

It is not for that reason, or that reason alone, that FB is not a whole hearted monarchist.  He has therefore been lax in paying attention to the need to make preparation for the Jubilee which occurs next week.  Other more loyal subjects have not been so remiss.  Among the events that are being planned, FB has been intrigued to read of the Jubilee scarecrow competitions being held in many parts of rural England.  FB has no idea why this is deemed a fitting tribute to Her Majesty's longevity, but having dropped that catch in her presence he is in no position to criticise.

He did however notice that one entry in the competition in the village of Greater Budworth in Cheshire seems familiar and the model may be a less than royal personage.  FB has been bothered since the start of the season by paparazzi who have taken snaps of him in compromising positions and displaying them on the website of the go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton. His anonymity may be compromised and expert legal team are considering a superinjunction.  However the citizens of Greater Budworth have beaten the rap and have evidently been inspired by these pernicious images.

Royal Scarecrow

FB in action

Monday, 28 May 2012


Fantasy Bob was interested to see from the highlights of yesterday's Test at Trent Bridge that groundstaff were called into the middle to repair bowlers' footholds.  Fantasy Bob expects indignant correspondence will follow questioning the priority apparently being given to pot holes in the Trent Bridge area, when those on Edinburgh's roads are recognised as among the world leaders and remain unrepaired.

Commentators did not see fit to observe on this facet of the incident.  Instead, most of the commentary was about the delay to play which, when added to a series of DRS referrals immediately preceding, meant that only 6 deliveries took place in a 16 minute period.  Given the fact that last week Darren Sammy had been fined 80% of his match fee from the First Test for slow over rate, this sequence of events has a touch of irony about them.

There are many ways other than extended pot hole repair that play can be slowed up.  Drinks breaks are now mandatory but they didn't feature until recently.  Even in lower league cricket and on the coldest of days drinks are demanded by the fielding side as they huddle together for warmth.  In Test cricket the physiotherapist is on the field as often as the players.  Batsmen change gloves, bats, and possibly wives; helmets are brought on and off.  And so on and so forth. In rugby the physio can mend a player while play goes on.  It might be interesting for the crowd if this rule was applied in cricket - particularly if the injured player was the batsman facing.  On the whole FB thinks that DRS are a good thing, but they also take the momentum out of play.  In the IPL the strategic time out is a further drag and no doubt this, or something like it, will come into other forms of cricket.  Fantasy Bob understands that physicists have the view that the expansion of the universe following the big bang is slowing down - are these increasing delays in getting on with a cricket match a symptom of this process?

Confirmation may come from the fact that some of these delaying factors are also present in lower league cricket.  While Fantasy Bob has not experienced the 16 minute over on the field, on some occasions he feels he has come pretty close to it.  Endless adjustments to the field, which put a fielder exactly where the ball immediately before was hit are a factor.  Juniors who enjoy a leisurely stroll between overs and end up in a position approximately 50 metres from where they were previously stationed by the skipper are another factor. This of course is startlingly accurate compared to some senior players and may indicate the use of sat nav.

Lost balls can be a delaying factor. Many grounds are surrounded by dense vegetation of various sorts into which batsmen will insist on launching the ball. Long pauses can follow. In golf there is a rule stating how long the search for a ball can last. Not in cricket, and given the expense of cricket balls the club treasurer would prefer the search to continue indefinitely. At a ground with a particular jungle like surround, at the bottom of a steep slope just beyond the boundary, FB once 3 lost balls in one over. An expensive over in all senses of the word. In some grounds, the outfield itself is so thick that the ball can disappear on its way to the boundary.  Treasurers demand the aerial route be taken.

Fantasy Bob has also found that the arrival of mobile phones can be a source of further delays on proceedings which did not happen in technologically more primitive times.  He has observed a newly married bowler can a phone call just as he started their run up. The heightened sensitivity of his new marital status means that he feels he must take the call. (FB will pass over how anyone managed to enter the filed of play with the phone on their person.) It is, inevitably, from his loved one inquiring why dinkums is not at home and available to escort little wifey to IKEA. An extended conversation may take place between ball 2 and 3 of the over. After ball 4 there is another call. The conversation, at least as far as the rest of the players can judge is slightly more tetchy with extended reassurance that the failure to offer support on the long planned expedition to IKEA should not be taken as a signal of a decline in affection. Ball 5, as a consequence, is dug in and takes the batsman by surprise. Another phone call immediately comes - it is from a neighbour asking why the bowler's CD collection seems to be being thrown through the window into the front garden along with suits and shoes and other stuff.. Invariably in these circumstances the skipper has to think twice about asking his bowler to finish his spell before leaving.

Once the newly wed couple embark on the childbearing trail the drama is heightened since the possibility of labour beginning will invariably coincide with the soon-to-be-father's bowling spell. This is why all cricketers should understand some basic biology and, when they decide to have a family, should plan their bedroom action accordingly.  The risk of having to be summoned to the labour ward just as they close on the first half century of the season can be minimised. FB suggests this training should form part of all recognised coaching courses which, after all, offer much wisdom about other aspects of timing. After all, having to choose between these priorities is likely to be too much for most cricketers and there is every possibility that a rash shot would be played to the disadvantage of the team's position. 

Pot hole repairs therefore seem unremarkable by comparison with what happens in real life cricket.

Sunday, 27 May 2012


Will Greece leave the Euro and return to the Doosra?

This was the question that was on no-one's lips at the Eurocrisis Song Contest that was played out in Azerbaijan last night.

There appears little to interest the cricketer in Azerbaijan, and none of the entries the Song Contest had a cricketing theme.  Englebert Humperdinck is not a cricketer and it showed in his performance.  And while FB applauds Russia's challenge to age discrimination in fielding a batting line up of toothless grannies, he could not find the incentive to watch them strut their stuff.  In any case the attraction of Euro finals is not what it was for FB since these days they all seem to end in a penalty shoot.  And FB does not enjoy penalty shoot outs.

Loreen - brought the Eurocrisis to Sweden
Every nation tried hard to lose this contest in case they faced the expense of having to stage the next one - or so it seemed from the entries.  Britain made it very safe by finishing second last, one point ahead of Norway the traditional nul pointers.  There doesn't appear to be relegation from this league, more's the pity.  But somewhere had to win and it was Sweden's misfortune last night

Not only was none of the entries about cricket, but none was about the Eurocrisis. It is not as if financial issues are not fit subjects for song writers so they could have tried harder.  Since FB thinks it is time for another list, here is FB's First XI of songs that tell us why the Eurocrisis is happening:
You Never Give Me Your Money - The Beatles
Take the Money and Run - Steve Miller Band
Money for Nothing - Dire Straits
Money - Pink Floyd
Money Money Money - Abba
Money (That's What I Want) - The Beatles (and many others)
We're in the Money - The Cast of 42nd Street
Money Money Money - Liza Minelli and Joel Grey from Cabaret
Brass In Pocket - The Pretenders
Baby You're a Rich Man - The Beatles
Some of these have more to say on the present situation than others, but perhaps the song which best sums up the roots of the crisis is FB's final choice and last man at the crease:
The Song of Supply and Demand - Bertholt Brecht and Hans Eisler
The song was written in 1930 for the play Die Massnahme (The Measures Taken) and is sung by a Chinese rice merchant who explains the operations of a market economy in its most brutal form.  A fitting entry for the contest.

Saturday, 26 May 2012


It has not hitherto been thought that the works of Giacomo Puccini have much to offer the cricketer. A bit operatic; a bit melodramatic; a bit dare it be said Italian. Fantasy Bob is ashamed to say that previously he inclined to that view.

But the unexamined life is not worth living, and, after attending a performance of Tosca last night, Fantasy Bob is coming to another view.

For FB the highlight of this magnificent opera is the great soprano aria Vissi d’arte. Tosca sings this after the villain Scarpia has put his cards on the table. He has imprisoned Tosca’s lover Mario Cavaradossi and makes it clear to her that unless Tosca submits to his desires (or, in a less operatic idiom, puts out for him) Cavarodossi will be executed. There is not a dry eye in the house as the orchestra swells and the singer’s voice soars. It is perfect. Test Match Quality. 

The aria is conventionally understood as a lament by Tosca on the cruelty of her fate:

Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,
non feci mai male ad anima viva!
……….perchè, perchè, Signore,
perchè me ne rimuneri così?

I lived for my art, I lived for love,
I never did harm to a living soul!
………why, why, o Lord,
why do you reward me thus?

The words, while they might be consistent with this interpretation, strike FB as being inspired by something different.  Something even more distressing than Tosca’s plight. She can only be speaking for all batsmen who have just been dismissed LBW in the certain knowledge that they got a thick inside edge before the ball thudded into the pad. As they disconsolately return to the pavilion can be heard muttering, sotto voce, perchè me ne rimuneri così?  Why do you reward me thus? Indeed.

But this is not the only inspiration that cricket provides in Puccini’s work. Perhaps his best known number is also deeply relevant to cricket  – Nessun doosra.

Puccini was clearly a devoted fan of the game. Fantasy Bob suspects that he also played. But what was his bowling action? Critics frequently pass observation about the cruelty, if not outright sadism, in Puccini’s great works. His tragic heroines, Tosca, Mimi in La Boheme and Madame Butterfly (Cio-Cio San) are all dead at the end of the operas, 2 by their own hand and Mimi through consumption. Cruelty? Sadism? This answers the question: Puccini’s bowling action could only be Leg Break. 

Friday, 25 May 2012

Pietersen Fined

Expensive Tweets
English batsman Kevin Pietersen has been fined an undisclosed sum, believed to be £3000, for his tweet after the first Test against the West Indies at Lords.

He wrote: 'Can somebody please tell me how Fantasy Bob has not worked his way into the commentary box for Tests? Ridiculous.'

In a statement the English and Welsh Cricket Board said any reference to Fantasy Bob was deemed 'prejudicial to ECB interests and a breach of the England conditions of employment'.  It is clearly stated in the players' code of conduct that any reference to Fantasy Bob or empire biscuits is forbidden.

This is not the first time that Pietersen has been disciplined for injudicious tweeting. In September 2010 he issued a expletive dominated tirade on Twitter about his axing from the England one day squad. He suggested that the selectors should seek advice from Fantasy Bob about where they could put their empire biscuits. He was also fined for that outburst.

England skipper Andrew Strauss downplayed the incident ahead of the second Test which gets underway in Nottingham today.  He said, 'The Fantasy Bob thing is a difficult issue'.  He called for players not to be distracted by Fantasy Bob's juvenile jokes and to be responsible in their approach to empire biscuits.

Fantasy Bob was unavailable for comment last night.  Mrs FB said that he had just popped out for some empire biscuits.  She said that before going out he did express the view that £3000 could buy a lot of empire biscuits.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Spirit of 1612

Frontispiece from the 1744 Laws of Cricket
In 1612, the pupils of Aberdeen Grammar School rioted against the petty rules disciplining them and, brandishing various firearms, took over part of the school. The masters stopped the riot, and 21 pupils were expelled, while some were arrested. Not long after this serious incident, the school welcomed Fantasy Bob onto its roll.

In FB's days at the school there was little by way of rioting and like the rest of the the pupil body he was well behaved and assiduous in his love of learning. However things seem to have declined and the school is now associated with one of the more shocking disciplinary incidents that has come to FB's attention for many years.

The concept of bowling successive overs from different ends of the pitch seems to have been integral to cricket for as long as it has been played. The first codification of the Laws, made by Noblemen and Gentlemen who used the Artillery Ground in London in 1744, seems to confirm this, for the following law is included:
Ye bowler must deliver ye ball with one foot behind ye Crease even with ye Wicket, and when he has bowled one ball or more shall bowl to ye number 4 before he changes Wickets, and he shall change but once in ye same innings.
In the modern laws this has become Law 22(1) which states far more prosaically:
The ball shall be bowled from each end alternately in overs of 6 balls. 
and law 24, which defines a no ball. The concept of 'changing but once in ye same innings' is lost - indeed FB is struggling to work out what it means but thinks it means a bowler could only bowl 2 successive overs once. The modern laws preclude that.

For that small minority of FB's worldwide readership who are interested in these matters, and by way of digression to the main thrust of this wittering, the 1744 Laws do not provide for LBW, which was only introduced to the laws 30 years later in response to the increasing habit of batsmen in wilfully keeping the ball off their wicket with their legs.  The pain had been taken out of this by the development of increasingly effective pads.  The original version of the LBW law is based on the concept of the batter deliberately stopping the ball hitting the wicket; this was dropped in 1788, which was the first codification by the Marylebone Cricket Club. Little by little, the law has developed into the modern simple structure easily comprehensible to everyone, which does of course still retain some aspect of the batter's intention in that he cannot be out if struck outside the line of off stump when attempting to play a shot. What constitutes a shot is keenly debated.

What this law, or subsequent versions of it, does not contain is any concept that it need not apply in Aberdeen. Even in 1744 it would have applied.

However members of Aberdeen Grammar School FP CC (for whom FB turned out very occasionally shortly after 1621) saw fit to disregard for this law last weekend.  On being told by their groundsman (who may or may not be doughty) that while the wicket was playable one of the run ups was too wet for play, agreed with the opposition's suggestion only to bowl at one end.

Good for them says Fantasy Bob, he is pleased to hear that the spirit of 1612 is not dead.

And for information, Aberdeen Grammar School has produced some cricketers of distinction in addition to Fantasy Bob.  Present Scottish international Kyle Coetzer is a former pupil, as are the twins Dallas and Jeremy Moir, Scottish internationalists of the 1980s.  

But the greatest cricketer to come out of Aberdeen had the misfortune never to attend the school.  Although born in Aberdeen, Ian Peebles was educated in Glasgow before going on to play 13 Tests for England and captain Middlesex.  Peebles has the distinction of being identified by Bradman as the only bowler to have troubled him during his golden year of 1930 when he scored 2960 runs at an average of 98.66.  What might he have become if he'd gone to the right school?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Lords Reform

Cricketers who follow the ins and outs of British political discussion will have been confused by continuing references to Reform of the Lords.  it is important that the cricketer understands that it has nothing to do with Lords the cricket ground.  For Lords is Lords, and probably beyond reform. 

7th Baron Hawke
This may be a subject that quickens few pulses among Fantasy Bob's worldwide readership but one valid reason that the House of Lords may well be ripe for reform could be that cricket is no longer of significance to its members.

Wisden reveals that 38 Lords have played First Class Cricket but only 2 have played Test cricket.  But those 2 were redoubtable specimens and had great influence on the development of the game - Lord Hawke (1860-1938) and Lord Harris (1851-1932).

Hawke's life was cricket. He captained Yorkshire for 28 seasons during which they won eight Championships, and was the county's president for 40 years. He was MCC president from 1914 to 1919, its treasurer and a trustee between 1932 and 1938, and a national selector from 1899 to 1909 and again in 1933. it is not clear what his attitude to a-leaping might have been for he was a strict disciplinarian. Hawke may be best remembered for improving the conditions of professional players particularly through the introduction of winter wages. Nevertheless he held strong views on the professsional's place in the game - in 1925 he said 'Pray God, no professional shall ever captain England. I love and admire them all, but we have always had an amateur skipper and when the day comes when we shall have no more amateurs captaining England it will be a thousand pities.'

4th Baron Harris
Harris was England's second ever Test captain. He played for Kent for over forty years captaining them from 1871 to 1889. He had a long association with Lord's as both player and administrator. It was not till 1929, at the age of seventy-eight, that he played there for the last time, for MCC v Indian Gymkhana. He served as President of the MCC in 1895. He was a Trustee of MCC from 1906 to 1916 and Honorary Treasurer from 1916 to 1932. to his credit are teh development of the Imperial Cricket Conference which agreed rules to control Test cricket between the three nations.But notoriously he almost ran England's greatest batsman out of the game. Walter Hammond had been born in Kent but chose to play for Gloucestershire, where he had gone to school. Hammond had not fulfilled the required period of residence to qualify, and once Harris discovered this Hammond was barred from playing for them again until the necessary time had elapsed. All this led Harris to complain about 'Bolshevism' influencing cricket.

Unlike Hawke, Harris had a career outside cricket as a Government Minister and as Governor of the Presidency of Bombay in British India from 1890 to 1895. His appointment was not universally well regarded and seems notable mainly for his enthusiastic pursuit of cricket amongst his fellow Europeans. Later writers credited Harris with introducing and developing the sport in India. But this appears flattery beyond the reality, for the game was well established before his arrival.

Hawke and Harris were hereditary peers.  Many cricketers have been honoured at various levels, although to Fantasy Bob's knowledge only 2 have made it to the House of Lords - Lord Constantine the great W Indian allrounder whose ennoblement followed his post cricket political and legal career - he was a prominent force in the development of racial equality. And Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, captain of the England Women's team from 1966-78, became a working peer in 2010.

And then there was one cricketer who may never have got to the House of Lords, may never have kissed the ermine, but was Lordly in everything he did on the field - the one and only Lord Ted. 

Cricket and the House of Lords is clearly an issue that those calling for Lords Reform must address.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Switch Hit

Switch hitter
The question is being asked of Fantasy Bob.  Where does he stand on the switch hit? There is discussion about whether the laws of cricket should be changed either to prevent it, or to restore the balance to the bowler - so that the LBW law would reverse as the batsman changed sides.

This shot's origin is attributed to Kevin Pietersen in a one-day international against New Zealand in 2008 when he effectively changed from a right-hander to a left-hander just before the ball was delivered by the bowler.   A more recent example is by David Warner against India in a ODI in February this year when he creamed Ashwin for 100m. Also earlier this year it was the subject of controversy between Sri Lanka and England when Dilshan consistently pulled out of his bowling action when he apprehended KP was about to set up for the switch hit.  Administrators are in something must be done mode.
What does FB make of the evidence?

Is the switch hit skilful?  Yes, swapping hands and swapping feet position while watching the ball and preparing to hit all seems pretty skilful to FB.

Is the switch hit risky?  FB assumes there are occasions when the batter has tried it and failed - maybe even getting out but these are not reported.

But the game should reward risk taking and skill so these 2 factors tell in favour of the switch hit.

Is the switch hit exciting?  If big hits are your bag then it is exciting - but sixes are devalued currency in international cricket with thunderbats and shorter boundaries.  So the evidence here is unconvincing.

David Warner switch hitting
Is the switch hit unfair to the bowler?  When FB is bowling all strokes are unfair so it is difficult for FB to have a view on this.  However the bowler has to nominate which hand he is going to bowl with and which side of the stumps he is going to bowl so his opportunity for variation is limited.  But the bowler doesn't have to say that he is going to bowl a yorker, or a googly or whatever so he does have some advantage.

Bowlers can see when a batsman is going to come down the wicket to them and can frequently adjust.  Similarly they can see a batsman backing away to give themselves room and can follow them or put it wider down off side.  Being aware of the batter is part of bowling.  The movement to switch hit must be larger than either of these.  Perhaps if the bowler is aware of switch hitting as a possibility - and it remains very rare - then they will more attuned to it.  So while FB's natural sympathy is to the bowler he is not wholly convinced here.  Perhaps more latitude should be given on the interpretation of a wide, but that is about interpretation and not the laws and that is as far as FB would go.

Would FB employ the switch hit?  Most certainly.

Could FB switch hit?  Not if he practiced for the rest of the century.  He can barely hit the ball with his hands and his feet firmly placed in their original position.  At present it remains a Any attempt to curb the shot seems only an expression of jealously.

So, FB remains marginally in favour of the switch hit and is unconvinced that the rules need too much tampering.  His worldwide readership should note that this opinion is likely to last only until the stroke appears in the lower leagues of the East of Scotland Cricket Association.  The day it is used against his world famous inswinger, FB will campaign tirelessly for rules changes.  If necessary this will involve the hands of batsmen being glued in one position.

In the lower leagues the rules changes will have to reflect the fact that many batsmen have no idea whether they are right handed or left handed in the first place.  There is therefore much for administrators to ponder.

Monday, 21 May 2012


An All Star?
Perhaps Fantasy Bob should have put a first class stamp on the letter. However the enormous sum that he was required to spend to send the letter standard/second/slow class dented his pocket money by a significant amount.  He was already in danger of not having funds to secure his supply of empire biscuits for the week.   He did not feel he could safely risk a further outlay in the Post Office.  Not for the first time, FB has got his priorities wrong. For Adam Gilchrist has just announced to the world that he has played his last game of cricket. Gilchrist has been skippering the Kings XI Punjab in the IPL and they were defeated by the Dehli Daredevils at the weekend so ending their interest in the tournament.

'I would say I've played my last game of cricket just there. There isn't that fire burning in my belly quite like it used to. I have to think about it but I just feel I won't be playing,' he said after the match.

FB's letter to Gilchrist, powered as it was around the world by a mere second class stamp seems to have been too late. In his letter FB reminded Gilchrist that he is one of the legends of the game (a fact with which he may well be familiar). FB told him that, outside himself,  he was perhaps the most exciting cricketer of his era with a Test average of 47.60 and a Test strike rate of 81.95. He described his philosophy of batting as 'Just hit the ball' which he did hard and often.  If only FB could.

FB reminded him, as if he needed reminding, of how he stole the World Cup Final in 2007, smashing 149 off 104 balls. He also reminded him of his 57 ball century in the Ashes of 2006-7, the second fastest of all time. He also reminded him how he walked when given not out in the World Cup semi Final in 2003 and finally how he skippered Australia to their first series win in India in 2004-5.

All this FB has put before the great man. He then has asked the question as to whether he could turn out for Carlton's All Star Fourth XI this season. He confessed to Gilchrist that the All Star tag might be a bit of an overstatement, for the celebrity status of many of the players is open to doubt. Several of FB's world wide readership have been in touch with FB saying not only do they not find the names his so-called All Stars in the annals of Wisden, they do not seem to feature in Hello magazine. Do they adopt aliases when they turn out with FB?  FB can but hang his head in shame. He has tried hard to interest Hello magazine. He has even offered them a photo session with him and Mrs FB in matching sarongs and hairstyles, but this celebrity couple seem to be trailing Posh and Becks and Prince William and Mrs Prince William. FB shares his readers' mystification at these editorial decisions.

However to return to the subject.    FB agonised over the text. He was unsure as to whether to tell him that it was unlikely he would get to keep since the team has an 11 year old keeping the gloves warm. FB felt he had to come clean on that - after all Gilchrist is a man who walks. He would expect honesty.

FB was looking forward to getting confirmation, but obviously, to judge from Gilchrist's statement, he has yet to receive the letter.  FB is confident that when the letter actually arrives Gilchrist may well find the fire in his belly again.

In the meantime, FB says thanks to Adam Gilchrist for a great career that contributed so much to his own enjoyment of the game.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

FB's Batting Clinic

Fantasy Bob doesn't like to claim credit for things.  He is a backroom boy who operates far from the glare of the media spotlight.  His influence on the major events of history is therefore, for the most part, unacknowledged.

However on this occasion he feels it necessary to reveal his part in shaping great events, so dramatic has his impact been.

FB wittered yesterday about Andrew Strauss putting a run of bad scores behind him to score a century in the Lords Test against the West Indies.  What was he doing that was different?  Maybe he was moving his feet earlier?  Maybe he was standing in a more open position?  Maybe he was wearing his lucky rabbit's foot?   Maybe, but none of these things was the crucial difference.  FB sent the following text message to  Strauss on Thursday:
Hi Straussy - if you want a score today FB suggests you keep your eyes open while batting - FB's been working on this with Carlton coaches here - it's tricky and he's only got one eye open so far, but it could work for you.  Try it.
Did it work?  Judge for yourself - here is the evidence:

Before FB's advice - eyes closed - low score

After FB's advice - eyes open - big score

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Monkey on His Back

Andrew Strauss brings up his 100
Andrew Strauss told interviewers yesterday following his innings at Lords which left him 121* when bad light stopped play, 'You feel like you want to take the monkey off your back and contribute to the team - that's the most important thing. It was a great feeling.'

Fantasy Bob is sure backs should be monkey-free.  But he notes that there is an interesting discussion as to the origin of the phrase 'having a monkey on your back'. Some sources suggest that it originates in the 1930s and referred to having an addiction, primarily to heroin. The phrase then widened out to having any kind of mental burden or worry or obsession - and at times it has even been used to refer to a mortgage, although this may be a confusion with an early usage in which a monkey on the roof referred to a mortgage. Other sources suggest that it originated earlier as a phrase to describe someone in a bad mood and was later taken up to describe addiction. It is found a lot in management speak these days to refer to a recent failure or unsuccessful project for which some kind of atonement must be made. It is a hurdle to be overcome.

Fantasy Bob says well done to Strauss. The hysteria of the press suggesting that he was in last chance saloon did them no credit. Relatively speaking Strauss had a successful winter proving to be one of England's more resolute batsmen and he obviously commands the respect and loyalty of the rest of the team.  The value of this should not be underestimated.

Strauss' previous Test hundred prior to yesterday was in November 2010 in Brisbane.  Since then he had 24 innings scoring 717 runs at 28.68. But this was not his first lean spell of this nature. His overall record has an uncanny cyclical quality either side of his captaincy. 

Prior to the 2010 Brisbane Test, his previous century was 161 at Lords in July 2009 against Australia. Between the 2 centuries he had 24 innings in which he scored 807 runs at 35.09. Earlier in his career he had a spell of 30 innings between tons:  in August 2006 he scored 116 against Pakistan at Leeds and 19 months later got 177 (his highest Test score) at Hamilton against New Zealand. In that spell he scored 777 runs at 25.90. (See warning below).  
Just a small monkey on his back

But these lean spells are modest compared to those of some other top line batsmen. Most spectacular was Alan Border who went 37 matches between scoring 113* against Pakistan in September 1988 and his 106 against Sri Lanka in 1992. Border scored 27 centuries in his 11174 Test runs.

So as monkeys go, Strauss's was just a little squirrel monkey and, despite the press's shrieking, not a huge gorilla. Unless, of course, he has a heroin problem, or his mortgage is a worry.

**warning - all sums are FB's and they may vary from official statisticians with serious computer power behind them

Friday, 18 May 2012

Sticky Back Plastic

A long time ago, almost as long in years as there are stars in the sky, Fantasy Bob had 2 burning ambitions.  The first was to be a commentator on Test Match Special.  He thought he was eminently qualified, he could talk about cricket and he could eat chocolate cake.  OK, he might be better at the cake eating than the amusing chat, but that seemed a minor detail.

His second burning ambition was to be a presenter on Blue Peter, of which he was an avid fan until the mid 1970's when Valerie Singleton left the programme.  There was nothing impure in this attachment, and the waning of his loyalty at the time the young FB's thoughts were turned by the gyrations of Pans People should not be misconstrued.  For FB, Val's ways with sticky back plastic remain second to none.

And now, having been reduced last year to one episode per week, Blue Peter is about to be confined to the children's digital channels, torn from BBC1 whose schedules it has graced since 1958, making it the longest running children's programme in the whole universe.

FB has not seen Blue Peter for many years.  He suspects it is much changed - its presenters no doubt have incomprehensible regional accents and think that they must shout at their audience to convey enthusiasm to children at all points.  Sticky back plastic has no doubt been digitised and become an app.  It may be that CBBC is the best place for the programme, but it feels to FB like another piece of that world full of certainty which defines FB's upbringing is being chipped away.  First the Test Matches went from BBC to Channel 4, then only highlights, now only Channel 5.  Where next?

But Blue Peter's memory lives on in FB's bursting nostalgia archive.  He does not remember much by way of cricket on Blue Peter, although he is sure it would have been mentioned from time to time in amongst the dogs, tortoise and the peeing elephant.  But was there never a demonstration of how to make a pair of cricket pads out of toilet rolls, Sqezy bottles and sticky back plastic?  Was the Blue Peter garden never mowed and rolled in a demonstration of how to make a good batting wicket?  Were old cricket boxes not collected at Christmas to fund a lifeboat or some other worthy cause?   Did Valerie never bowl an outswinger?  These memories seem so strong to FB - they must be real.

Purves, Singleton and Noakes - not a Test cap between them
FB was privileged to have watched Blue Peter in its golden age when the spin trio of Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves presented the programme.  None of these seem to have played or made any mark on cricket, but amazingly enough Cricket Archive contains both a John Noakes, who played 2 first class games for Kent during his short life from 1802 to 1840, and a Peter Purves who played for Huntingdonshire in 1873.

Blue Peter's Peter Purves was a keen cricketer as a child - he played at Furness CC in Cumbria and remembers breaking his ankle in his first match,  “I had scored about 22 runs in double quick time and we were just running the fourth of four and I jumped over the ball as it came in and I broke my ankle when I came down.” he said in an interview a few years ago.  Purves did not reveal whether he used sticky back plastic to fix it.

But Purves did reveal that he and Valerie Singleton had enjoyed a one night stand romantic encounter during their time on the show.  This news was devastating to FB - shattering another of those certainties.  Someone will no doubt try to tell him some day soon that Santa does not exist or that the Tooth Fairy is made up.  That would be too much to bear.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

England v West Indies

Cricket lovers may not have noticed as they try to stay out the rain, or warm up after popping out for milk in the icy wind, or wipe off the hailstones that have just dumped on them out of a deceptively blue sky, but the Test summer starts today.  It is of course unnatural.  Test cricket should not start until June.  And this deliberate disturbance of the natural order is reaping its dreadful rewards.  It is a direct cause of man made climate change of catastrophic proportions.  And there are still climate change deniers who will dispute the evidence and claim it is all a conspiracy by scientists or lentil eating macrame fanatics or, even worse, Guardian readers.  While the Government has a plan of action to address climate change, it does not mention regulation of Test match dates - which might be the single most powerful measure to counter the impacts cricketers see about them every day and restore the natural order of things.

But here are the West Indies, and, according to all the pundits, they might as well have stayed at home for all the prospects of success they have against the world number ones, the resurgent England.  This is the resurgent England whose resurgence amounts to one resurgent victory in one Test in Colombo in February having resurgently lost the previous 4 in a resurgent row.  Resurgence comes in many forms.  Supporters would expect their batting to recover from its abject state of the winter - particularly when spin bowling is not likely to be a dominant force, but there is always the possibility that the psychological cracks run deep.  FB would be surprised, but you never know.

Pundits also remind us of how not so many years ago, the arrival of the West Indies for a Test series would get all English opening batsmen finding that their diaries had urgent competing engagements.  'Sorry - can't face Holding and Marshall at Lords, my mother in law wants me to paint her sun lounge.'  'Garner and Roberts at Old Trafford - love to - but I've promised the wife I'd clear the attic.  And a promise is a promise............'

Kemar Roach
Things change.  Now there is a queue waiting for Strauss to fail.

West Indies show occasional signs of recovery. They have good sessions, sometimes they have good days, sometimes more than one good day in a row. But they cannot sustain. Their home record is nothing to commend, but their away record is truly lamentable. In the past 15 years, their away record against teams other than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh has just two wins and 50 defeats from 65 Tests.

There are bright sparks in the team. They bring the number one ranked batsman - Chanderpaul in surely his last visit - but he can bat in English conditions -  in the 2007  tour of England he averaged 148.66 with  two undefeated centuries in the third and fourth Tests. Darren Bravo looks the part and has some Lara genes. Shillingford showed potential against Australia in the winter. Kemar Roach has genuine pace. But it looks too little against such a settled side as England - particularly in what are bound to be seam friendly conditions.

Chanderpaul - 140 Tests,
10055 runs
FB fears for them. So he makes this proposal to even things up. Many of West Indies most talented cricketers are elsewhere lured by big bucks for short form of the game in the IPL and elsewhere. Why play 5 day matches in the cold and the rain when you can get a turbo-boost to your bank balance for 3 hours in the sunshine?  Administrators should take this into account and the series should recognise that resources available to the West Indies are not being deployed.  A couple of simple correcting factors would achieve this. Here are FB's suggestions, a variant of the Duckworth-Lewis methods.

In any West Indian total under 300 the average runs scored by Chris Gayle, Devon Smith, Ramnaresh Sarwan,  and Kieron Pollard in their 2 most recent appearances in any form of cricket will be added.

Wickets taken by Andre Russell, Dwayne Bravo, Jerome Taylor and Sunil Narine will be deemed to be taken in the Test match in progress at the time and the higher scoring English batsman will immediately leave the field. Wickets, up to a maximum of 4, may be held in reserve should West Indies be batting at the time the wickets were taken.

That should even things up.  It may be unnatural but no more unnatural than Test cricket in May.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Soul Limbo

Cricketers everywhere should be bowing their head in respect.  They should take a moment from their busy schedules and mourn the passing of someone special to the game.  The world of cricket is touched once again by mortality and Old Father Time has descended from the Pavilion at Lords to take another bright soul who has contributed much to game.

Not that this bright soul knew anything about cricket and he certainly never graced the turf at Lords.  It is unlikely that he which end of a cricket bat to hold.  Which doesn't matter a jot, because he knew which was the business end of a bass guitar.  And as bassist of Booker T and the MGs he provided the foundation sound for that great cricket classic Soul Limbo - BBC's cricket theme tune since the late 1960s.  Never bettered for its ability to evoke the game itself.

Donald Dunn was born in Memphis Tennessee, he was nicknamed Donald Duck by his Dad and while an able sportsman as a boy took up a musical career.  He joined Booker T in 1964.  Soul Limbo was issued in 1968, allegedly based on a song by a  Jamaican musician Byron Lee.  This gives it its Caribbean feel - although the steel drum sound is actually marimbas.  It was instant classic and remains as fresh as a new mown outfield to this day.  It rivals Mahler in FB's affections.

Dunn in 2007
Dunn also played on a whole host of major soul classics with definitive and iconic bass lines - including Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett, Hold On I'm Comin' by Sam & Dave and Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding.  More recently he played as part of the Blues Brothers following the successful films.  Many songs many hits, but none as great as Soul Limbo,  even though when released as a single it only got to number 17 in the US charts and number 30 in the UK charts.

Booker T is still working, his most recent album was Road from Memphis was released in 2011 and won a Grammy Award.

FB is pleased to lead the thanks of all cricketers to Donald Duck Dunn for his contribution to the game.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Body Art

Making use of Cheerios
Fantasy Bob has long regarded his body as a temple. A ruined, decaying monument with its roof fallen in, its columns cracked and anything of value long since removed from the barren hillside on which it sits, perhaps; but a temple nonetheless.

It is only one step further to consider this temple as a work of art and FB has now found the inspiration for this important step.  The Australian Body Art Carnivale was held last weekend at Eumundi, about 40 miles north of Brisbane.  FB had never heard of this event, or indeed body art.  In any case he could not have entered this years in any event since he faced the compelling need to skipper the Carlton All Stars Fourth XI at a tricky away fixture last weekend.  However his appetite is now stimulated.

This annual event attracts 15000 spectators who see entrants paint and mould their own or models' bodies into strange creations.  The theme of this year's competition was Under the Sea and the winner was a mermaid design involving lots of blue and green paint and a face extensively decorated with the breakfast cereal Cheerios.

FB discovers that there is a wide range of body art activity with many different competitions and exhibitions all over the world.  He is unsure whether the rules require breakfast cereal as a mandatory part of any entry.  He would understand and sympathise if it were so.  But this world has opened up vistas of new possibilities for him.  He is therefore in urgent correspondence with the executive authorities at go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton to encourage them to combine with the organisers of next year's Carnivale to bring a body art event to the club's Grange Loan HQ with a cricketing theme.  Entries could represent anything to do with cricket from famous players to famous incidents.  Artists' imaginations could run wild.  FB is sure many inspiring works of body art would be guaranteed.  To stimulate the competition, FB is offering his own body for the use of any artist who will make creative use of empire biscuits.  

In contrast to many previous offers FB has made for the use of his body, which were unkindly disregarded, he expects keen competition for this commission.  Artists must supply their own empire biscuits. 

Monday, 14 May 2012

Security Issues

After careful consideration, go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton have decided not to follow the example set by London's Olympic authorities in installing the American-made Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). This sonic equipment is being installed as part of the security arsenal to guard the games. FB understands that the LRAD is capable of producing deafening sound levels of 150 decibels. It can also used to send highly intelligible, multi-language messages, instructions and warnings over distances up to 3,000 metres. The US Army has previously used these devices in Iraq for crowd control and it is successfully used aboard ships to repel Somali pirates.  It will fit in well in East London.

A spokesman for the club said, 'We are as concerned about security issues the London Olympic organisers.  We recognise that this kind of device is a useful part of the armory.  We thought it might be useful in Carlton's highly charged security environment.  However when we tested it against the alternatives we had available, it was found wanting.'

The crack team of sonic researchers and security experts at Carlton's laboratories found the LRAD could not match the noise made by a team of under 11 cricketers appealing together for LBW.  These piercing screams could be heard at distances of over 4000 metres and was excruciatingly painful to the eardrums, being measured at slightly above 150 decibels and, in the view of the experts, would immediately quell any riot in the vicinity of Grange Loan.   

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Two Concepts of Liberty

What would have been Sir Isaiah Berlin's view?

Isaiah Berlin
Fantasy Bob found himself contemplating this question earlier this week. Sir Isaiah Berlin. Berlin has often been described as the greatest mind of the 20th Century even though, as far as FB can ascertain, he never faced the supreme intellectual challenge of scoring a Fourth XI fixture while preparing to bat and engaging in conversation with 3 11 year olds immersed in Facebook and all eager to consume the last empire biscuit on the tea table.  He is perhaps best known for his essay Two Concepts of Liberty to which FB looked for some guidance.

In this essay Berlin argued for the need to distinguish analytically between, the two concepts of freedom "from," which Berlin derived from the British tradition, and freedom "to," which Berlin derived from Rousseau, and continental rationalist thought. Berlin points out that these two different conceptions of liberty can clash with each other and people get themselves in a terrible mix when they are not clear between the two - a condition much like FB facing leg spin bowling.

Bianca Jagger
FB's train of thought was prompted by reports of challenging behaviour at the Royal Opera House.  Bianca Jagger, not a cricketer, was apparently upbraided by a fellow member of the audience, most probably a cricketer, for taking photographs with a flash during a performance of Philip Glass's new opera Einstein in Egypt.  When fellow members of the audience, in all probability mostly cricketers,  objected, she did not politely acknowledge the error of her ways and return to a passive sedentary position. There were insults traded and suggestions of pushing.

There are 2 concepts of liberty operating here.  FB's position is clear.  He thinks taking photos during a theatrical or musical performance is wholly unacceptable, both to performers and the rest of the audience. But, sadly, audience behaviour everywhere is changing, whether due to unfamiliarity with Berlin's work or other reasons.  FB will not go to multi-plex cinema because of the slurping and chomping, the texting and chatting, the sickening smell of hot dog and pop corn.  The lounge Pullman seats mean nothing to him.  He would rather sit up and pay attention.  The fact that multi-plexes do not show films of any merit is another consideration, but the context of the modern audience is a significant factor.

Can Sir Isaiah help?
There are similar issues in watching cricket.  FB would contentedly watch cricket all day every day - he would be happy that near silence covered that period.  He might make a mumbled observation to a colleague addressing the issue of whether a bowling change was necessary or whether another fielder in the circle might make a difference.  He might clap his hands at some admirable piece of play.  A philosopher might agree that he should be free to do so.  FB he does not indulge in a continual noise-fest.  So it is, in FB's view, a miracle that there are not more murders at international cricket matches.  For, if FB were to take his seat and find in the row behind him that trumpeter who only knows the first 4 notes of only one tune, and that the Champion's League Theme, which he will then play non-stop for 8 hours, he might not be accountable for his actions.  Murder would seem to be the least retribution he could inflict.  If he were to find himself surrounded by young men all dressed as Elvis Presley who kept up a chant of Engerland, Engerland for 8 hours, mass slaughter might be the only outcome.  The veneer of civilisation seems to be that thin.  But would philosophers agree that FB should be free from such intrusions?

But here FB finds uncertain guidance in Berlin's essay.  FB might be asserting his wish to be free from the intrusions of others, such as Bianca Jagger, tuneless trumpeters or chanting Elvises.  However Bianca and the trumpeters and Elvises will quickly assert that their freedom to behave as they wish should be an equally important consideration.  There is a bit of difficulty translating these abstract concepts into action.  This may be why philosophers down the ages have not made great skippers, preferring to offer their observations from deep fine leg.

FB suspects that the modern world is a little too keen on the freedom to argument and could do with a bit more of the freedom from considerations being taken into account.  Regrettably Sir Isaiah Berlin is no longer here to advise us on what is appropriate and whether murder would be morally justified in the situations FB describes.  So FB does not know what to do.  Just like when he is playing leg spin bowling.

Saturday, 12 May 2012


Cricketers will wish to examine this painting carefully.  It should remind them of something.  If not, it is confirmation of the artist's failure.

It is by Russian American artist Mark Rothko. Yesterday it sold in New York for £53.8m, a record for a contemporary art work at auction.

Originally it was titled Sightscreen, and is one of long series of works in which Rothko tried to represent that standard bit of equipment seen at all cricket grounds.  He had a pretty good stab at the size - the painting is over 8ft tall, but there is something not quite right. Frankly, it is a bit on the orange side. Recognising it was a poor representation of the subject, he retitled the painting Orange, Red and Yellow.  Which shows the power of the artist's imagination.

No one really knows why Rothko became obsessed with the sightscreen but he made many attempts to paint them and did sightscreens in nearly every colour but white.  Ultimately this only confirmed his knowledge he had of cricket was rudimentary.

Nevertheless there are those who praise the spiritual properties of Rothko's attempts to paint the sightscreen.  They are seen as transcendant and beyond simple reproduction.  The tone and quality of the paint on the canvas is important to the total experience and, according to one prominent critic, being present in front of them will 'singe your retinas.'  Further evidence that as sightscreens the paintings are pretty useless, for facing pace bowling with singed retinas is not ideal.

Rothko painted this canvas in 1961, the same year that he visited his doctor complaining of blurry vision and apparitions of shadowy forms. That may or may not have been to do with the fact that he'd been living on alcohol for six weeks.   He took his own life in 1970, his knowlege of cricket rudimentary and his quest to paint the perfect sightscreen unfulfilled

Friday, 11 May 2012


11 May 2012 is the 200th anniversary of the only assassination of a British Prime Minister.  It had nothing to do with cricket, but it has caused Fantasy Bob to speculate a bit about cricket and politicians.

Spencer Perceval
Spencer Perceval was shot in the lobby of the House of Commons by John Bellingham, an aggrieved merchant who believed he was entitled to compensation from the Government following a period of imprisonment in Russia.  Bellingham was tried on 15 May and hanged on 18 May.  Swift justice indeed - quicker than many LBW decisions in these days of endless referrals to the third umpire.

Prior to assuming the leadership of the Government, Perceval had been a prominent figure in securing the passage of the legislation to abolish the slave trade. His own administration is noted chiefly for the start of the Regency period following the second falling into madness of George III, and for the continuing war with France which brought considerable economic hardship to the country.

The war also had an impact on cricket. Man power was depleted and the number of First Class matches played and the overall investment in the game fell. In 1811 there was only one match played. During this period Thomas Lord moved his cricket ground to what is known as his Middle Ground, a small distance south of the present Lords which was opened in 1814. 

in the Eton-Harrow
match 1912
But Perceval was not a cricketer, although that is no reason in itself for him to be assassinated.  Indeed if it were, all British Prime Ministers would have ended up shot. All bar one - Sir Alec Douglas Home PM for 12 months between 1963 and 1964 is the only Prime Minister to have played First Class Cricket. Between 1924 and 1927 he played 10 first-class matches, for Oxford, Middlesex and MCC, scoring 147 runs at an average of 16.33 with a highest score of 37*. As a bowler he took 12 wickets at an average of 30.25 with a best of 3 for 43. Three of his first-class games were internationals against Argentina on the MCC representative tour of South America in 1926–27.  Douglas Home subsequently became President of the MCC and history judges him harshly for his ambivalent and vacillating stance during the D'Oliveira affair.

Maybe it is as well therefore that cricketing politicians are equally rare in other countries.  Frank Worrell,  the first black captain of the West Indies became a senator in Jamaica; and Joe Darling, Australia’s captain at the turn of the 20th century, sat for 25 years in the Tasmanian Legislative Council.  More recently Mohammad Azharuddin was elected to India’s parliament in 2009. In Sri Lanka, Arjuna Ranatunga is deputy minister for tourism and Sanath Jayasuriya became a member of parliament in 2010 following which he controversially returned to the Sri Lankan team in their ODI matches against England last year.
But the cricketer who may yet reach beyond all these is Imran Khan - supreme on the field of play and a born leader he continues to seek high office in Pakistan.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Armchair Cricket

The red box of Armchair Cricket has lain unopened on FB's shelf for many years. The blurb says, 'Captures all the excitement of the real game, whether Limited Overs, Test Matches, or knockabout Beer matches.'

All the excitement? Like all such claims, this requires to be taken with a pinch of salt.

On opening the box you come face to face with the scoresheets.  These do capture all the excitement of the real game - there are rows for the batters' scores, boxes for the overs, spaces for the extras and the fall of wickets and rows of numbers to cross off to keep the running score.  Just like the real thing. But one quarter of the size.

Apart from that brush with reality, Armchair Cricket is nothing like cricket.  It is a card game.  It has a simple basic premise: if you play a higher card than your opponent you score runs.  If you can't follow suit you lose a wicket.  But on that basic structure are laden rule upon rule - 15 pages of microscopic text all meant to reflect aspects of the real game.  So there is a no ball rule - which involves putting a match stick against a symbol in a little box to identify the suit that can't be played in that over.  There are tables which identify how wickets fall by reference to the suits of the cards that are played.  (The suits are specially cricket relevant balls, pads, stumps and so on).  There are variations for lower order batsman for fielding.  Extras have their own rules.  And so on.  And so on.  Cricket itself has 42 laws and these seem child's play compared to this.

Inside the box -
 all the excitement
of the real game
And therein lies the rub.  The blurb for Armchair Cricket says that 'however lucky a player may be at cards, the winner will normally be the more skillful exponent of the rules in relation to cricket tactics'.

FB found this claim open to question.  His most frequent opponent at Armchair Cricket was his late father-in-law.  Popski was Polish.  His knowledge of cricket was rudimentary.  He had played the game once, at the invitation of his workmates.  Coming proudly in to bat, he was dismissed instantly stumped.  He then argued till the cows came home that this could not be, since he had made no attempt to hit the ball.  The population of Poland may be no great shakes at cricket, but they are Test Match Quality when it comes to starting and sustaining an argument on any minor matter.  In the course of the examination of this incident, Popski's discourse reviewed the whole history of Poland, and the circumstances of Upper and Lower Silesia in the mid 19th Century in particular, were prayed in evidence of his position.  The course of the Warsaw Rising was surveyed in the minutest detail to throw light on the incident.  The views of the then Polish Pope were cited as authoritative on the ethics of stumping.

So you might have thought that when Popski and a cricket buff such as FB came to open the Armchair Cricket box and set out to seek all the excitement of the real game, the advantage would be FB's.  You might have thought.  But you would have failed to recognise that Popski played Bridge with a religious fervour, and was no less passionate about other card games.  FB's skill at cards begins and ends with SNAP.  

Besides his lack of card nous, FB also had to do the scoring. This was a major distraction requiring him to put down his hand of cards, totally forgetting what he was thinking of as his next move. Popski meanwhile had the next ball and the next over figured.  He would remind FB about the no ball rule, with no idea of  what a no ball was in life.  He always seemed to have that high card still in his hand when FB was sure that it had been played.  In fact he became a flat track bully - or whatever the cards equivalent is.  But Popski never quite assimilated the vocabulary of cricket. He kept asking what was trumps.  And when a wicket fell he would say he had taken a trick.

The scorecards are still in the box from FB and Popski's furious struggles with the game.  The teams are the usual mix of cricketers, celebrities and historical figures.  Popski and FB never got beyond the limited over format - somehow life seemed just too short to venture a full 2 innings Test match.  Sadly, Popski's innings was terminated 4 years ago since when Armchair Cricket has lain unopened until FB noticed it the other day.  Fond memories.

Armchair Cricket - FB's advice is to play it with a cricketer who likes scoring - under no circumstances play it with a card player.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Wild Things

Fantasy Bob was sad to learn of the recent death of the children's author Maurice Sendak.  Sendak wrote and illustrated the classic children's picture book 'Where the Wild Things Are' a work which kept FB's son and heir entertained when he was an infant.

The book tells the story of Max, who, sent bed without supper for getting up to mischief, imagines a world with fierce monsters whom he manages to subdue and dance with. Eventually he feels lonely and returns to his bedroom where his supper is waiting for him. Good old Mum.  Everything is safe and sound and he is loved after all.

The book has no cricketing or other sporting references, but a number of sportsmen have been given the nickname Wild Thing.  Two come instantly to FB's mind - Australian fast bowler Shaun Tait and American golfer John Daly.

Wild Thing
Shaun Tait earned the name because of the pace of his bowling. He delivers with a possibly unique action which puts a big lateral twist on his spine which has caused him all kinds of other problems. But he is quick. He bowled the fastest ball ever recorded in Australia - 160.7 km/h in a T20 match against Pakistan in 2010. He topped 161 km/h again against England later that year and only Shoab Ahktar has recorded a faster ball. But he can also be erratic - so the name Wild Thing has a double meaning. While he has been called expensive, his ODI stats in particular don't really justify that criticism - in 35 ODIs he took 73 wickets at 24.11 and in the 2007 World Cup was second top wicket taker in the tournament with 23 wickets at 20.30. He has a long history of injuries and has gradually limited his cricketing - withdrawing first from Test and First Class matches and more recently from ODI to play exclusively in T20. He played T20 for Surrey in 2011 and is playing at present in the IPL for the Rajasthan Royals for whom he took 3-13 against Pune earlier this week. There is no suggestion that he is a Wild Thing off the field.
Wild Thing
In John Daly however is wild on the course and off it. He became an overnight sensation in 1991 when he won the USPGA. He only got his place through the late withdrawal of a higher ranked player and drove through the night to play. His huge back swing launched the ball prodigious distances and his grip it and rip attitude was real blue collar and endeared him to the crowd. Drink, gambling, divorce - trouble of every sort just followed him around. He was the genuine Wild Thing in all respects. But the crowds always flock to follow him. He won the Open at St Andrews in 1995. Most recently he seems to have calmed down and the wildest thing about him are his trousers - a name brand which he promotes on the course.

In April 2010, Daly released his debut music album called "I Only Know One Way." He wrote orco-wrote eight tracks on the album which also includes a version of Bob Dylan's Knockin' On Heaven's Door. What it doesn't include is a cover of Wild Thing which was a number one hit for the Troggs in 1966.  Now that really is the something to frighten children.