Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 - the retiring year

Fantasy Bob had a thoroughly enjoyable cricketing year in 2013.  The sun shone brightly for what seemed endless months, surprising all Scottish cricketers and leading to world records for the amount of sunscreen applied to Carlton juniors. 

FB bowled straight – well mostly.  He found the middle of the bat – at least twice.  He took a wonder catch (any catch is a wonder catch for FB).  

And all through this year he benefited from the sterling encouragement and support of Mrs FB.  Still, as FB looks back on the year he begins to have the uneasy feeling that he may not have fully understood some of the conversations.

Towards the start of the year Mrs FB looked up from behind the sporting pages of the newspaper where she had been perusing the outcomes of her each way bets.  She said, ‘I see Mike Hussey has retired………younger than you.’

FB thanked his companion in life for this news and observed the game would be less exciting without Mr Cricket who left the game after 79 Tests with an average of 51.5.  Mrs FB made no further comment.
A few weeks later Mrs FB mentioned softly as she scanned her I-Pad for her favourite tipster’s forecasts, ‘I see Chris Martin has retired…..…younger than you’

FB expressed his gratitude for this valuable news, noting that Martin played 71 Tests for New Zealand taking 233 wickets.  Mrs FB did not appear particularly grateful for this information.
The dust was hardly still on this conversation when Mrs FB firmly held FB’s gaze and said, ‘I see Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard have both retired..................younger than you.’

There seemed to be a pattern emerging, but FB did not dwell on in instead recalling the pomp of the 2 bowlers with 130 Tests and 474 wickets between them and who had done so much to bring the Ashes home in 2005.
No time seemed to have passed when Mrs FB returned from one of her regular equestrian afternoons and remarked to FB, ‘I see Ricky Ponting has retired.......younger than you.’

FB nodded for even he had noticed that the great Australian, the second top Test run scorer of all time, had signed off with a combative century in his final first class appearance for Surrey.

It only seemed the next moment when Mrs FB seemed to be immersed in the recently arrived Hermes catalogue but mentioned to FB, 'I see your Jamie Kerr has retired.......younger than you.'

FB understood from the judicious addition of 'your' to her sentence that Mrs FB was noting the closing of the career of one of Carlton's greats - the club's legendary wicketkeeper for the last 19 years.
Shortly afterwards Mrs FB looked up from an essential act of maintenance on one of the more prestigious items in her world famous handbag collection to advise FB, ‘I see Sachin Tendulkar has retired.......younger than you.'

FB had understood that the Little Master’s 200th and final Test appearance at Mumbai had brought the whole of India to a standstill to celebrate his record 15921 Test runs including 51 centuries and an average of 53.
It seemed only weeks later that Mrs FB welcomed FB’s tardy arrival at the breakfast table with the statement, ‘I see Graeme Swann has retired…………younger than you.’

FB shared the surprise of cricketers throughout the world that England’s premier spinner should so suddenly throw in the towel in the middle of an Ashes tour, after 60 Tests and 255 wickets. FB assumed that Mrs FB shared that surprise but was unable to verify it for the form guide had engaged her full attention.
Not long after, FB was agonising over whether Mrs FB might happily fund something from near the top of Gray Nicolls’ range by way of Christmas present, when she punctured his reverie and said, ‘I see Jacques Kallis has retired…………younger than you.'

FB recalled the details of Kallis' glittering career that would justify the tag of the greatest cricketer ever had not Sobers bagged it already.  Mrs FB seemed only to sigh as she absorbed this information.
‘Lots of retirements in 2013.'  She looked pointedly at FB.  'And all younger than you too.’ 

Was she trying to tell him something? 

'Don't you dare think you'll be doing the same - I don't want you cluttering the house up next summer.' 

Class of 2013.

Monday, 30 December 2013


Lothianburn Golf Club is no more. The Club which went out of business a few months ago and the course will no longer be open for play at the end of this year. Fantasy Bob mourns its passing.

For FB was a member of Lothianburn for 20 years or so until he and golf fell out of love. For many of those years FB would be seen trudging the course at the crack of dawn, typically zig-zagging from one side of the fairway to the other. The views across the City and the country side beyond in all directions were a treat. The putting surfaces were as good and in many cases better than those FB encountered in many more prestigious courses.  If nothing else the course was an invigorating walk with a few steep climbs.  FB therefore recalls the course with great affection.

One early morning as the sun warmed the yellow of the flowering broom that covered many areas of the course, FB came to the 15th tee. The 15th ran round the side of a hill with the out of bounds fence at the bottom on the right. The green was hidden and a marker post high on the hill indicated the line. A good drive on that line would generally see the ball tumble its way down the hill onto the green and offer an eagle chance against the par 4. Miss the line and the ball was in the broom at the top of the hill or would finish will short by the fence or in a well placed bunker to the right of the green. The morning in question FB managed a rare solid connection and his drive flew over the marker post. He walked over the hill confident that he would see his ball within eagle range of the hole. He was therefore disheartened to see the green empty, except for the Doughty Greenkeeper sweeping the dew from the grass. As FB strolled down the hill the Doughty Greenkeeper finished his tasks and mounted his buggy and came in FB's direction. FB bid him a bright good morning. The Doughty Greenkeeper looked at him askance and muttered, clearly less than impressed, 'There's a ba' in the hole.'

The only time FB has ever shot a hole in one - for ever a secret between him and the DG.

Lothianburn Golf Club - RIP.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Home Thoughts from Abroad

Fantasy Bob has recovered the following extract from the Tour Diary of the Magi Cricket Club:

…………is it only 6 weeks ago that we left home with our hopes so high?  We always knew this was going to be a tough trip over field and fountain etc etc but the great prophet Botham told us that it was written.  We would triumph.  After all, we had all angles covered – we had meal plans for every stop and start on the journey.  All we had to do was follow yonder star of wonder, but the skipper hasn't delivered.  And things have gone from bad to worse. First it was Gaspar heading his camel homewards saying he had been suffering a stress related condition for some time and needed a break. The management said they knew all about it, but it was news to me. So Muggins here has to carry the gold as well as the myrrh. As if I knew what myrrh was. Now it’s Melchior complaining that his elbow can no longer stand long spells steering his camel and carrying his frankincense. If you ask me he’s probably got RSI too from all the tweeting home that he’s been doing. So now it’s just me and it doesn’t feel great being just one wise man in amongst so many camels. Frankly I don’t see how I can carry the frankincense too. To be honest I’m beginning to wonder if we are in the right place – there is a distinct lack of stables around. There just doesn’t seem much likelihood of finding a saviour…………………..

Net practice earlier in the tour.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A Christmas Story

Fantasy Bob has intercepted an emergency communication from the Doughty Groundsman of the Bethlehem Cricket Club to its Governing Council.  He has managed to translated it from the Hebrew.


The Council has requested a full explanation of the recent damage to the square, recognised as the finest batting surface in the province of Judea.

In the bleak midwinter I am mainly engaged in minor maintenance tasks of the sort the club members think simply do themselves. One afternoon last week I was beginning to lock up when there appeared at the gate this man and his young lady.  'More bloody foreigners trying to flog me yet another Christmas tree', I thought. I was preparing a witty rejoinder invoking the spirit of Nigel Farage when the man spoke,

'We need somewhere to sleep,' he said.

Well, this was a new one on me. I was about to suggest he try the Travelodge at the end of the road.

'Please we have tried every hotel and B&B on the TripAdvisor list but they are all full on account of Hogmanay High Jinks organised by your highly imaginative Town Council. We are desperate: we need shelter - any shelter.  I can do a bit of carpenting work in return.'

I could hear the desperation in the man's voice. His lady friend looked demurely at me with a pleading look in her eye.  She was immaculate. I felt myself weakening.

'Well,' I said, 'the tractor shed is full, but you might find room in the scorehut.' I was aware that, against my better judgement, the Council had allowed the overseas amateur to kip down there a couple of times last season after one Koppaberg too many.  Besides, some joinery work on its dodgy floorboards wouldn't go amiss.

The man was effusive in his thanks. As his lady friend followed him through the gate, my reservations grew. They were accompanied by a donkey.

'He'll be no trouble,' the carpenter assured me.

'He'd better not be,' I said, 'just make sure he stays off the square.'

I watched them tether the beast to the door of the scorehut. As I left the ground I noticed a bright light in the sky to the east.  It was a silent night but all was bright.

Next morning I arrived at the ground intending to cut back the holly and the ivy from the boundary fence, only to find sheep everywhere, several of them nibbling on the square. I shooed them off as best I could, but not before I was knocked over by the donkey who seemed unduly excited by the sheep and had worked his way free from his tether.  It took me twenty minutes to catch him and re-tether him.

I quickly made my way to the scorehut where I was surprised to find not only the homeless couple from last night but a baby and a group of what I took from their rustic attire to be shepherds.

'What the **** are you doing here,' I asked.

'We were abiding in the fields, washing our socks, when an angel came unto to us and we were sore, and shit scared. But the angel said unto us that he brought good news. I thought it was about time I won the lottery, but the messenger of the Lord went on and said that a saviour has been born and we would find him in a scorehut. And so we hied ourselves hither for a dekko.'

'Get these sheep off the square.'

A piercing whistle left the shepherd's lips and a black and white collie bounded out of the score hut.

'Come by, lad, come by lad.'

Ten minutes later, the square was clear and the sheep were penned in the practice nets. But all the whistling and shouting got the donkey going again and he worked himself loose and galloped across the outfield. One bark from the dog and he skidded to a halt in the middle of the square. The dog was now torn between keeping the sheep in the nets and dealing with the donkey.

Just as the dog was getting things under control there came a jangling sound of bells from the gate and a trio of unlikely suspects in fancy dress came into the ground each wearing an outsize turban and carrying a shopping bag.

'Who do you think you are?' I asked.

'We have travelled far,over moor and mountain, following yonder SatNav and come to worship the Messiah. We bear him gifts of gold, frankspencer, and something else which I always forget.'

'That's as maybe, but get those **** camels off the square.'

For three ships of the desert were now waddling up and down on a length at the pavilion end. This new livestock was too much for the donkey who now started braying excitedly; which set off the sheep bleating and every neighbourhood dog starting howling in sympathy.   A shout came from the hut, 'Please, you'll wake the baby.'  But no crying he made.

The sheepdog made a bolt for it to try to get the camels under control. Five minutes later the camels were in the nets. But the sheep were on the square and the donkey had worked himself free again and was ready for anything. He made a brave but forlorn effort to mate with one of the camels. The dog knew something was wrong. Five minutes later the sheep were back in the nets making things difficult for the trio of junior members who had just arrived for some winter practice. But the camels were parading up and down the square like they owned it. The donkey was eyeing the sheep wondering if he had a better chance with one of them.

Suddenly, a troop of mounted soldiers stormed through the gate and galloped across the ground. They thudded to a halt in the middle of the square and their commander challenged me,

'Where are your firstborn?'

'Why ask me?' I said, my patience was wearing thin. 'I’m not the Convenor of the Junior section. Now get your ******* horses off the square.'

'When your Junior Convenor comes tell him to send all the firstborn of the club to Herod, Chief Exec of CricketJudea, ‘cos he wants to give them extra coaching.' So saying they galloped twice around the square and disappeared.

Little by little things settled down.  The couple emerged from the scorehut and pronounced that they had to move on.  I thought I heard them mention something about catching a flight to Egypt, but I could be wrong.  They mounted onto the donkey and off they went.  The shepherds and the camel riders followed soon after.  No thought of clearing up after themselves.  

The light in the sky to the east of the ground seemed to dim and I was able to inspect the condition of the square.

I regret to report that it is not a pretty sight.  There are hoof and foot prints everywhere, many patches nibbled bare and a significant amount animal droppings of various sizes scattered all over.

As he left, one of the camel riders said to me that a miraculous event had taken place.

In my opinion it will take another bloody miracle for the square to be anywhere near ready for the coming season.

Joy to the World.

חצרן אמיץ

Hon Doughty Groundsman
Bethlehem Cricket Club

The club's recent guests leaving the ground

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Mitchell Johnson's Guide to Christmas Shopping

A recent domestic experience has caused Fantasy Bob to have greater understanding of the agonies of English batsmen in their unfolding Ashes nightmare.  Not that he has yet come close to feeling sorry for Stuart Broad, that would be over the top, but he has a little more understanding.

For this is the time of year that - Ashes aside - Mrs FB's well ordered mind goes into overdrive.  This morning she came in off her long run, in every step as purposeful as Mitchell Johnson's.

'Dearest heart,' she said, using a short pitched term of endearment which always raises alarm in FB’s mind.  He is on the back foot before her arm comes over.  ‘have you thought about Christmas presents?’

‘Well.......,’ FB played with as dead a bat as he could muster, narrowly avoiding trampling on his wicket.

 Mrs FB’s next delivery might have been fired by Mitchell Johnson himself.

‘So you don’t have any ideas about what you would like to give me?’

FB swayed back but felt the air move as the ball missed his chin by a nanometre.  The safety of the pavilion seemed many miles away.

Some imagination – if not courage - was clearly required.

As he marked his guard again, FB recalled that last Christmas he and Mrs FB had purchased a painting together and agreed that half of it would be their Christmas present from one to the other.  A satisfactory outcome for all concerned.  The household has this week taken delivery of a planet sized TV set which had cost a sum approximating the GDP of a small African republic.

‘………..why don't we give each other half of the new TV set,’  he said, by some miracle his bat found the line of the ball’s trajectory.

Mrs FB followed through right down the wicket, her forceful gaze not moving from FB's blinking eyes.

Mitchell Johnson’s pace increased.

‘You must be joking.’  Pause.  ‘You know I need a new coat.’

‘But you’ve got 4 coats.’

‘5 actually.  My winter coat is 4 years old.’

‘Er…..and so?’  FB was retreating towards the square leg umpire.  He lamely tried to avoid the delivery; the ball thudded into his glove and looped up to the arc of close fielders.  His fate was sealed.

No batting order could have resisted such a devastating piece of pace bowling.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013


Thoughts of Adelaide take FB not to England's selection problems, as if they weren't enough - Bell or Root at number 3 - is Panesar an option - how much will they get for Finn when they sell him on e-Bay?

Nor is he fixated like Doughty Groundsmen the world over on how the famous old ground's new drop in wicket will perform.  FB had the wrong idea about drop in wickets - he imagined it something like ordering a take away to be delivered shortly before play.  FB sees that that would be risky - the Doughty Groundsman might just pop out for some milk and miss the delivery boy. It would take several phone calls to correct things and when the wicket finally arrived it would be stone cold.

But no: FB discovers things are more organised than that - at Adelaide a set of wickets are put in place in September (at the end of the Australian Rules Football season).   As FB's handful of readers will note from the photo, it is quite an engineering operation.
The first wicket is dropped in...

Despite their extensive experience of take aways, lower league cricketers such as FB are unlikely to experience drop in wickets in the playing fields of the East of Scotland leagues since crane driving is not within the skill set of most Edinburgh Doughty Groundsmen.

The publicity majors on how care has been taken to make them as like the original surfaces as possible - a stockpile of soil has been created over many years and so on.  FB remains sceptical on this point.

Be that as it may, in FB's mind Adelaide always reminds him of the great musical show Guys and Dolls. This show is Test Match Quality from start to finish, with an endless run of great songs. 

One of those hits is sung by the character of Adelaide. Adelaide is a night club singer and long suffering fiancee of Nathan Detroit whose constant purpose is to manoeuvre him into a proposal of marriage. In the song Adelaide's lament she alternates between reading sentences aloud from a do it yourself medical book and commenting on what she is reading. She works out that her constant common cold may actually be a manifestation of her resentment over her Nathan's constant assurances of imminent marriage, which he never fulfills. This is as good as a comic number can be. Here it is sung by its originator Vivienne Blaine. 

Fans of Scottish artists will know that Lulu sang the role of Adelaide in a London revival of the show in the 1980s and that in its most recent London revival in 2005 Ewan MacGregor played Sky Masterson (the role taken by Marlon Brando in the 1955 film).

So, who will be lamenting at the end of this Test Match?  Things are looking sticky for England following their thumping at Brisbane - but they have been slow starters in most of their recent series.   It would be no surprise if they come back strongly.  On the other hand, it would be no surprise if they get beaten again.  

Monday, 2 December 2013


Fantasy Bob notes with interest that shortly, at an auction in Edinburgh, a rare portrait of Flora MacDonald by Thomas Hudson will come under the hammer.  The auctioneers estimate it will go for £7,000-10,000 which, regrettably, takes it out of FB's price bracket.

Flora MacDonald was the Katherine Grainger of her day - rowing across the Minch to help Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the pursuing Government forces following the innings defeat at Culloden.

Flora MacDonald has always intrigued FB.  He has long wondered what with all that rowing and rescuing to be done how she found time to invent low cholesterol margarine.
Lego reconstruction of historic event

For margarine is a subject of interest to cricketers.  Cricketers may first have noticed margarine replacing butter in their sandwiches and cakes on their tea table in 1869, when it was first invented.  It is likely that they found it hard to take since at that time it was based on beef fat - not a great complement to strawberry jam.  It was not until the 1920s that vegetable oils began to be used and not until the 1950s that margarine became wholly vegetable based.  That led to a supreme advertising assault on the nation's cricketers who found their evening's enjoyment of the new fangled ITV dominated by branding wars between Stork and Blue Band.

Stork's most celebrated campaign invited cricketers to tell the difference between Stork and butter - a campaign made successful by their careful pre-selection of the audience on the basis that none of them had any sense of taste whatsoever.  For Stork tasted nothing like butter.

Cricketers became engaged in extended arguments as to whether margarine or butter was preferable when baking empire biscuits.  Many friendships were ruined over disagreement on this issue which still rages.

Life became even more complicated as in the late 1960s butter oil or cream was introduced into products such as Krona and Clover - and philosophers agonised whether they could properly be called margarine. Some clever clogs found the way out of this life threatening problem by inventing the term spread.   Then margarine became the healthy option as cricketers became concerned about cholesterol and animal fats and began to give butter the body swerve.  Trans fats, omega oils, hydrogenated oils - the cricket tea table increasingly became a chemistry lesson.

Little did Flora MacDonald realise as she bent her back over the oars what confusion she would spread in lending her name to a margarine.

The Jacobite cause was well and truly lost by the time Flora MacDonald's moment came.  But its legacy is considered by some historians to be the the introduction of cricket into Scotland by the occupying Government forces.

Speed bonny bat, like a bird on the wing..................................